Contractor goes out of business, leaves work undone

July 19, 2011 7:29:14 PM PDT
A well-established East Bay contractor has gone out of business, but not before cashing all of the homeowners' insurance checks and leaving their work undone.

ABC7 first reported on Castro Valley-based Vanderbuilt Construction in May when some San Bruno homeowners rebuilding after the pipeline explosion were left with unfinished work, subcontractors went unpaid and insurance money disappeared. PG&E has stepped in to help them, but there are other homeowners across the Bay Area with no recourse since Vanderbuilt's Chapter 7 bankruptcy hearing last week.

A tarp covers unfinished repairs on the roof of Paul and Pei Chang's Berkeley home. A large pine tree fell on it in January of last year. They lived in one room of the house with their four young girls until that August when they moved out for Vanderbuilt construction to begin repairs. They've lived in hotels and with family and friends ever since.

"Vanderbuilt was recommended by Farmers," said Paul Chang.

But now Vanderbuilt is bankrupt. Chang's work is far from completed, and all of the insurance company's $72,000 is gone. Farmers issued three checks made out to Chang and his mortgage bank, Wells Fargo. Chang says Farmers explained how to handle the checks.

"Their instructions were to endorse them, then hand them over to the contractor who would know what to do," he said.

He cashed them at Fremont Bank, and because of the bankruptcy, Chang has no way to recover the money.

Chang had back surgery last week, but plans to complete the work himself, borrowing from his 401K to pay for it.

"Fremont Bank themselves, they shouldn't have allowed those checks to be cashed because it's cashed by a third party," said Chang. "I don't know, I just feel like in the lurch, my insurance company has abandoned me."

Michelle Krespi is in the same situation, but with even more money.

"I think it's about $330,000," she said. "It's pretty disgusting OK, it's pretty horrible."

Her jewelry business and two apartments were in an Oakland building heavily damaged by an electrical fire a year ago. The Hartford recommended Vanderbuilt and issued two checks -- one for more than $259,000. They were made out to her and her mortgage bank where she planned to set up an escrow account. But she says Vanderbuilt objected.

"They said, 'No, no, no, it's going to be really hard if we do it that way. Just sign it over to us and we'll take care of it,' said Krespi.

Krespi says there's more than $200,000 worth of work left on her building.

"I'm going to have to sue everybody," she said. "But do you think this is what I want to do? I mean, really?"

ABC7 was unable to reach Vanderbuilt owner Mike Boshard and his attorneys, and Fremont Bank also did not return our calls. Both the Changs and Krespi say they have reason to believe Boshard was taking their insurance money to cover costs on old jobs, rather than the intended job.


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