AVOID THIS CONTRACTOR! One of the most dishonest contractors of North Texas. Here is our story…
Please leave a comment if you know the recent whereabouts of Stephen Burch, or his associates, or have had any negative (or even positive!) contract work experience with Stalworth. You can also leave a TEXT or VOICE MAIL at (386) 406-3111 for any information (such as whereabouts of this individual, workers who can say whether materials were or were not ordered, or any past experience working with Stalworth). This number is dedicated to LEAVING INFORMATION related to Stalworth, it will not be actively answered, but we may return calls as appropriate.
We are looking for the materials that he said he ordered for us and had in his warehouse as early as JANUARY 2023 and as recently as MAY 2023 and has never shown up – and now this guy has DISAPPEARED!
While I am very ashamed and hurt about what has happened here, and it is has severely stress my otherwise wonderful marriage. I am willing to expose the exact details of what happened here so that others can hopefully avoid a similar situation.
Very Quick Overview of when and how much he stole:
THEFT BY FRAUD. The page below is from my own personal Bible given to me over 30 years ago, where in the Old Testament book Deuteronomy 5:19 we are reminded that “You shall not steal” is one of the core moral principles and demands of the Lord, as handed down to by Moses. Stephen Burch was entrusted with funds to purchase certain materials (roofing, sliding, windows, doors) and stated several times he had these items in storage – yet never provided any evidence of these purchases (after being asked several times to do so), and when the time came near to begin using these materials for the next phases of the build project, Burch disappeared and abandoned the job site entirely – with no explanation and no contact for now several months.
Theft is not just legally wrong but is also extremely morally wrong, especially when combined with deceit and lies (i.e. fraud). Stealing the life savings of one under the pretense of helping another is not charity. There is also the saying “two wrongs don’t make a right,” so despite all outrage about this situation, we will coordinate with law enforcement and appropriate due process to rectify this as best as legally possible.
August 5th, 2022: Initial payment for project blueprints ($5,000)
August 12th, 2022: Meeting at site to examine slope/grade and conditions of site
August 19th, 2022: Stalworth provides first 3D model for feedback
August 28th, 2022: Stalworth provides revised 3D model
September 7th, 2022: We provided materials “wish list” to help prepare estimate
September 13, 2022: Stalworth sends contract for review
September 14th, 2022: Contract signed and 20% down paid ($55,424.88), Stephen provides estimate of project complete in April 2023
October 17th, 2022: Stalworth e-mail stating port-a-potty and trash-bin will be provided. Port-a-potty was provided in December by Massey’s.
(replanning in November to do basement build rather than dirt grade)
December 2nd, 2022: Foundation work began
December 16th, 2022: Main foundation work completed, 10% ACH payment ($27,712.44) [never refunded!]
December 19th, 2022: Check for 2nd “double payment” of 10% cleared ($27,712.44)
January 10th, 2023: Request for $100,000 check for bulk order of materials (and a claim of saving $16K later)
January 11th, 2023: Bulk order payment agreed and $100,000 check paid (check picked up by Robert Coker). Stephen text that “shell” of home will go up next week. No shell goes up, no work done the rest of three month.
February 17th, 2023: Stalworth reports they have “remodeled their office”, indicates our build project can be completed by July 2023
(March: no progress – no explanation)
(April: no progress – no explanation)
April 14th, 2023: E-mail sent to Stalworth on concerns about proceeding with the build; response of framing crew secured and build will start the following week. Nothing shows up rest of that month.
(April came and went)
May 1st, 2023: My retired father comes to try to help find new contractor
May 3rd, 2023: Stalworth “crew” of three finally arrives at site with trailer of material
May 4th, 2023: Both halves of sub-floor completed
May 5th, 2023: Concerned about no real framing crew coming, my father contacts Spartan Construction
May 8th, 2023: Stephen of Stalworth states he has “framing package and windows” ready in his warehouse. None of this claimed material arrives.
May 13th, 2023: Second stern e-mail to Stephen about lack of progress
May 15th, 2023: Stephen of Stalworth responds with long letter of apology
May 16th, 2023: Stalworth crew shows up at site, one wall per day using a generator. Stephen says house will be “dried in” by end of the month [this does not happen either]
May 25th 2023: E-mail sent to Stalworth relaying concerns from the POA about lack of dumpster and June 23rd deadline of building permit
May 26th, 2023: My parents (two 70 year olds) use a jackhammer to drill hole for temporary power poll; Robert Coker offers to bring temp pole next day
May 28th, 2023: Framing of first and second floor mostly complete, two floor plan changes discussed and approved (no cost, on the job build adjustment)
May 29th, 2023: Temporary power poll provided by Robert, we secure it into the hole and put up bracing
May 31st, 2023: UCS power company connected main power to the temporary pole meter; metal 20-yard dumpster delivered (at my expense)
(house is still not dried in! no roof, not ready for siding, no windows)
June 2nd, 2023: Stalworth crew continues on roof framing (now no longer using generator power since we supplied power hookup)
June 8th, 2023: Discussion with Stephen on carport extension and rear-sliding door patio; agreed on $8,800 payment for these changes (and made that payment)
June 9th, 2023: Stalworth contracts two individuals to complete the house-wrapping work
June 14th, 2023: House wrap work completed (over two working days), Stalworth completes patio sub-flooring (using incorrect 1/2″ flooring that must be replaced)
June 26th, 2023: Text from Stephen that windows, siding, and roofers all to be there during the next week. None of this shows up.
July 2nd, 2023: Fire emergency in the area over the weekend, helicopters draw water from the lake to put out forest fire. No houses lost.
July 5th, 2023: Last text we received from Stephen “Doors will be ready to pick up on the 15th.” and that we had two weeks until the electrical contractors arrived. Nothing showed up.
July 10th, 2023: Stalworth worker Tom shows up in red truck, removes all Stalworth tools and equipment from the site.
(no contact or work progress)
July 30th, 2023: E-mail sent to Stalworth outlining contract violations and demand for workers to show up that week or we will terminate the contract.
August 1st, 2023: Final attempt by my wife to contact Stephen or anyone from Stalworth. After this point, we do not feel safe to contact them.
August 4th, 2023: Cannon Law Firm contacted to send confirmed letter of notice of termination, request of money to be refunded, and offer to discount the refund amount based on (full) itemized receipts + 10% bonus for delivery fee to our storage. This is to be done within 30 days.
Detailed long version. This is not a script, all this actually happened.
PART 1: How we ended up with Stalworth Construction (not our first choice)…
In 2020, my wife and I bought some land near Possum Kingdom Lake (West of Mineral Wells, Texas). By 2022, I had designed a modest 1400sqft two story home, and we were ready to start on a build. The first contractor gave us a quote of $550K which we felt was too high, based on our materials estimates (and that a nearby 2000sqft home had been recently completed for about $450K). The POA (property owners association) had already approved our plans and given us a building permit, so the clock was ticking on getting a build started.
So, we shopped other contractors that were familiar with the area and they were all committed to current projects. Looking further out, we even consulted Tilson Homes in Weatherford, but they had start times at about 24 months out. We came across Stalworth Construction in Mineral Wells. I met with Stephen Burch at their office at 3105 MH 379 Mineral Wells, TX, 76067. Down the street (west) from the regional airport.
I understood that Stalworth was primarily a remodeling business. My father worked remodeling jobs as well, but he always talked about building complete homes. I knew remodelers often had ambition to work large jobs or had prior experience in each aspect of home building. I made sure Stephen understood this was in a bit further away and remote job, and if it was something he was really up to doing. He responded that yes, he was “excited” and looking forward to the job, and that they had an opening to start on our job within the next month.
I wanted to make sure my wife was comfortable with this contractor, so we scheduled another meeting at the same office. We met Stephen’s mother, a couple office assistants, and Stephen’s foreman Robert Coker. We had discussed some brush piles to be removed, and Robert mentioned he used to be part of the Volunteer Fire Department of Mineral Wells and was familiar with that kind of work. Stephen’s mother was managing computer file records and phone calls. There were a number of blueprints and photos of other jobs along the walls, giving evidence of (alleged) prior work that they had done. After discussion of our build plan and getting to know Stephen, my wife and I decided to proceed with this contractor.
PART 2: Starting the Work
Because the build was of my own design, we first had to shore up the blueprints. So, I sent a PayPal payment to Stalworth for $5,000 on August 5th, 2022, along with the draft design that I had mocked up in SweetHome3D, which was payment to produce blueprints for this build project.
The following was my starting draft design:
I met with Stephen at the land job site on August 12th, 2022, to review the slope/grade and overall conditions to expect (condition and path of roads, logistics of moving trucks and trailers in, out). I also sent Stephen details of the power company (United Cooperative Services) and POA contact information (as the POA provided details of water connection). By this time I had already coordinated with UCS to put up the main power pole at the street, but our expectation was that the building contractor would handle any temporary pole connection from there. I had also paid for the grinder pump and water connection hookup at the street (utility provided by the POA), so that water was ready to be available when needed.
August 19th, 2022: Stalworth provided a link to a 3D model of the plans. On review, we saw several minor mistakes in those plans. Nothing major, just a couple clarifications that were needed. We communicated those issues to Stalworth.
August 28th, 2022: Stalworth provided the revised 3D model, and also two PDF files representing their interpretation of the floor plans for the 1st and 2nd floors. There was one minor revision to those plans, which was done and sent to us on September 1st. That model still remains publicly available at the following link: https://accounts.chiefarchitect.com/3DV/view?share=456309364039982
With the design now settled, Stalworth proceeded with preparing their materials cost and overall build estimate. On September 7th, 2022 we provided notes (as requested by Stalworth) on our preferences for flooring (tile), cabinet styles, stair style, sink style, etc. Not as firm requirements, but as general context for what we are looking for in materials and color, to help Stalworth prepare their estimate.
That estimate was provided to us for signature on September 13, 2022. The contract is available here: HERE
(note that the website PDF export of the contract adjust the format making it slightly difficult to read, but all the line-item contract content is present)
The contract estimate of ~$277K was in line with my own materials and labor estimates at the time. Stephen met at our home in Fort Worth the following day, Wednesday September 14th, 2022. My wife asked an estimate of when the build could be completed, Stephen gave a verbal estimate of April of the following year (which starting then would have been a 7 month build process, which seemed reasonable to us). We signed the agreement and wrote a check for the 20% initial payment ($55,424.88).
On October 17th, 2022, Stephen of Stalworth Construction sent an e-mail to us stating they would be sure to have a port-a-potty and trash bin setup before construction began (since I had reminded them these were POA requirements). While Stalworth did provide a port-a-potty, the “trash bin” they setup was a small wooden box and not a full sized 40-yard metal dumpster that all other contractors in the area were using.
Throughout November, I met with Stephen twice at the build site. The initial plan was to bring in dirt to grade the land and build on a concrete slab. The first time we met this month was to meet with the contractor that would truck in the dirt (who was there just to get a general assessment of where to dump the dirt and how many loads would be needed). About a week later, Stephen indicated that he felt that contractor he had requested to deliver the dirt was giving an inflated price because of the location, so he was waiting for other contractors. The second time I met Stephen in November was that he had a new plan, to build a short concrete wall and build the floor on cross beams. I consulted my father, who has construction experience (in both far north and in the south), and he agreed this is probably a better approach (combined with two supporting concrete pads at the center). This would give us flexibility in the plumbing and a kind of “basement space” for storage. So we informed Stalworth that we agreed with this change.
Note that also throughout November, Stephen had requested for us to select and indicate our interior choices: door styles, cabinet and handle styles, flooring material and style, lights, etc.
Actual construction began on December 2nd, 2022. I was there that day to setup two property monitoring cameras.
On December 16th, 2022 Stephen contacted me that this phase of foundation work was completed and payment for the next phase was due. This was consistent with the contract, where First Payment was 10% for “Dirt work and foundation poured.”
PART 3: The Fraud Begins
Because we would be on travel for the upcoming holiday, Stephen was apparently desperate to get this next payment before we left out of town for break. I understood it was holiday time and workers needed to be paid before a long break. I stayed home Friday December 16th, 2022 to help ensure this payment was made. I did an ACH payment (a kind of bank transfer), this was done using a web portal interface provided by Stalworth (invoice #1168, for $27,712.44). But then Stephen texted and said some kind of hold would be on this payment, causing delays in paying workers. That sounded odd to me, but he said (in text) he would refund that ACH online payment and he asked if he could send his daughter to pick up a check. I didn’t mind, though it seemed to me a check would also have a hold also. In his text, he said he would refund the earlier payment, so I didn’t mind if writing a check was more convenient to him. I also offered to drive to his Mineral Wells location, which I did end up doing, but Friday mid-afternoon traffic was congested. I informed Stephen I would be later than expected, which he understood and commented that indeed traffic at that time through Weatherford probably was unfavorable. Per my banks copy of the check that was written (for same amount of $27,712.44), the check was posted Monday December 19th, 2022.
We then went on break. Over the break, I did notice the earlier ACH payment hadn’t been refunded. On December 31st, 2022, I sent a gentle reminder to Stephen about the missing refund payment, as a hint that I hadn’t forgotten about him saying it would be refunded. But received no comment or response about it. By “not urgent” and “spent eventually” I meant it could be refunded after banks opened after the holidays, or understood it has to spent for the large build project (but would expect receipts and justification for paying ahead of the contact payment schedule).
NOTE: To explain my mindset here – I reminded myself that the main reason I was giving Stalworth a chance was (at the time) I thought he was an upstart, and this was my way of helping a local business better themselves (from remodeling to full house builds). My parents neighbor back in Florida got his start in exactly the same way (called Built With Love). This is why I didn’t give Stephen too much of a hard time about not doing the refund, as long he did end up doing a decent job here. But the lack of that refund was my first indicator that Stephen was not trustworthy to actually be true to his words.
The next response was on January 10th, 2023 where Stephen sent a text “We have the opportunity to purchase a large quantity of materials and prepay for some others in order to lock in pricing before they go up at the end of the month.” Then continued to say this would translate into a savings of about $16K on the total build. But to do this, they needed a check right away for $100,000. I had assumed this “savings” was in conjunction with the prior double-payment of $27,712.44. I discussed with my father and my wife, and it did seem plausible that material cost would be rising. We were also, to that point, content with the progress of the work.
I sent a text response saying I agreed to the payment, which Stephen responded “Thank you, I believe it is a smart decision for both of us to be able to secure such savings. She will see the shell going up the next week and things taking shape.” My wife and I had met Stephen at the Stalworth office a few days earlier, where my wife was concerned no progress on the job had been done since December 16th (now about 3 weeks). So, by “shell going up” Stephen was referring to the framing, which generally does go quickly. That morning of January 11th, 2023 I stayed home again to be sure Stalworth got the necessary check. Robert Coker (foreman of the project) was sent to our address to pick up the check. I stressed to Robert this was not lottery winnings money, it was combined savings over decades, and was the largest personal check I had ever written. It was my way of saying “please don’t screw us.” Robert said he understood and took the check.
There was an issue later that day, where Stephen requested (via text) that I contact my bank to verify the transfer. I had already called the bank earlier that day, to indicate a “larger than normal” check would be written that day. But still, I appreciated their caution, and I called the bank again to confirm the transaction. Per my bank’s records, the check was posted to Stalworth that same day of January 11th.
It was after this point that things began to get very uncomfortable. The “shell” that Stephen mentioned did not go up and all of January came and went.
Our next contact from Stalworth was not until mid-February, where they reported that they had remodeled their Mineral Wells Office. This was infuriating because there was no update or response on if the material order were all successful (were the “savings” secured?), where were the materials being stored, or why the framing still hadn’t started. At this point, we had given Stalworth a total of $215,849.76. Had they actually spent some of this money doing their own office remodeling? This wasn’t profit money for them, they still a long way to go on the actual work first. A lot of red flags were now apparent, in hindsight.
$ 5,000.00 blueprints $ 55,424.88 20% down $ 27,712.44 payment 1 (ACH, was to be refunded) $ 27,712.44 payment 1 (via check) $100,000.00 accelerated materials purchase
February continued to be cold and March had a hailstorm (the POA sent out a notice for remote homeowners to check for damages on their properties, as many homes did have damaged roofs). I had multiple cameras at the job site, one of them was damaged by the hailstorm. That said, here is an example of how bad the weather was on most days in mid-March. Per the cameras, 78degreesF and clear blue skies by mid-afternoon (yes, I am being facetious here, the weather was great for outdoor work while Stalworth just complained about hailstorms). Infuriating again that no progress was made during the entire month of March.
Stephen indicated to us that his mother began having significant intestine-related health issues at this time (late February) and could not come back to the office. I understood she was a vital employee to their operation, so we decided to have patience on this build. I reminded Stephen that our build permit was until June 23rd, 2023. He assured us that the build could still be completed by July (whereas earlier he had said April).
Compare the following photo below that is from March 20th, 2023 to the earlier photo of December 16th, 2022. In three months time, all that had been done is to pile up the supporting concrete support scaffolding. The POA had already alerted me to concerns about having loose debris at the site and no proper 20-yard metal dumpster. I had requested copies of blueprints and photos of materials (or receipts thereof), Stephen said he would provide those “the next day” and never did. This is after giving an extra $120K money (relative to the original agreed pay schedule) with intent of accelerating this build.
MARCH 20th, 2023: No progress since December 16, 2022.
APRIL 6th, 2023: No progress, multiple piles of loose debris.
NOTE: Per the above, recall Stephen said “shelled in” (framing) back in January. He had all of March to find a framing crew, then again April 6 claims to have a framing crew – no framing goes up in April either.
On April 14th, 2023, I sent a long e-mail to Stephen indicating our point of view. I understood he was having staffing issues, but we had paid significantly into this project and still had an expectation of it being completed by mid-year (or at least framed and dried in). If he was not in a position to complete the project, we needed to know and make other arrangements. We didn’t mind delays, but we just needed to be truthfully informed.
I recognize that times are tough all over, and it wasn’t like any other builder could promptly pick up our work (due to already having their own commitments scheduled). I also requested that all payments we had made so far be reflected in the project web portal hosted by Stalworth. Also there was still no explanation about lack of refunding the double payment, no copy of blueprints, and no evidence of materials ordered.
NOTE: At this time, we also became aware of Stephen’s prior incident in 2008 where he had essential done the same fraud. Out of respect to veterans (of his “crew”), I was willing to give him one last chance.
In his e-mail response on that same day, Stephen stated he had “finally secured our framing crew” and “We will get there this coming week and finally get the home building.” Stephen did update the web portal with the amounts paid as requested. But April came and went, with no build progress – more lies and delays. No framers came, as Stephen claimed that they “no showed” or “they weren’t the right kind of people” (unsure what he meant by that, other than they were probably the kind of people who actually wanted to be paid for doing the job).
NOTE: Around this time, Stephen indicate one reason they hadn’t showed up to do any work is because they were at a Christian Retreat. We certainly don’t mind that, except how should that prevent the claimed “secured framing crew” from coming to do the work? (Answer: because he lied and had no framing crew).
NOTE: I recall near the end of April, in a phone conversation with me, Stephen stated that in May he would sending a couple of his workers to a special tile laying training (we wanted our first floor to be all tile). I couldn’t care less because at that point all I had a $200K chunk of concrete, no framing, and was burning increasing interest on my HELOC loan. But I am noting this story from Stephen because Jim had relayed a similar experience to me. This may have been part of Stephens fraud strategy to try to buy more time (i.e. a sentiment of “I’m not doing the work now because I’m training people to do the work I already said I could do, and we’ll back to your job when we feel like it.”).
PART 4: Partial Damage Control
By this point my wife was throwing up and losing sleep that we had lost so much money. My April letter was intended as the “one last chance” notice. On May 1st, 2023, my father (retired) came over from Florida to try to help us find framers and a new builder, as I’m busy with my own full-time job. We tried to stress to Stephen just communicate with us the sub-contractor cost, we’ll likely approve it, and move on with the build. We just needed to get to the dried in state and we’ll deal with funding the interior work when we get there. [ since that time, it has become apparent that the reason Stephen couldn’t find any workers is because he has the reputation of not paying his sub-contractors; nobody wants to work with him! ]
May 2nd, 2023: Text from Stephen indicating “Just got cleared and able to get off meds!!” Unclear what he means, as there was no prior mention of any meds.
At 10am on Wednesday May 3rd, 2023, Stephen himself, Robert Coker, and a worker named Tom did show up to start the sub-flooring work. All the talk of finding a framing crew, week after week, was a lie. Stephen informed us that he decided to “use his own crew” to save cost. While we were still very concerned about the claimed materials having been purchased or not, we were content to see some progress being made. That’s all we were asking for.
By 3pm on May 4th, 2023, most of the sub-floor work was completed. If you look closely in the left side of the far background, you can compare the image below to the March 15th image earlier and see that the entire framing of a house across the street has been completed in under two months. In contrast to Stalworth crew taking now six months just to get a sub-floor completed.
Rains came and I had to request for Stephen to cover the sub-floor wood, which he did send out Tom to do this (not until May 10th, a week later).
That Friday, May 5th, my father contacted Harvey of Spartan Construction to request help on framing. In a follow up on May 8th, Harvey said he did have some workers available. Per a text from Stephen, he got a call from and talked with Harvey and shared build plans and was preparing arrangements. We explicitly asked Stephen what the cost are (a line item in the contract states we are permitted to request this bid information), but he never did share a number for that cost (because it was a lie, he never contacted anyone). Stephen also stated on May 8th that he had the “framing package and windows” in his warehouse. I called Harvey a few days later to ask if they had coordinated with Stalworth, which he replied that Stephen had not called them back. More lies from the Stalworth side.
NOTE: In the above, Stephen makes claim on May 9th of contact with a recommended framer. They never show up. Also in some other discussions in May, he sent markings on the blueprints (showing that the requested prints that we had paid for and requested were available).
On May 13th, 2023, I sent a stern e-mail to Stalworth stating concerns on the lack of progress (again) and reminding them that they said they would be there every day until the house was “dried in.” I asked again why the double payment was never refunded, and for him to provide the blueprints and any evidence of materials ordered (receipts or photos). We demanded to meet with him at the Stalworth office the next business day. Stephen’s response was to blame my father for distracting him from finding an “affordable framer” that was now no longer available. He also stated he could not meet at his office and his crew would be back at our job site on Tuesday. Stephen never denied that we made the double payment, and after numerous request he refused to provide the blueprints that we paid $5000 for. He also never gave any evidence of the materials ordered (windows, roofing, doors) after we had asked now three times for this information.
NOTE: We realized later the reason Stephen did not want to meet at his office is because sub-contractors were coming to his Mineral Wells office asking to be paid. We sat near the parking lot there and observed numerous people coming there, asking to be paid, and being turned away.
On May 15th, 2023, Stephen sent an e-mail with a long letter of apology to the anxiety caused and long delays. And also the following statement: “I don’t quit! I WON’T QUIT! Not on you, your family, or this home. I have a legacy for the two children we are raising (and) the 7 that are grown and the many grand-children that the Lord has blessed us with.” We appreciated the humility and decided (again) to be patient.
Stephen’s “crew” did show back up May 16th, 2023. Notice below on the left side is a yellow generator – Stephen still had not contacted United Cooperative Services about the temporary pole. He was full intent on building a house using a noisy gas generator that would overheat after half a day. I took time off work to be present at the site, since my wife was still in tears over this situation. My father was there also. We supplied fuel when the generator ran out, we brought lunches, and in general made sure they had what they needed to work. Keeping in mind they had already been well paid for this work.
They went along putting up about one wall a day with his own crew. On some days, Robert and Stephens’ wives helped out. I was there one of the days they were working, and Stephen relayed the following to me: After my wife had message him a long note about contradicting Christian values, Stephen said to me that he told his wife that they really needed to do this job, and that’s why they had “come back.” I appreciated the honesty, but it was another infuriating thing for him to say: he needed to do the job because he was paid a lot of money to do it! But to remain friendly, my only response was that I was thankful for their work, and that I understood how time spent at this job meant not being somewhere else. And I truly get that, it was already getting hot to work by 1pm; but this job was supposed to have been done in April!
On May 25th 2023, I sent an e-mail to Stalworth reminding them of the POA’s concern of our lack of dumpster and that they might not renew the build permit over this. Stephen did not seem concerned about it, though he did say he had called several dumpster offices and they all had “expensive monthly fees.” [ Hello, then get the job done quickly to avoid those fees! ]
It also became apparent that Stephen was NOT going to contact the power company and was just going to keep using that generator. Stephen’s point of view, as he discussed with us, was that the house was complete enough that the power company should just trench now and place the power meter where we now know it is going to go. He felt there was no need for a temporary power pole and said, “that’s how it was done at all his other jobs.”
We told him that we had called the power company three times, and they said each time that on a new build for this area, we must start with a temporary pole since they would not trench until the build was completed. In addition, the temporary pole must be within 50ft of the main pole. We also pointed out to Stephen that every other build in the area was using a temporary power pole. Stephen claimed he had also called the power company to coordinate the trenching of the line, but we don’t think that was true (our contacts at the power company said they never got a call from Stephen or Stalworth).
Our build is about 200ft from the street, so Stephen stated that his other concern was dragging power cables that far (and across the driveway). In a moment you’ll see how we handled that.
My dear parents, both over age 70, they jackhammered a hole 50ft from our main pole! This was on Friday May 26th, 2023. There are many pancake layers of rocks to get through, so this took several hours. After seeing this, Robert Coker then reported that they just happen to have a spare temporary power pole and would bring it the next day. Seriously, that’s all it took to get them to finally bring one?
The “Stalworth crew” actually had a good effort all through May. Here on Sunday May 28th, 2023. the second-floor frame was mostly complete (see below). However, this is work that should have taken a proper crew 3 days rather than 12 days, and it was still far from actually being dried in. The yellow generator is in the back of the silver truck.
During this time, Stephen did contact us and requested permission on a couple floor plan changes. One was that the bottom floor staircase would need a support banister to the ceiling, and on the second floor the hallway access door was angled more to the East. Both minor and reasonable changes. My father was there every day also to observe the work (renting a car and hotel in the area), and he was satisfied with the overall quality of the materials and how things were being put together (while not exactly as he would have done it, but still overall reasonable enough). My father also did observe that in his truck, Stephen did have printed copies of our blueprints – which proved that they did exist – but Stalworth still never provided us copies of them.
NOTE: My point in the above is that Stephen did know how to contact us and was perfectly capable of reaching us when he wanted to. This fact become important in July.
True his word, Robert did provide a temporary pole the next day. They just tossed it into the hole, not bothering to actually secure it in place.
So, we helped secure the pole into the ground, added braces. And true to their word, the power company connected it up the next work day on Wednesday May 31st, 2023 I also bought two 10 gauge contractor quality 100ft cables, long enough to route them around the driveway area, and directly to the front of the house.
I took this day off work (May 31st), to also coordinate delivery of a 20-yard roll-off metal dumpster. My father and I had cleared trees and cactus debris so this could be placed right next to the build site. Stephen’s “little helpers” (his kids) helped toss the wood and plastic debris in the area into the dumpster. I was gaining confidence again in Stephen, and I recalled his mother was going through health issues. So, I didn’t mind helping on these little things myself to help keep his team moving (even though, again, he had been paid very well upfront already to do this work).
June 2nd, 2023: Progress continued, on the roof support and siding. This is still not yet dried in. Ever since the temporary pole was setup, Stalworth crew stopped bringing their generator (and not a word of Thanks, for this or the dumpster).
NOTE: Again on June 4th, Stephen makes a claim of bringing in sub-contractor crews. None of them show up. No materials show up. No evidence of receipts. The wooden frame remains exposed to the elements. At this point we stress to just tell us the sub-contractor price, since we urgently need the structure dried in to avoid mold or other damage to the wood.
June 8th, 2023: I was encouraged by the hustle of work throughout May. While not fast, at least forward progress was being made. Stephen and I discuss an extension to the north carport area, and how to address the drop off of the rear sliding door exit. For the drop off, we decided on a wooden decking with an angled slope drive off for a small motor vehicle. Stephen’s estimate for these two changes was $8,800 (which he uses the web portal to formally provide an invoice). I agree and pay for this (in full) through the Stalworth web portal, with no issues — again, this payment was for additional materials and labor.
NOTE: Around this time, Stephen claimed that a HVAC ducting contractor was to meet him at the site, to review the routing of air conditioning lines. No such contractor ever showed up.
Friday June 9th, 2023: Stalworth did finally contract out to two non-family members to place the house wrap around the upper and lower floors. This was done over two days requiring some creative scaffolding. Note also that the front and rear patio work was also started.
The wrap was completed June 14th, 2023:
The last day of work by Stalworth was June 16th, 2023. The carport/patio area sub-floors were placed, making both north and rear deck areas walkable. It was unknown to us at the time that this would be their last day of work at this site.
NOTE: Stephen claimed that a decking contractor would arrive to take measurements needed to seal up the carport and patio area (as a portion of this decking goes over the house itself). No such contractor showed up.
There was a text from Stephen on June 26th, 2023, that windows, siding, and roofers were all to be there during this week. None of that showed up and there was no text or e-mail explanation from Stalworth as to why. The same old lies and delays were back again, I was ready to throw in the towel as we had already given numerous chances to actually do the job they were fully paid to do.
NOTE: With the proper dumpster now present, the POA did approve the build permit extension for another year. I’ve been transparent to them about our situation with Stalworth.
During the weekend of July 2nd, 2023 there was a fire emergency in the area that did include a mandatory evacuation. There was indeed a heatwave going on in Texas, but there was no notice from Stalworth at the web portal of the job site or any other means about any delays. The fire emergency did last 2 or 3 days, but the annual lake fireworks did proceed on July 8th.
NOTE: Per the contract, Stalworth is supposed to have their own insurance coverage. After the July 4th fires in the area, it occurred to me that Stephen probably doesn’t actually have any insurance. With the walls now up, I decided to sign up with Farmers Insurance for property and liability coverage.
On July 5th, 2023, Stephen last text was that “Doors will be ready to pick up on the 15th.” After so many lies about materials previously, I’m not inclined to believe him. Perhaps he is mixed up with other jobs?
PART 5: Hasta Nunca – project suddenly abandoned
On Monday July 10th, 2023, Tom used his red truck to gather up all the Stalworth equipment (ladders, sawhorses, hoses, cables, etc.). There has been no text or e-mail communication from Stephen or any Stalworth representative since then. We initially thought the equipment was just going to be used for some other work site, but it appears they decided to just totally abandon our project. As mentioned earlier, Stephen was very aware on how to contact us if he needed to.
July 30th, 2023: On request by my wife, we gave Stephen one last chance. I sent another stern e-mail to Stalworth listing the contract items they have violated. And if no crew shows that week, we will assume the project abandoned and submit for Termination. Those items of violation, from my perspective and interpretation of the signed contract agreement, are:
2. "without limitation, the schematic design" - you still have not provided blueprints as was requested two months ago. 3.2 "first-come, first-serve scheduling basis" - you are working other jobs, while we have paid over 80% of this one. 3.3 "three days" notice of Force Majeure Event - no notices have been given for any reason of delays. 5.1 re: "supply of workers" - where is the roofing crew? siding? plumbing? etc. 5.4 Permits. We did this for you (for POA), but see no posted contractors permit (as there are on the other sites) 5.7 Free from rubbish. We had to do this for you (obtain dumpster), at our cost. 6. Subcontracts. "retain information such as the name, address, bid" - you have never disclosed any bid information, as was requested. 7. Time. (time is of the essence) We now have exposed wood and pooling water on those materials. 13. Termination. re: "fails to supply enough properly skilled workers" - the workers you have are sufficiently skilled, but just not enough of them. 15. Offset. Our view is we've paid over $200k and do not yet even have $100k spent.
My wife and I both tried calling Stalworth several times after this (about 4 times on different days), with no answer or response. July came and went. On August 4th, 2023, I requested Cannon Law firm of Weatherford, Texas to formally inform Stalworth of our notice of Termination. In that notice, we informed that approximately $120K is owed back (corresponding to the build materials that were never delivered). That is, of the $220K paid (including the recent extension additions), we would credit him approximately $100K for the materials and labor conducted so far on the build. In addition to that, if any materials had been purchased and are available in storage, we would credit him the receipt price + 10% for those materials (paid as a convenience fee of having to deliver those materials to us).
The law office did report that the letter was successfully hand delivered by a hand-courier. We are told we must legally give him 30 days to respond. Thus far there has been no response.
September 5th, 2023: No response has been received within the 30 calendar days. A final Demand Letter has been sent certified by both UPS and USPS.
How the Fraud Works
In reviewing our letters and correspondence, I think we’ve remained polite, fair, and patient with Stephen. There is a saying, “we’ve bent over backwards” to try to accommodate his claimed personal situation (e.g. family health issues, loss of employees, delays into hot summer days). But Stephen’s conduct has just become excessively inexcusable, to the point that we are in agreement that criminal action of intentional fraud has taken place here. He is a “smooth talker” or a “charmer” and will say the right things to continue with his scams. I feel that my wife (a Catholic) became a victim of his claimed Christian persona, and she was conned into being willing to give this guy several chances to redeem himself. This persona did not have much sway with me, but I do respect and have faith in my wife’s judgement in making project decisions like this.
It has occurred to me, what this guy does is use one victim as his “bank” to fund the next scam. He has no credit to obtain his own loans or funds (as nearly every other reputable contractor does, since they don’t ask for money upfront). And/or he has no assets to use as collateral in his own name, which of course means very little chance of any financial recovery here. That’s why, when I realized in February that we had likely been scammed (when his first words after giving him $100K was that he had remodeled his store), I knew we couldn’t just ask for a refund (doing so would have just been a waste of time, especially given that no other contractor could resume the work at that time).
Our only choice was to try to get Stephen to either at least do some of the work, or to provide some of the materials by being “counter charming.” It worked a little bit, and there was a brief moment in June where I thought things had finally turned around – especially when they hustled over Memorial Day weekend. But now I have a wooden structure exposed to the elements. When he “cleared out” in mid-July, I knew that was the last we’d get out of him.
I believe Stephen’s modus operandi is to slowly do a small amount of work, since if a legal civil trial comes about he can claim he was at least making an effort. The “contract” doesn’t mean much, as Stephen can argue there were supply issues, worker issues, health issues, bad weather issues, etc. But just by being marginally present for the work, he can convince a court he was giving it “his best effort.” Individually that might fly but doing this 10X or 20X times over at the same time, that’s fraud. He wants people to cancel on him, so he can try to shame them into then paying for all this “material” and work he has done (such as by trying to charge 150% cancellation fees, etc.). He gambles that most people will just pay the cancellation fee. In my case, he never once showed any evidence of any materials ordered (after request for photos or receipts numerous times) – this was to include roofing, siding, windows, doors, none of that was ever ordered. He claimed to have had a “framing package” back in January – when he showed up to work in May, we are certain that lumber had been bought that morning and wasn’t from a warehouse storage for 5+ months.
While I have never seen the inside of a court room (aside from Jury Duty), I’ve come to realize that a legal office representation is necessary here. One that is immune to his sorrow excuses and charming (but dishonest) persuasion. While any financial recovery is unlikely, the community must be made aware of the damage this individual has caused and will likely continue to cause if left unchecked. I am also very curious to know to what extent his family or associates are involved in this scam, or at the very least aware of it.
But here is how we think the scam works…
- Step 1: Ask for 20% down. On a $100K job, that’s $20K.
- Step 2: Do a little work, corresponding to about 20% of that down payment (in this example, $4,000). You’re still ahead over $15K.
- Step 3: Come up with a story on why a significant additional payment is needed. Keep this at about 35% of the initial “contract” price (in this example, that’s $35K). If the victim is gullible, it’s payday – spend the money quickly. If not, oh well, abandon project and move on.
- Step 4: Repeat as your busy schedule allows and as long as you can come up with fabricated “need-more-money” stories.
That’s essentially how the sequence went for us. At 20% down he got $55K. Of that $55K he spent about 20% of it doing some token work (while claiming to have ordered other materials but never giving any evidence of actually doing so). Then he got another 20% bonus (double payment) that should have just been the 10% (no idea why he didn’t refund, other than maybe innocent family folks might start asking questions about it and reveal his scams). He could have stopped there and been ahead $98K. But he came up with the “order now before material prices increase” story and asked for 35% of the “contract” price, or $100K in our case. He then spent it on remodeling and possibly a new house for his wife (just based on the timing of the public records) — essentially burning the money as quick as he can from our recovery — but again he spent about 20% of our payment on frame material, and again did a token amount of work (using “family labor” to “keep things affordable”).
He then started excuses of fires in the area and hot weather for not returning to work for a while. He had already then been paid over $8000 for extension work — which in hindsight, all that extra work was due to his earlier adjustments to the design, as if he had planned to cause the need for additional work. To explain: the planned dirt work that he didn’t do initially now translated into me having to pay more for the sliding door drop off issue that had now been created; and the carport extension was due to him “bringing the wrong length boards” and using them anyway. Being ahead now well over $100K, not bad for maybe 6 weeks of half-day work, so he cleared out to move on to new victims – or because of the triple digit heat, maybe scams he could do inside instead.
Why Initially “credited” Stalworth $100K
Being fair, he did do some of the work: the foundation, sub-flooring, and framing.
Labor credit: 30 Days on-site working (verified by cameras) 5 workers (approximately) 40$ per hour, but only ~4 hours per day (too hot in afternoon) = 30 * 5 * 40 * 4 = $24,000 This is very generous since they didn't actually work that many days. But give them extra days for the "planning" and blueprint work, etc. (office work stuff) NOTE: Also generous to give these family members $40/hr labor. Materials credit: Estimate $16/sqft of lumber and 1500sqft build. = 16 * 1500 = $24,000 Add also some tool wear, Bobcat rental, nails, wrapping, concrete work; consider that another $15,000 This are also generous numbers. That's $63,000. Give him even 20% markup, that's $75,600 and still being extremely generous. Recall, we had been paid nearly $220,000 up-front. By several estimates by other construction experts, he had spent only approximately $80,000 of that payment. There is no reasonable way he can claim the work and material done matched or exceeded the $220K that we had paid (our estimate is he did about 35% of the work while we had paid about 80% of the contract estimate).
I just round it to $100k, as a penalty to myself for not reading the red flags sooner. Absolutely, him not refunding that ACH payment right away was the prime red flag. I don’t mind taking some responsibility for that lack of judgement, I’m old enough to have known better. But as mentioned, he is a “charmer,” some people have that talent of using very persuasive language, especially when using Christian faith as a facade. See the movie Catch Me If You Can, it really becomes like a game to these type of people on how much they can get away with at conning people.
In the end though, he has lied about the materials ordered, excessively violated his contract, and stolen a huge amount of money that he did not earn. By not answering to the 30-day notice at all, it is clear he never ordered any materials. After the 30 days, we won’t be as generous. The stress of us losing now likely two Summers of usage of this property will have a cost.
Plates of vehicles at the job site:
Plates of trucks at site: PWK-4951 White WorkTruck(350?) PBM-9468 Tom’s RedTruck SKR-3330 Rober SuperDutySilver GKF-4735 White GMCWorktruck <-- Stephen PWK-5364 Cadillac Black <-- Tammy
Possible Stephen address (based on public Palo Pinto records)
TAMMY N BURCH STEPHEN BURCH (see Cannon office) The name Tammy Burch matches the Palo Pinto county records: Property ID: R000014682 Geo ID: 111290000 HERE
NOTE: Per the public record, Burch closed in buying this home at the address above on January 18th, 2023. That is coincidentally one week after I had given Stalworth the $100K check.
Possible Robert Coker address: (Robert was Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Department chief until 2019)
(see Cannon office) – Robert was the one who was sent to collect the $100K payment, so he is involved to some extent.
Stalworth was paying for the port-a-potty on our property. After no-contact since June 16th, we noticed our port-a-potty was removed on Monday August 7th, 2023. We contacted massey’s (940-325-7737) who confirmed that Stephen Burch had not paid the monthly bill. Fee’s were $150 first month and $125 thereafter. The point here is that it is more evidence of Stephen’s intent to abandon the project.