State warns against using Chiaramonte Construction; ex-employee calls company 'mismanaged'

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- A former Chiaramonte Construction employee told ABC7 News that the company had only good intentions when it signed contracts to build homes in fire-ravaged Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, but she describes the subsequent process as "mismanaged."

Elizabeth Zayas spent about a year and a half as a secretary at the company, but quit alongside her husband, a superintendent who had been working on the homes in Santa Rosa. "I first noticed issues three months ago. There were hardships. Things were not getting paid in a timely manner. My husband feels that it is going to hit the fan real soon. He has a good reputation and does not want to be part of it. This was a choice we had to make."

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Her husband, Moses Guardiola, now works with another builder in the area. "You cannot build homes and not be paid," said Guardiola. "I am not here to talk about the financial stuff, but there is a big list. The subcontractors want to get paid." Chiaramonte owed his present employer, Jeremy Brazil Construction, "$50,000," he said.

Elizabeth Zayas describes Chiaramonte Construction as a Christian, faith-based company. "There is no doubt about their good intentions, but they have been dragged through the mud."

On Friday, the California State Contractors Licensing Board confirmed 10 complaints from Chiaramonte customers. Eight accuse the company of abandonment and diversion of funds. Others include diversion of construction funds, departure from trade standards, fraud, lack of reasonable diligence, failure to pay for materials, and failure to set approximate start or stop dates.

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"We believe there is enough information to warn consumers about this company," said Rick Lopes, who speaks for the State Licensing Board. "We believe there is enough information to indicate a possible violation of laws leading to the revocation of their license."

Further, Lopes said the Sonoma County District Attorney may find grounds to consider criminal charges, "...including grand theft."

Company officer Pam Chiaramonte has not responded to interview requests for this story, but told ABC7 News on Tuesday that the company intends to honor its contracts. She said Chiaramonte Construction underestimated the effects of rain, long distance, and other local factors. "Nobody was prepared for what happened there. Nobody had gone through this debacle before. Not people. Not cities or counties. Permits got bogged down in a bottleneck. Then they all came out in one big lump."

The company has been trying to keep pace with demands. Chiaramonte's initial plan had been to use Central Valley labor and materials at Central Valley prices, but those agreements did not work out as planned. Many of those laborers moved to more lucrative jobs. "Knowing what we know now, we would do it differently," said Pam Chiaramonte.

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Elizabeth Zayas told ABC7 News that Chiaramonte needs to take responsibility for its present position. "Ain't nobody able to fix the position that Chiaramonte is in except (owner) Sal. He needs to go out there and show his workers. You can't just point fingers and think things are going to be done. If I owned a company, I would want people to see the owner. Take responsibility. Sal is a laid-back kind of guy. The homeowners want to see Sal."

When asked directly on Tuesday if the company faces bankruptcy, Pam Chiaramonte said, "No." She blamed incomplete and inflammatory media reports for worsening their predicament. "The more we get harassed and bugged and questioned and followed, the more difficult it is to do our job. The people we are building for will get their homes done properly."

"After I seen the devastation, it could have been in the movies," said Guardiola as tears welled in his eyes. "It could have been us. I wanted to help. Get them home. This has to stop."

At his new company, Guardiola is working on 15 of the projects. "We are going to build them and get them back home."
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