*Update: Two weeks after our investigative series aired, contractor Christopher Cheney, was arrested. Report is ongoing.
It’s by far the biggest complaint that comes to the NBC2 Investigators: Contractors accused of taking money, but not finishing the job. That’s why NBC2 Investigators Rachel Polansky and David Hodges decided to go in-depth with complaints of unfinished business — questioning the system that’s supposed to be holding contractors accountable.
Eight different people sold eight different dreams.
“I just wanted a pool for my young daughter and son,” said Michael Steinke, of Cape Coral.
“He basically started a little bit of the work but after the hurricane, he never came back,” said Tina Halm, of Cape Coral.
“How much money have you lost throughout this ordeal?” asked NBC2 Investigator, Rachel Polansky.
“$15,000 dollars,” said Lisa Johnson, of St. James City.
“We were down $23,000 dollars,” said Halm.
“We had liens that exceeded $100,000 dollars,” said Joyce Madaio, of Marco Island.
“I lost around $40,000 dollars,” said Rolandas Girdvainis, of Cape Coral.
These people claim that three different licensed Southwest Florida contractors took their money but didn’t finish their projects. Each of them filed complaints through the state, the attorney general’s office, or local law enforcement.
But none of the three business owners in question: Christopher Cheney of Southern Premier, Walter Rowley of Sand Dollar Pool and Spa, or Steven Henell, a Marco Island builder — have been arrested, charged or jailed.
A check on their records reveals that Cheney’s license is now listed as “involuntary inactive,” Rowley who was licensed through another man named Anthony Marth is now listed as “voluntary relinquishment,” and Henell still has an “active” license.
“There’s no convictions for them, there’s no repercussions for their actions and there really has to be,” said Madaio.
Two of these three businesses — Southern Premiere and Sand Dollar — ran their businesses out of Cape Coral so the NBC2 Investigators took our questions to Cape Coral Police Department’s Corporal Phil Mullen.
“Do you think law enforcement is doing everything they can to hold these bad contractors accountable?” NBC2 Investigator Rachel Polansky asked Cpl. Phil Mullen.
“I do. Unfortunately, it is a complicated statute. We can’t deal in civil law. We only deal in criminal law,” said Cpl. Phil Mullen.
Cpl. Mullen is right that many contractor disputes are civil. However, the NBC2 Investigators found Florida Statute 713, also known as the “Construction Lien Law.” And, one provision of that law, 713.345, says if a contractor misuses a construction payment, there are criminal penalties. Real estate attorney, Kevin Jursinski confirms it’s a felony.
“There is teeth in the law for the people. The question is, whether it’s enforced is something that has to be answered by the state attorney or the sheriffs office and how they deal with that,” said Kevin Jursinski, real estate and construction lawyer.
So, we went back to our Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies — asking for all incident reports involving statute 713 for the last two years — as well as any other incident report in which a person was arrested regarding contracting work. Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral Police Department’s had zero reports.
The Collier and Charlotte County Sheriffs Office’s also had zero. The Lee County Sheriffs Office had two arrests related to contracting fraud. One of those two cases has since been dropped.