WDAM Investigates: Contractor troubles
HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Opening his door, Michael Selakovic says he walks into a nightmare, though it’s supposed to be his first home.
“It’s a living hell, you know, a nightmare is putting it lightly,” said Selakovic.
To build his home, Selakovic hired contractor Kenton McNeese, who owns Pine Belt Home Builders based in Purvis. According to the contract, work was to begin July 5 on the nearly 1,000 square foot home in Lamar County, with a completion date of Sept. 20.
The price was set at $78,736.80. Paying $15,000 up front, after the first month, Selakovic says he noticed not much was getting done.
“Pretty much anything that looks somewhat complete was done by us,” Selakovic said.
More than two months past the scheduled completion date, that nightmare continues for Selakovic.
WDAM asked Selakovic what excuses were given for not having the home complete.
"It would be easier for me to tell you what excuses he didn't use at this point," said Selakovic.
Selakovic hired McNeese based on a recommendation, and this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of not doing the work.
“Naturally we didn’t go too deep, you know, trying to research on him," Selakovic said. “And then when we finally did, we found the original story that you had done and that was, you know, I was pretty much like, ‘oh no.'”
That story is a News 7 investigation from July. Lashonda Johnson, a homeowner in Petal, hired McNeese to rebuild her home after it was destroyed by a tornado. At the time, she says she paid $105,026 for an unfinished home, which was supposed to be complete at $103,556.32, , according to her contract.
"It was just one false truth after another," said Jackson. "He needs to be held accountable for what he's done."
For Selakovic, it’s the same story. As the invoices rolled in and money paid, Selakovic says work slowed down and for many days it didn’t happen.
“There was nothing that was completed within time at all,” Selakovic said. “The only thing that he’s done that he’s said he was going to do was show up to pick up the check.”
In an email sent Sept. 13, McNeese said he “will continue the daily grind on the house as promised and get her complete on time and on budget.”
Selakovic had no idea 17 days before McNeese sent that email a lawsuit was filed against McNeese and his company in a Forrest County court for breach of contract, negligence and fraud.
Digging through court records, we found at least five lawsuits against McNeese in Forrest and Lamar counties from this year alone. They’re from homeowners, suppliers and debt collectors, alleging McNeese used unskilled workers, didn’t complete work or owes thousands of dollars for materials.
A lawsuit filed in August claims McNeese was supposed to repair a home in Petal damaged by a fire. The contract with Pine Belt Home Builders shows a completion date of March 18, 2018, which the suit said would cost $56,990.42, to be paid with insurance money.
The suit claims McNeese was to put the money in an escrow account, but instead embezzled it for his own benefit or used it to pay for other construction jobs. The homeowner claims McNeese would send his workers to other projects and for most of January, February and March, no one showed up to do any work.
It’s a similar story in a lawsuit filed Oct. 16 in Lamar County. It claims McNeese was supposed to build a $44,095.20 boathouse with a Dec. 1, 2017, completion date. As of the filing, nearly a year later and $26,710 paid, it claims that the boathouse has no walls, roof or operational parts, only minor foundation and framing.
Searching through records from the Secretary of State’s office, McNeese has operated under at least two construction businesses.
Vintage South Construction, LLC was dissolved in 2016. The only active one, which is also licensed through the Mississippi State Board of Contractors, is Pine Belt Home Builders, LLC.
Both have lawsuits filed against them. When it comes to the State Board of Contractors, McNeese has three complaints against him. Two were dismissed, the other is pending. WDAM got a copy of the pending complaint, which alleges gross negligence or misconduct for a home in Hattiesburg.
Selakovic says he had to spend more money on other contractors and materials to fix or complete work he paid McNeese to do. That’s also a claim in those court documents.
As of our interview, Selakovic says he feels cheated and can’t even live in his home.
“Absolutely not. Not unless I wanted to go to the bathroom in a bucket and freeze to death,” said Selakovic. “I just want him to do what he was paid to do, but he’s made it clear that that’s not going to happen.”
After several attempts to contact McNeese, we finally got an email, saying in part, “The failure of Pine Belt Home Builders, LLC as a builder/remodeler has caused many allegations to arise and are being addressed privately. Pine Belt Home Builders, LLC is no longer practicing construction and has no intention to participate in the construction industry again.”
The State Board of Contractors is looking into the pending complaint against McNeese, which could result in a hearing.
When it comes to hiring a contractor, the State Board of Contractors warns to do your homework first. Don’t rush into a contract or repairs, verify the license, check references, don’t give cash up front, ask for a copy of an insurance policy and be leery of door to door solicitors.
This is especially true after a disaster. You can even check for complaints and licenses on the board of contractor’s website. The state board of contractors even has a mobile app where you can check a contractor’s license and even file a complaint. You can find that link here.
Below you’ll find links to the five 2018 lawsuits filed against Kenton McNeese and companies and complaints filed with the State Board of Contractors:
You can read McNeese’s full statement to WDAM below:
We have communicated in the past regarding Lashonda Johnson. The report was very good and informative to the community. The failure of Pine Belt Home Builders, LLC as a builder/remodeler has caused many allegations to arise and are being addressed privately with each individual through legal counsel representing both Pine Belt Home Builders, LLC and the individual that have made allegations formally.
Within those discussions are privacy agreements of which cannot be violated without consequence.
Thank you for your reporting and I hope others will benefit from it. Any allegations are just that. Pine Belt Home Builders, LLC is no longer practicing construction and has no intention to participate in the construction industry again.
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