BY KARI L. SANDS
The Valdosta Daily Times
The fight continues in the Moody Family Housing fiasco that began with its groundbreaking on Oct. 13, 2005 and the official grand opening Jan. 31, 2007.
Congressman Jack Kingston met with subcontractors Thursday to discuss the status of the project at the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce.
Along with other members of Congress, Kingston has been instrumental in the fight to resolve the situation surrounding the housing project at Moody Air Force Base that has forced many subcontractors into debt, out of business, and into the sacrifice of personal property due to non-payment or accommodation for services performed.
WHERE'S THE MONEY?
The issue that most are pondering is if subcontractors remain unpaid, then where has all the money gone? And even more perplexing is the fact that not one audit has been conducted. Overall, only investigations as to what can be done to prevent a reoccurrence of this situation.
"What we continue to hear is how this wreck happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again," Heath Wolfer of Southeastern Stud. "Meanwhile we have bodies lying around bleeding (money) that need assistance. We need to get the injuries and casualties taken care of, solve current problems, and you'll find out how it happened and how to prevent it."
Today, Magnolia Grove stands as a ghost town, littered with the materials that subcontractors such as MS Plumbing, Preferred Builders, Southland Contractors, and a multitude of others use and need to make a living. At the conclusion of the meeting, Congressman Kingston stated that, among many other issues, he would address the GAO (general accounting office) or Air Force conducting an audit to determine where the unpaid wages have ended up, interest on debt services, the creation of a hotline and legal advisement team, and how the contract with SRC was transferred to the FHA with hopes to obtain more answers to subcontractors' pressing questions at the upcoming townhall meeting to be held April 10, 2008 at Moody AFB.
Kingston answered as many questions as possible and told subcontractors that on their behalf he would retrieve further answers to as many issues as possible. "In February, we received a response to the request for a new contractor to get the housing project and payment issues back underway and discussed how Carabetta was selected through a two-step process. In the process, Carabetta was selected as a low-to-moderate risk (contractor)," said Kingston. Carabetta filed bankruptcy in 1992 and in 1993, Carabetta was in federal litigation with HUD.
"On March 14, we met with the Air Force. In an audacity beyond audacity, Carabetta contested the naming of a new owner or contractor as Carabetta would like immunity from future lawsuits and the federal watchlist," said Kingston. Kingston said that they had hoped to have a new owner for the project by March 28.
During the meeting, the letter of intent for the project was also discussed as receiver Johnny Dukes was present. The letter of intent can indicate the closing date to be the end of the year for the project. Because of the immunity request from Carabetta, as indicated to Kingston on March 14, the letter of intent is being held up although it can not be held up indefinitely. Also, the letter does not specify the purchase price of the project in its entirety which some of the subcontractors attributed to the bond market's unfavorability to a project of this type at this time. Accordingly, the project is worth 40 percent less than it was 12 months ago with the current market. The government will attempt to be of some assistance when the new contractor is selected by allotting a $23 million low interest loan towards the estimated $60 million-plus project.
SUBCONTRACTOR'S LIENS AND LAWSUITS
An additional problem being faced by the Moody Family Housing project and subcontractors is bond specifications. Although other Carabetta projects remain in limbo, the payment bonds for Moody are different. The variation lies in the fact that the other three projects were completely bonded where Moody had select items that are bonded; this complexity has contributed to the slower severance process of the project.
Specifically, anything that is not part of the house or the system of a house is not bonded, such as perimeter fencing and some roofing.
To say the least, the small subcontractors that were once a part of a positive, major project to provide better living conditions for the men and women of the armed forces are now extremely dissatisfied with the progress being made in what many called a "scandal or scam." In addition to liens and lawsuits, subcontractors wanted to reserve the option for the Lowndes County Sheriff Department to pursue criminal charges if fraud was committed in the county.
"I've had to settle lawsuits, personally, as a third party. Where has all the money gone that is not being paid to us? We need an option to pursue this criminally," said Thomas Clayton of Clayton Cabinet Company.
Mike Speuler of MS Plumbing said, "As an American citizen, I'm entitled to rights under the Constitution and Bill Of Rights. I just want what's coming to me and the right to go after my money that's owed to me. Every time we try to go after someone and get some rights and some answers, people keep stopping us. And I have well over $25,000 worth of work per property out at Moody Family Housing that others are gaining interest on. Laws are being broke all over. Even our insurance companies are not willing to help, even in compliance with Georgia law. Is there any government entity that is willing to help us?"
Councilman Willie Head, who was present to represent a client, suggested the formulation of a legal team for the Valdosta subcontractors to allow everyone to work collaboratively to avoid reproduction of work and mistakes and reach a goal for all subcontractors involved. Many of the subcontractors seeking legal assistance have been turned down, and the ones that have managed to obtain legal help have spent $10,000 plus a $7,500 retainer fee for attorneys. And despite the court order that has been placed on filing liens, one subcontractor pointed out Judge Arthur McLane's order is actually in favor to their situations, as without the order, no money at all could be obtained and there would be many forced foreclosures.
PLEASE HELP US
Rebecca Walker of All Around Roofing spoke about how many subcontractors have been affected where work ends and home begins. Walker has been forced to cash in her husband's as well as her own 401K and her children's college funds to pay people and avoid lawsuits. "The government is not helping. All we are requesting is some assistance," said Walker.
"People have lost their whole lives around this. People in this room are hurting, and we are ruining our relationships with people we do business with," said Seward Daugharty, owner of Southland Contractors. "There are ways to work around this. We may need to be more aggressive. I don't like what I'm hearing as to how we can be helped and I'm very upset."
The subcontractors who have been locked out of the project also wanted to know if stipulations on retrieving their work equipment not attached to the homes in Magnolia Grove, to which Kingston replied that he would check with Moody. Many subcontractors believe that the mistake was made on behalf of the Air Force, who awarded the contract.
"I will answer as many questions as I can get from the Air Force. I really want to help," said Kingston. He added that notification of exactly where and what time the townhall meeting will be held at Moody Air Force Base on April 10, 2008 will be forthcoming.
After the beginning of a promising project in 2005, the Moody Family Housing project lies in ruins. No one can seem to find answers, despite the fact that the project is a federal one; money is gone without accountability or responsibility of how the project was even granted to Carabetta; a few dedicated individuals are fighting for the little people, the subcontractors, to no avail it seems while those subcontractors continue to lose out personally in the battle in the form of money, homes, and family; Moody AFB remains separate from the issue; and the Airmen anticipating the homes lose out too. So many questions, so few answers.