ROCKLAND, Maine ― The Maine attorney general’s office has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a former Union construction business that allegedly owes more than $1 million to clients whose work was never finished.
The state is suing Malcom and Elizabeth Stewart, former owners of Castle Builders in Union, under the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Law to prevent the couple from continuing to solicit business and to seek restitution for former customers, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Knox County Superior Court.
Castle Builders abruptly closed on Sept. 9, leaving clients with unfinished projects that had already been paid and 22 employees out of work. Since then, customers from across the state have come forward with claims against the business. Investigators say this is the largest case of alleged contractor fraud in midcoast Maine.
The Stewarts have since filed for bankruptcy to protect their personal and business assets. In their bankruptcy filings, the Stewarts indicated they have more than $1.2 million worth of claims against them from nearly 200 creditors that include former customers, workers and subcontractors.
Castle Builders opened in 2017. The Stewarts “aggressively marketed their services to customers through practices that included hiring telemarketers to cold-call consumers to solicit them for home construction services,” the lawsuit states.
The Stewarts collected initial down payments of one-third or more of the total price when a customer signed the construction contract, according to the suit. Accepting a downpayment that exceeds more than one-third of the total contract price violates state law and constitutes “unfair and deceptive trade practice,” the lawsuit claims.
The AG alleges that Castle Builders’ contracts failed to specify the start and end dates for the work, which is required by law.
Additionally, Castle Builders allegedly failed to follow through on contracted work and materials that had been paid for in advance by customers, and they “failed to refund customers for advance payments that they had not earned,” according to the lawsuit.
When construction work completed, the work was “unskilled and shoddy,” the attorney general claims in the lawsuit. Through this “shoddy work” damage was caused to some homes they worked on because Castle Builders failed to ensure that the homes were protected from the elements, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that electrical work performed by Castle Builders was done by a person not licensed by the Maine Electricians’ Examining Board.
The state also alleges that Castle Builders had poor customer service and was untimely in responding to complaints or questions from customers. Subcontractors who provided materials and work for Caste Builders were also left unpaid, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is requesting that the Stewarts pay restitution to the attorney general’s office on behalf of the customers who suffered financial loss, as well as a pay civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Lawsuits represent only one side of the case.
The Stewarts have relocated to South Carolina, according to court documents. They could not immediately be located for comment.