AUSTIN (KXAN) — Months after KXAN debuted an investigation into Bella Vita Custom Homes, LLC, after homebuyers in the west Travis County subdivision of Spanish Oaks were left with their dream homes unfinished, the case is playing out in federal bankruptcy court.
“It feels like the justice process is going along at a snail’s pace—if it’s even moving,” said Joel Lackovich, a creditor in Bella Vita Custom Homes’ bankruptcy case building a home in Spanish Oaks. “They never intended on finishing our home.”
Joel and Tracey Lackovich, along with dozens of more homebuyers in Austin and the Dallas metroplex are convinced the custom home builder misspent their money in order to benefit the company’s bottom line. Now, they want to see criminal charges.
“They’re really close to just getting away with taking our money, not being able to report where it went,” said Jennifer Williamson, a creditor in the case, based in Dallas. Williamson says she and her husband paid Bella Vita Custom Homes nearly $280,000 to remodel their home in Dallas, but the company only completed about 75 percent of the work.
Court documents filed by attorneys for the homebuyers accuse CEO Andy Clem of knowingly and fraudulently making false representations in their bankruptcy case in an attempt to evade paying the creditors the money they are owed. They further claim Clem failed to disclose his close financial ties to numerous contracting companies which did business with Bella Vita Custom Homes. Homebuyers argue Clem chose to pay the main contractors, but not other subcontractors.
Subcontractor Chris Staff, with CSTAFF Construction based in Dripping Springs, tells KXAN at the end of 2014, he noticed Bella Vita developed a pattern of making late payments. “We started to see signs of payments being later by days and then weeks, and then one payment a month instead of two payments a month. When we’d call for payment or issues, it seems like they’d always have an excuse for something,” said Staff.
On Dec. 14, 2016, after being in business for six years, Bella Vita Custom Homes filed for bankruptcy.
“Their excuses of payroll and rain delays and things like that, it just doesn’t make sense,” said Adam Norton, another Dallas creditor. Norton says his home is now in danger of foreclosure if he and his wife do not come up with $50,000 in liens.
Cameras were not allowed inside the federal courthouse in Dallas at the final bankruptcy meeting, but KXAN was inside and obtained an audio recording of the meeting.
Clem explained that the company had “systemic cost overrun issues the last two years.” He went on to say, “The prices of our materials and labor went through the roof, and that killed us.”
After the meeting concluded, KXAN’s Brittany Glas confronted Clem and his attorney about the fraud allegations. The attorney denied the allegations.
“They have no money,” said Clem’s bankruptcy attorney Martin Thomas.
Meanwhile, the homebuyers say they’re left to figure out how to move forward.
“At some point, we just have to have faith that it’s going to catch up with them,” said Williamson.
Clem testified last month that he is now working as a contractor for ID Homes. That company has taken on several of the failed Bella Vita projects. Meanwhile, records say the list of other companies Clem was connected to are no longer operating.