AUGUSTA — Attorney General Aaron M. Frey announced today that he has filed a civil action in the Knox County Superior Court on behalf of the State against Castle Builders, Inc., its owner Malcolm I. Stewart, and his wife Elizabeth J. Stewart for alleged violations of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against the Defendants that will prohibit them from soliciting or contracting with consumers for home construction services in the State of Maine, restitution for consumers who suffered financial loss caused by their unlawful practices, civil penalties and attorney's fees.
"This is a particularly egregious example of a business using deceptive marketing to take advantage of Maine consumers," said Frey in a news release. “My office has listened to numerous stories from individuals who were wronged by Castle Builders, and we are seeking justice on their behalf.”
The Stewarts began operating Castle Builders in early 2017 out of the Agway building that they rented on Route 17 in Union, Maine. They aggressively marketed their home construction and repair services to consumers who lived in Knox, Waldo or Lincoln counties. Many consumers who hired them had received a cold call from a telemarketer who solicited them for Castle Builders. Consumers who hired Castle Builders were required to pay a down payment of at least one-third of the contract price when the contract was signed, another one-third at the start of the job, and the balance upon completion. The Stewarts abruptly closed the business, without notice to their employees or customers, on or about September 6, 2019. They moved to South Carolina, and have filed petitions for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, which are pending in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maine. The pending bankruptcy will not impact the Attorney Generals action.
Since the Defendants closed Castle Builders, the Attorney General’s Office has interviewed and taken complaints from 47 consumers who did not receive the contracted work and materials for which they had paid in advance. Many got nothing for their money. Consumers complained that Defendants employed workers who were unskilled and whom they failed to adequately supervise. The work was shoddy, and Defendants failed to correct it. Some consumers complained that Defendants caused damage to the homes because they failed to protect them from rain or snow. Consumers who tried to speak with Malcolm Stewart about their concerns were often put off by staff or ignored.
In addition to announcing the legal action against Castle Builders, Attorney General Frey urged consumers to exercise caution when hiring home construction contractors.
Maine does not license home construction contractors so consumers must proceed with caution when hiring a contractor, said Frey. Ask your friends and family for the names of people who have done good work for them. Check references and do some research to determine if the contractor is reputable or has many complaints. Also, read Chapter 17 of the Attorney General’s Consumer Law Guide, which has information on Maines law governing home construction and repair contracts, and what you can do if you’re not satisfied with the contractors work.
The chapter can be found on the Office of the Attorney General website.