A man is jailed after prosecutors say he defrauded families of $1.1-million he took for construction never performed.
Savings gone for jobs not done
Three years ago, the cozy Gulfport bungalow was the ideal place for Gene and Tina McIntosh to raise their family. While planning for a second child, they decided to add a second floor. They hired Mark S. Kiser and David Beers, who told them he was a licensed contractor who could do the work. But after Kiser and Beers demolished parts of the house, the abandoned the job, taking $66,000 of the couple's money, authorities said.
Today, the house is in shambles. The baby sleeps in a crib in the kitchen, their older son smushes in bed with them. The once-tidy home is decorated with dry-wall, jumbled wires and sawdust. Prosecutors say the couple was defrauded by Kiser and Beers, whom they blame for bilking two dozen other Pinellas families of more than $1.1-million. They say Kiser left gaps in roofs, holes in floors and zeroes in bank accounts in one of the largest Pinellas construction fraud cases in recent memory. Kiser, 48, was in a Pinellas County courtroom Thursday, where he turned himself in on a first-degree felony count of scheming to defraud. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on $100,000 bail. Prosecutors said a first-degree felony can bring up to a 30-year prison sentence upon conviction. "He and his crew took money from unsuspecting citizens, in some cases tore their houses and left them disassembled," said prosecutor Bill Burgess.
Kiser's attorney, Kyle Pennington, said his client may have left some homeowners unhappy, but he said that's a civil matter, not a criminal one. "It wouldn't surprise me if you see this is just a business that went bad," Pennington said. "Mr. Kiser and Mr. Beers was not out there intending to defraud anybody." But prosecutors say Kiser and Beers showed a pattern of deception from December 2000 to July 2002. He also left a number of subcontractors and salespeople unpaid, causing liens to be placed on some homes, arrest affidavits state. Kiser and Beers deceptions began sometime after he received permission from Charlotte County contractor Duane D. Hill Jr. to use his license to pull permits and sign construction contracts in Pinellas County. Kiser provided Hill some compensation, affidavits state. Kiser, nor Beers however, where never licensed. And Hill never qualified Kiser to work under his license, which is required by state law, authorities said.
Kiser and Beers misled homeowners by telling them they are licensed to perform work for Hill Construction and Design. The other man, David Beers, bid for contracts, negotiated payment plans and collected meaty deposits, affidavits state. Neither Beers nor Hill have been charged in the scheme, but Burgess said the investigation is in progress. With honor amongst thieve one will turn on the other helping with convictions. Neither Beers nor Hill could be reached for comment Thursday. Homeowners said demolition crews came to their homes to knock down walls and strip rooms. But other than a little work here and there, the projects were left unfinished. Some homeowners had to move into apartments or stay with friends. Others had no choice but to move back into homes that were barely inhabitable. Kiser eventually moved to Kentucky, where he got a job as a window installer and salesman. Complaints poured into the Pinellas Department of Consumer Protection, which eventually handed the investigation to the State Attorney's Office. Madeira Beach resident Ofira Von Stein said she and her husband, Larry, hired Kiser and Beer's to add a second floor to their waterfront home at a cost of $96,000. They rented another home for three months, but that turned to eight months when work stalled.
Then the couple had no choice but to move back in. They had given Kiser and Beers $84,000, but only about $30,000 in work had been completed. And much of that was slipshod. "The roof was leaking. It was just tar paper," Ofira Von Stein, 45, said. "The whole structure was just plywood. Drafts were coming in, it was not even a safe house."
During the ordeal, she often escaped to her dock so her 12-year-old daughter wouldn't see her cry. "We basically lost our life savings to Mr. Kiser and David Beers," she said. "We're paying for everything twice. Our house is still a disaster zone." McIntosh, the Gulfport mother, said work progressed at a crawl before she was pregnant with her second child, then continued to drag during her pregnancy. As she was set to give birth, Kiser and Beers said if they gave another $26,000, the house would be finished by the time she got out of the hospital. Desperate, they gave him the money, but no more work was done. She said the house was left in terrible shape. Before a friend agreed to help tile the kitchen, they kept a hammer handy to tamp down nails that pushed up out of the plywood floor. One afternoon, their nanny called to say the roof was leaking. In a waterfall. Onto the microwave. They told her to kill the electric lest the kids get shocked.
Their finances also have been tattered. They're nearly $200,000 in the hole. They have two mortgages and are three months behind on both. All their cards are maxed out and their credit is shot. They're not sure where the money will come from to complete the project. "This is hard to say without feeling like a complete idiot, but we gave them all our money," she said. "We are so screwed." Homeowners should always be wary of contractors who ask for large payments upfront, said John Wood, chief investigator for the Pinellas Department of Justice and Consumer Services. "I've done extensive work on my house where the guy didn't get a cent until he was done," Wood said. Where the money went is a mystery. Pennington said Kiser and Beers are penniless, though his family was able to post his bail. In court Thursday, dozens of homeowners sat as Pennington asked for lower bail. He said Kiser has two young children and a fiance. Judge Phil Federico said $100,000 bail was appropriate for such serious accusations. As bailiffs surrounded Kiser to take him to jail, the homeowners applauded. Said McIntosh: "He hurt us in ways we may never recover."