Massive purchaser horror story? Corrupt contractors

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Dozens of retirees declare they had been defrauded out of thousands and thousands of {dollars} by two house owners of a Southwest Florida house constructing firm.

Now, their four-year anticipate justice has hit one other delay.

Matthew Harden, a licensed constructing contractor who oversaw building initiatives for HD Customized Houses, was anticipated to seem in Charlotte County District Court docket on Jan. 31 for arraignment earlier than District Choose Donald Mason. Then, Harden’s Charleston-based lawyer, David Aylor, died a couple of days into the brand new yr, in keeping with information studies and a press release on his legislation agency’s web site. A brand new court docket listening to has been scheduled for February 6.

Charlotte County Sheriff’s officers introduced in September 2020 that Harden and his enterprise companion, Stephen Dukes, had been every charged with one felony depend of wire fraud and 12 counts of misappropriation of building funds.

Each males have separate circumstances pending towards them within the twentieth Judicial Circuit Court docket, and in Could 2022, Florida Lawyer Normal Ashley Moody additionally filed a lawsuit towards Dukes, Harden and HD Customized Houses after receiving and reviewing roughly 33 shopper complaints.

Most of those that contracted with HD Customized Houses had been aged or retired veterans. The patron criticism claims $7.8 million in losses.

4 victims communicate out

Lynn LeBoutillier, Evelyne Peters, Robin Cyphert and Harriet Zimmerman did not know one another once they all deliberate to maneuver to Florida for retirement in 2017 and 2018. Nonetheless, because the 4 sat round LeBoutillier’s out of doors eating desk at house her in North Port in January, they acted as if they’d been buddies for many years.

Their shared expertise of dropping tens of hundreds of {dollars} — the stress on their retirement houses wasn’t ending when HD Customized Houses closed its doorways in late 2018 — and a stream of liens filed towards them by subcontractors sure them collectively. .

“We got here down right here for the great Florida life,” Peters stated. “Now we have lastly come to a degree the place we are able to retire. You suppose you should have a pleasant home in good climate and begin dwelling your life. Nicely, a few of us actually have our pension fund fully taken from us.”

Peters stated she misplaced about $132,000, and court docket paperwork present the folks concerned within the 12 circumstances of misappropriating funds misplaced wherever from $1,000 to $89,000. Peters, LeBoutillier and Zimmerman added that some folks misplaced as a lot as $200,000.

LeBoutillier and her husband, Kent, had been able to commerce Maine’s chilly winters for heat year-round sunshine once they began searching for houses within the space in 2017. LeBoutillier, a retired mycologist, stated she and her husband got here down with the purpose of shopping for a house, however ended up connecting with HD Customized Houses after not discovering one which met their wants.

Zimmerman, a registered nurse, and her husband had been retiring from Virginia in 2017 once they started searching for a house or land within the space and had been recommended utilizing HD Customized Houses as contractors.

When the {couples} signed on as shoppers and throughout the building course of, there did not appear to be a lot flawed.

Zimmerman stated the one indication it may need been flawed was when relations who lived within the space would drive by the lot the place the home was being constructed and it did not seem to be a lot was being accomplished. It was solely shortly earlier than HD Customized Houses closed that its clients had been notified that one thing was flawed.


Peters had simply returned from trip in 2018 when she opened her mail to discover a small white postcard with HD Haters United written on it. On the flip aspect, a warning: Don’t be concerned, HD Customized Houses is about to go beneath.

The postcard was despatched to most, if not all, HD Customized Houses clients they usually nonetheless do not know who despatched it to them.

Then, round Thanksgiving 2018, HD Customized Houses abruptly closed its doorways, leaving lots of the houses unfinished.

Cyphert, a retired RN from a college hospital in Alabama, stated she and her husband, Daniel, had been fortunate in a means HD Customized Houses hadn’t touched a single blade of grass on their lot.

“They did not do something,” Cyphert stated. “Though, simply earlier than they went out of enterprise, they referred to as and requested us for $6,000 to dump grime on the property. I say fortunate as a result of we weren’t in the course of building once they simply left.”

Then, liens started to be deposited. White envelopes with a vibrant inexperienced stripe throughout the highest had been delivered to these Harden and Dukes left with partially constructed houses.

At the least 12 or 13 {couples} had been in a position to get some cash by means of the Florida Owners Restoration Fund, a particular account created by the Florida Legislature in 1993 to compensate those that undergo financial damages because of violations by contractors. licensed. Nonetheless, the fund will solely pay a person as much as $50,000, with a complete cap of $500,000 per contractor.

Anticipated delays

The Florida Lawyer Normal’s lawsuit has a attainable trial set for this August. Nonetheless, the trial could possibly be postponed till November, in keeping with an agreed case administration plan.

Tracey Redd, an area lawyer who additionally represents Harden, declined to remark as a result of the case towards Harden continues to be pending. Redd confirmed that they’re ready for a check.

Dukes’ lawyer, Terry McCreary, was not accessible for remark, in keeping with a receptionist who answered the cellphone.

Whereas the 2 felony circumstances towards Dukes and Harden record solely 12 circumstances of misappropriation of building funds and Moody’s case lists 33 shopper complaints, there could possibly be as many as 58 circumstances the place retired {couples} or people had been allegedly swindled out of their financial savings and houses , in keeping with the 4 victims who sat down to talk with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Seeing justice within the nation, warning others

The 4 ladies know they are going to in all probability by no means see a penny misplaced, even when the circumstances are gained in court docket. For them, it feels proper to know that their tales might help increase consciousness.

“We do not need this to occur to anyone else,” Zimmerman stated. “The state actually wants to vary no matter legal guidelines should be modified.”

Girls felt like they had been being focused: Most of those that misplaced cash had been from out of state and nearing retirement, however not but in a rush to come back all the way down to Florida. Many had no ties to the world, counting on Duke and Harden’s phrase on how issues had been progressing.

They’re additionally unsure what extra they might have accomplished to stop the fraud. Trying again, they now see a few of the purple flags.

“On the finish of the day, I feel all of us perceive that we won’t take something again,” Peters stated. “There isn’t any monetary achieve from this, however it could be good to suppose that justice can be served.”

Copyright © 2023, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, all rights reserved.

Leave a Comment