Stewarts, company file bankruptcy petitions

Castle Builders fraud claims reach $1.6 million

Volunteer organization seeks donations to help victims
By Stephen Betts | Oct 11, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts District Attorney Natasha Irving, left, speaks Thursday night Oct. 10 during a meeting between law enforcement and victims. Robin Milliken, who is organizing a volunteer effort to help victims, is pictured on the right.

Union — The number of people who claim they were victims of Castle Builders has reached 140 with the amount of money paid to the Union company for work not done totaling $1.6 million.

About 20 Castle Builder customers met Thursday night Oct. 10 at the Thompson Community Center with law enforcement and a volunteer organization prepared to make repairs to homes left hanging by Castle Builders.

District Attorney Natasha Irving repeatedly urged people to provide police as much information as possible to allow law enforcement to prepare its case against Castle Builders' owners Malcolm I. and Elizabeth J. Stewart of Washington.

Castle Builders closed without notice in early September, leaving 21 employees without pay, vendors not paid, and more than 100 customers waiting for work to be done on projects for which they had paid money to the company.

The Stewarts filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Wednesday Oct. 9 for themselves individually and for the limited liability corporation Castle Builders. In their filings, they claim to have assets of less than $100,000 and liabilities of up to $1 million owed to up to 200 people.

Irving told the people gathered at the Thursday night meeting that what was done to them was a tragedy and unspeakable.

"These are your homes and you may not have a roof or a bathroom," she said.

State Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, independent of Friendship, said he met Thursday with the Maine Attorney General's Office and was told that 140 people have come forward with the amount of money lost by homeowners reaching $1.6 million.

Evangelos stressed that there may be more bilked customers and the theft amount could be larger.

The complaints are coming from all four counties in her prosecutorial district -- Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo  -- as well as Kennebec and Hancock counties, Irving said.

Irving met earlier Thursday with representatives of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The region's chief prosecutor said she could not say when an arrest may be made but said prison time would be likely if he is convicted. No charges have been filed.

"This is not a case where you will have a restorative circle," Irving said.

Irving said the whereabouts of the Stewarts is not known but she has heard reports that he may have gone to Canada. She said if he has fled to Canada, he would be extradited.

The Stewarts list a post office box in Piedmont, S.C. as their mailing address in their bankruptcy petition.

Law enforcement began receiving complaints Sept. 3.

"Victims have come forward from all walks of life, all income levels, education levels and up and down Midcoast and inland Maine," Irving said last week. "No person should feel ashamed or embarrassed to come forward with their story."

Some of the people who have said they were victims of the Stewarts agreed to talk after the meeting.

Johnna Dehlinger of Waldoboro said she hired Castle Builders in January 2018 to replace a roof and siding at her home. She paid $55,000 for the work. Crews began the work in January despite her voicing concern about starting the project in the middle of the winter. She said she was assured that they had considerable experience in doing winter roof work and never had a problem.

She said the roof began losing shingles a few weeks later and the siding was not installed.

Dehlinger said over the past six years she has meticulously restored the interior of the 1970s-built home. The leaks created by the poor work and the in-completion of the job has damaged the interior and created mold.

Workers came back briefly in March and 10 days in June 2018 but then never returned. She had been litigating the matter since then.

Other speakers said Stewart began making cold calls to get new customers this year and took their money without doing work or arriving to do work, collecting more money, and then leaving the house torn up.

In their bankruptcy petition, the Stewarts say they owe money to 100 to 199 people. The list of the people they owe money includes customers and vendors.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bangor has scheduled a meeting for creditors and the appointment of an interim trustee who will review the petition  and documents filed by the Stewarts to see if the information is accurate and to detect any possible fraud. That meeting is set for Nov. 15 at the Augusta Armory.

The Stewarts are represented in the bankruptcy case by attorney James Molleur of Biddeford.

Attempts by the newspaper to reach the Stewarts have been unsuccessful.

Malcolm Stewart was also president of Casco Bay Home Improvement, based in Augusta. That company formed in 2010 and dissolved in 2016, when it failed to file paperwork with the Maine Secretary of State's Office.

Castle Builders was formed as a corporation by the Stewarts in December 2016, according to the Maine Secretary of State's Office.

The Internal Revenue Service filed a lien on Castle Builders Inc. Aug. 26 for $20,633 in unpaid taxes.This followed liens filed by the IRS in March 2019 for $68,000 and in 2018 for $80,000.

And there were liens filed against the Stewarts individually by the IRS for nonpayment of taxes for 2014 and 2017.

Also, the Maine Bureau of Revenue Services has two liens on the business totaling $18,000 for not paying withholding taxes from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2018.

Attempts to reach the Stewarts were unsuccessful. The business' number has been disconnected.

Also at the Oct. 10 meeting in Union, Robin Milliken who along with her husband Rob Milliken and Robin's son, Brandon Rubenstein, owners of SRB Homes LLC, are organizing a volunteer efforts to complete repairs for people who were swindled customers.

She said the group has volunteers, some who attended the meeting, but they are still in need of supplies or donations of money to buy supplies.

Anyone wishing to make monetary donations to cover materials can do so at Bangor Savings in the account of SRB Helping. Any contractors with leftover materials they would like to donate to the cause should contact the Millikens at SRBhelping@gmail.com

Irving said people at the Maine Coastal Regional Re-entry Center in Belfast can provide labor for the repair work. The center serves incarcerated people, providing them treatment and educational and vocational opportunities.

People at the meeting questioned how a contractor could be allowed to victimize so many people.

Evangelos said efforts to license contractors or require that they be bonded to cover any claims have been made but were unsuccessful.

Irving said a case such as this with Castle Builders could prompt action by the Legislature.

"This is the type of thing that could result in a 'Castle Builders' law," Irving said.

A Gofundme account has also been created to help the customers affected by Castle Builders. That can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/srbhelping-victims-of-castle-builders?pc=fb_co_shareflow_m&rcid=r01-157090375036-e2e620a9b7b141fd&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_cf%2Bshare-flow&fbclid=IwAR3iXNRHS0SaU9Xa7aIUo9eqwpQMJh1i3EXJmiSZQVA7u_J_6a-XbZWNhCM

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, independent of Friendship, speaks during the Thursday night meeting. Sitting with him is Rep. William Pluecker, independent of Warren. (Photo by: Stephen Betts)
District Attorney Natasha Irving spoke to victims of Castle Builders as well volunteers who will be helping to repair homes. (Photo by: Stephen Betts)
Malcolm and Elizabeth Stewart, who bought Union Agway in 2017 and opened Castle Builders. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Comments (2)
Posted by: George Terrien | Oct 11, 2019 10:17

Surely--or not--the legislature must come to the conclusion that Maine needs a licensure law for builders and contractors. As an architect, I have seen many errors committed by people who should not only know better, but who should be held accountable for taking advantage of their customers, who don't know any better.  Construction today, of even the simplist of houses, requires much, much more sophistication than sawing and nailing pieces of wood, tacking on shingles, and painting the siding.  And licensure should/would establish ethical and business standards that would reduce the frequency of people left hanging, usually through no fault of their own.

This would NOT be a case of too much government, or of a nanny state overreaching its duties, in my opinion.



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Oct 11, 2019 09:27

The Mounties always get their man (and woman).



If you wish to comment, please login.