Attorney General's Office investigating

Homeowners who lost money to contractor speak out

Many victims reporting
By Beth A. Birmingham | Sep 17, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham The rear of William and Valerie Jackson's home on Vanner Road in Washington shows an open hole in the roof. Work contracted with Castle Builders of Union suddenly ceased Sept. 6, and the couple have been left with a mess.

Union — From cold-call inquiries to pop-up ads on Facebook, something has gone drastically wrong for a large number of people seeking to spend their hard-earned money on some expensive home renovations with a company known as Castle Builders, based in Union.

The sudden closure of Union Agway and Castle Builders Sept. 8 left many people with questions and some with thinner wallets.

According to Town Manager Jay Feyler, the property at 2179 Heald Highway closed its doors without notice and the gates are locked.

The building that houses the two businesses is owned by Ron Hawes, who ran Union Agway from 1985 to 2017, when he sold it to Malcolm and Elizabeth Stewart of Washington. The couple also acquired the adjacent business, Castle Builders.

"We do know that several people who have come in here [to the Town Office] or called had paid him [Malcolm Stewart] money for building projects and they have not been done," Feyler said.

He posted a message on the town's Facebook page urging concerned citizens to contact the Attorney General's Office. Local law enforcement agencies said it is specifically the Attorney General's Office for investigation and to contact Mark Pelkey at 626-8546.

Hawes said he was out of town when the abrupt closure took place. He said the owners packed up a few things, locked the doors on the Sunday night, and called an office manager to inform the other employees that the business was closed and not to show up for work on Monday.

Hawes, who is president of Union Fair, worked on the Agway side this summer until fair time came around. He also indicated that he didn't like the way things were going. "I had to walk away and let him sink or swim," Hawes said of Malcolm Stewart.

The Stewarts leased the property from Hawes, but had not paid the lease in three months, Hawes said. He added that although everything seemed in order on the Agway side of the business, there were other expenses and self-finance notes involved.

On the Castle Builders side, the construction vehicles and lots of tools and materials were still there, but some of the larger building materials and some computers and files were missing.

Hawes said he had a call in to his lawyer to see what steps could be taken.

According to the United States Internal Revenue Service, a lien was placed on Castle Builders Inc. Aug. 26 for $20,633 in unpaid taxes. Also, the Maine Bureau of Revenue Services has two liens on the business -- one for $7,260 filed in April and another for $11,159 filed in June. And according to the records of the town of Washington, where the Stewarts reside, they are delinquent on approximately $4,000 in property taxes.

There were no outstanding issues with the Agway business.

Unhappy customers have been posting on Castle Builders' Facebook page and sharing information on who to contact. Regina Rooney of Hope, who is one of the victims, offered the following information about Castle Builders' insurer, Foster Agency, based in Augusta:

"Foster Agency's direct line is 207-622-4646. They gave me the policy number for Castle (1801X0594) and encouraged me to call the national number with that info to see about filing a claim."

The following message was posted on Castle Builders' Facebook page Sept. 13: "My sincere apologies for the happenings of this past week. Due to circumstances beyond my control I am forced to close Castle Builders Inc. With this being said it is my intent to be sure all customers and vendors are taken care of. For customers who have work to be completed, there are willing individuals to do so."

This drew a backlash of opinions and postings, but many have responded by other means than social media.

Since the announcement Sept. 8, it has been discovered that the Stewarts cast a wide net. One couple from Waldoboro had been saving up for quite some time for a bathroom renovation.

Bob Palmer said he had received a cold call Sept. 5 and the Stewarts showed up at his door Sept. 6 -- shortly before closing the business' doors -- and gave him a quote for the job.

"He said the bathroom would have to be completely gutted and gave us an estimate of $15,500," Palmer, a disabled veteran, said in a telephone interview Sept. 16.

Palmer said Stewart took $5,200 as a down payment, with the understanding that another third was due at the start of the construction and the last installment would be due upon completion.

Palmer said over the course of that weekend, he and his wife had discussed the cost and decided they didn't want to spend that much, but when they contacted Castle Builders they were told any changes to the contract had to be made in writing.

The Palmers went to the store Sept. 9 and were told by the office manager that unfortunately the company was no longer in business. The Palmers went directly to the Stewarts' residence in Washington and along the way came across a home on Vanner Road having work done by Castle Builders.

After reaching the Stewarts' home and being told they were not there by a person the couple assumed was the Stewarts' son, Palmer said he drove back by the home being worked on and had a conversation with homeowner William Jackson.

Jackson and his wife, Valerie, had contracted with Castle Builders after being told by their insurance company that their home would no longer be covered if they did not have sufficient work done on it before April 2020.

Valerie Jackson said Sept. 16 that they had received other estimates for replacing their roof with metal and Castle Builders came within their budget.

"He [Stewart] said he could do some of the work, then contract the rest out," she said.

The couple made a down payment in March and the job was supposed to start in May, but didn't actually start until July -- and is now not even half-done.

Jackson said they were told by Stewart to get the contract signed so the materials could be ordered before the price of metal went up; however, the order was never placed.

The total cost of the project was estimated at $42,000 -- of which all but approximately $8,000 has been paid. Valerie is an educational technician at Medomak Valley High School. Her husband has Parkinson's disease. They have lived in the home for 30 years.

"We were using our savings to get this done," she said. "He [Stewart] lives in this town," she said, "How can he do this to so many people?"

"He knew he was going out of business when he sat at our kitchen table," Palmer said.

Mark and Teresa Ward of Bucksport said they were also victims of Castle Builders. Teresa said she saw an ad pop up on Facebook and decided the time was right to get a deck built.

She said they wanted a deck added onto their home and received a quote. After making out a deposit check in May for $2,000, she was told work would begin within a month. Ward said at the end of the month someone came out to the house and took measurements, but nothing was done.

She said by the end of August, with nothing having been done, she wanted to cancel the contract, but was coerced by Stewart to hold off. He sent her to the Bucksport Town Office to sign -- and pay for -- the building permit Aug. 29. No work was ever done.

Union Agway provided feed for farm animals and Castle Builders constructed sheds, mini-barns, chicken coops and also did roofing, siding, additions, decks, garages and renovations to homes.

There were approximately 20 employees at Castle Builders and two at Agway. The Department of Labor is in the early stages of investigating whether or not employees were paid.

"So, the only definite I have is that they are closed and there are people with projects partly done and others who have had nothing done, but their wallets thinned out," Feyler said.

Stewart owned Casco Builders, which also is no longer in business.

Company seeking help for victims

SRB Homes LLC, a Nevada corporation doing business in Union, is seeking to help victims of Castle Builders.

Robin and Robert Milliken started their business in May 2015 with a desire to rehabilitate homes and buy rental properties long-term. Now, with their son, Branden Rubenstein, they are on a mission to help people out of difficult situations.

“We learned about this terrible issue and have heard about unsafe buildings as well as open roofs, and materials never being delivered and folks are broke,” Robin Milliken said.

“They cannot help themselves now; they entrusted their money for their needs in Castle Builders,” she said.

SRB Homes has set up an email address – SRBhelping@gmail.com – and will be looking for those with serious problems, such as unsafe and open roofs, windows or doors, who need help with winter fast approaching.

“We are looking for donations and volunteers to do work and also some to possibly pick up and deliver materials, help with keeping areas safe and without debris, as well as volunteers that are able to do the work,” Milliken said.

She said she would be contacting a bank to set up an account to be managed for any monetary donations that may come in.

“Though none of us have time, it is about giving what you can to help our local community in this very difficult and scary time,” she said.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

William Jackson poses in front of his Vanner Road home in Washington Sept. 17 holding a picture of the original house that was recently designated historic by the Washington Historical Society. Work being done to replace the roof has halted, as contractor Castle Builders closed its doors suddenly Sept. 8. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
A construction sign advertising Castle Builders sits at the bottom of a dumpster on Vanner Road, where work was suddenly halted, leaving an opening in the homeowners' roof and a mess in their yard. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Comments (6)
Posted by: Robin Milliken | Sep 24, 2019 15:38

We have had several people offer their services. Professionals that do this for a living.

We are looking for more to contact us at the email provided.

We are also having a meeting for volunteers and victims

THURSDAY @ 6 pm at THOMPSON COMMUNITY CENTER (TCC) in Union on South Union Rd.

Room 30.

If we don’t know you are in need and you don’t come forward we cannot help ypu.

Bring a copy of your contract and verification of payment, so we can make a complete file, order materials to make your house safe and to give that job to our volunteers. There is no charge for this help.

I/we will then come and take some pictures.

We want to help, we have limited time before winter.

Our Community coming together to help those in need

Thank You

Rob n Robin Milliken

Branden Rubenstein



Posted by: Deborah Clarisse Morrison | Sep 17, 2019 20:59

Can't Habitat for Humanity help? Can't we as a community step in and help?



Posted by: Deborah Clarisse Morrison | Sep 17, 2019 20:57

Could Habitat for Humanity come to there rescue?? I think that as a community we could step up and help the those really in need!

 



Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Sep 17, 2019 20:55

"Contractors Are Not Licensed - Buyer Beware!" https://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/housing/home_construction.shtml




Posted by: Sandra Grinnell | Sep 17, 2019 15:23

These people should never again be given a business license of any kind. What they have done to hard working folks is unconscionable.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 17, 2019 13:40

Sad! Trust is most important and in Maine more so. Hope they catch these people and lock them up.



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