UNION, Maine — Nearly a month after a local contractor seemingly vanished overnight, a multi-agency investigation is trying to understand the scope of what is shaping up to be the largest case of alleged contractor fraud in midcoast Maine.
Castle Builders Inc., owned by Maclmon and Elizabeth Stewart, did not open for business Sept. 9, leaving clients with unfinished projects that had already been paid for and 22 employees out of work. Creditors have not seen or heard from the Stewarts since.
Scammed customers have been identified across the midcoast, including some in Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties. District Attorney Natasha Irving, who represents the midcoast region, said complaints have also come from customers in Kennebec, Penobscot and Piscatiquis counties.
“That’s the tip of the iceberg. There are more people out there,” Irving said Thursday at a community meeting in Union where she addressed the claims. “It blows away any other contractor case.”
Authorities, including investigators from Knox County and Waldo County sheriff’s offices, are examining Castle Builders’ operations and practices. Irving’s office is heading local investigations. Individuals who believe they were bilked by Castle Builders should also reach out to the Consumer Division of the Maine attorney general’s office, which is also conducting an investigation.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said it has received “many complaints” in the case but would not comment on the investigation.
But at least 100 claim they were defrauded by Castle Builders, according to a list of clients and suppliers turned over to investigators by the company’s general manager, who was hired a week before Castle Builders closed.
On Wednesday, the Stewarts filed for bankruptcy, both for themselves personally and for the company. In bankruptcy filings, they claim to have less than $100,000 in assets. Records show they owe as much as $1 million in debt to more than 200 creditors.
Pending the investigation, no criminal charges have been filed against the Stewarts.
“We need to make sure every single person who has been affected by this make a statement,” Irving said. “That’s how we’re going to figure out what was really going on.”
About 20 people affected by Castle Builders attended Thursday’s meeting to learn about the investigation. Those in attendance said they experienced bounced checks, cold calls from the company looking to do work, and a number of people who are left with open roofs and other unfinished projects.
On a list of estimated amounts that customers are owed by the Stewarts, figures ranged from $2,000 to $55,000.
Valerie Jackson of Washington paid Castle Builders $32,000 to replace the roof on her home and garage. However, the project was never finished, and now a tarp and plywood are the only things keeping water from coming in her home. But that is starting to give.
She and her husband spent their savings to have the work done, which their homeowner’s insurance company said was required inorder to keep their policy current.
They do not have the money to hire another contractor to finish the project. “I feel defeated,” Jackson said.
Additionally, the roof work that was done caused bricks in the chimney to come loose, meaning that she cannot use the wood stove that provides the primary source of heat in her home.
“We’re just trying to make it through and get the house buttoned up to make it over the winter,” Jackson said.
For those who are out money from Castle Builders, there is little that can be done to get it back at the moment. Jackson has contacted the insurance companies that Castle Builders had policies with — American National Farm Company and Western World — and urged others to do the same.
However, a local home restoration company has come forward to coordinate a volunteer effort that aims to help folks who need to get their homes buttoned up before winter.
Robin Milliken, owner of SRB Homes, said Thursday that they are working on raising funds for materials to finish some projects left by Castle Builders. Anyone with leftover materials they are willing to donate, or if they would like to volunteer, can reach Milliken at email@example.com.
“People need help,” she said.