Find out why some home contractors have 'unfinished business' in Southwest Florida

Posted: Aug 22, 2018 3:48 PM -04:00 Updated:

If someone robs your home, you expect to get justice.

But a growing number of people have reached out complaining they've lost thousands of dollars to contractors, and little to nothing has been done to the perpetrator.

This week, we go in-depth with complaints of unfinished business -- questioning the system that's supposed to hold contractors accountable.

"Most of the time it sounded legitimate to all of us," said Bob Madaio of Marco Island.

"I believed him," said Debbie Hampton of Marco Island.

Madaio, Hampton, and Jim Mueller all live on Marco Island.

"That's where we always wanted to be," said Hampton.

They all hired the same contractor to build a new home, but they said Steven Henell didn't finish the job.

They're three of eight different customers we've talked with who said they had a similar experience with Henell.

After making deposits and draws, his customers complain construction moved at a snail's pace.

And city records confirm projects lasted years longer than contracted.

"It just dragged on and on and on," said Madaio.

And subcontractors claimed they weren't getting paid.

Under Florida law, the way to fix that is to file liens on the properties.

"There were four liens I think against my house," said Mueller.

"We have $115,000 worth of liens on our home today. And then another $52,000 worth of subcontractors that weren't paid, so they're still knocking on the door every once in a while," said Madaio.

Eventually, these homeowners found someone new to finish their homes.

In total, four complaints have been filed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR, against Henell.

We have records showing DBPR closed all four cases, saying there wasn't enough evidence to support a violation.

We also asked the Collier County Sheriff's Office if they were investigating Henell.

In a statement, they said, "Records and documents have been subpoenaed and we are actively investigating multiple allegations against a licensed contractor."

Henell said he did not misappropriate funds.

"All the money was allocated to business. None of it went in my pocket," said Henell.

"Was it allocated to the jobs from the people who paid it?" we asked.

"Yes," Henell said.

If it's not, it's potentially illegal.

This routine of chasing down contractors is all too familiar.

That's because we've done it several times over the last two years.

More than a dozen people said that builder Chris Cheney of Southern Premier took their money but never finished their homes.

READ MORE: Cape contractor closes shop before refunding customers

In addition to several lawsuits, we found complaints filed with DBPR and Cape Coral Police.

 

"It was quite devastating to find out that the money had just been taken from us," said Lisa Johnson, who hired Cheney to build her home. "He should go to jail, I mean that is out and out fraud."

And, at least 15 customers sued Chris Pascale of Bonita Springs Floor Covering, accusing him of taking their deposits while leaving their projects incomplete.

 

We also interviewed nearly a dozen people who said their pools were left incomplete by Walter Rowley of Sand Dollar Pool and Spa.

"Why won't Walter speak to us directly?" we asked.

"Well, Walter he's, he's first, he's very busy," said Maria Espinoza, of Sand Dollar Pool and Spa.

All of these contractors were either licensed or at one point qualified through someone else's license.

When we add up all of these customer claims, it comes to more than $1 million, and we're only talking about the contractors we covered in the last two years.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., we question those in authority about why these licensed contractors have not been arrested, charged, fined or jailed.

On Friday at 6 p.m., we dive into the state's regulatory system to see if homeowners complaints are being taken seriously.

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