ELBERT COUNTY, Colo. — A Colorado family says they're waiting for a contractor to return thousands of dollars, but they're losing hope.
"This is not how you operate. This is just, it's not how you treat other human beings," Eryn Christine said as she shuffled through a stack of papers.
Christine said she's been trying to get her money back from Steel Building Manufacturing, LLC since June. She hired the company as the general contractor to rebuild a barn in her backyard.
In August 2021, an accidental fire destroyed the barn she used for her remodeling business. Shortly after, she sought bids to have the barn rebuilt.
"The ones we narrowed it down to, it really came down to a time frame for us," Christine said. "So looking at the process, I mean, Steel Building Manufacturing offered the moon, the stars and everything possible."
According to the Secretary of State's website, the business is registered to Donald Steinke.
Christine said in December 2021, she paid Steinke a $17,000 deposit, but she didn't receive design plans until March 2022. By May, she said a concrete base for the project had still not been poured, so she hired someone on her own.
As time progressed, Christine said Steinke repeatedly stated steel for the project was on back order.
"He just kept pushing and saying the steel is on back order. He'd say, 'It has been ordered. I don't have an update. We'll get you some information.' Or 'Let me check on that.' was generally his response to things," she said.
Christine said by June — six months after putting down a deposit — "little to no work" had been done on the project.
"It ultimately came down to my husband making a phone call to the actual steel company," she said.
According to Christine, the steel manufacturer told the couple there were no supply chain issues, but rather there were a series of delays when corresponding with Steinke. She said after making the decision to cancel the project altogether, the steel manufacturer committed to refunding the $13,000 it had received from Steinke.
"[The check] was mailed out June 22 to Steinke," Christine said, thumbing through documents pertaining to the situation. "I'm hopeful that he's going do the right thing, but looking at his track record and his history, I absolutely severely doubt that. His response on July 7 was, 'My bank put a hold on it. You'll get your money when I have it.'"
Christine said the steel manufacturer sent her a record, proving the check had been processed on July 5.
"This is not how you operate. This is just, it's not how you treat other human beings," she said.
Court records show more than a dozen civil complaints have been filed against Steinke, dating back to 2000.
"We probably get calls on this company somewhere between three to six times a year," said Todd Collins, a civil litigation attorney based in Elizabeth, Colorado.
Collins said he's represented several clients in civil suits against Steel Building Manufacturing.
"It's always the same story. The story is, you know, 'I placed a deposit with this company for a steel building, and I can't get this guy to call me back. And 'I've tried to cancel my contract, and he won't give me my money back,'" Collins said.
In a complaint he filed last fall, Collins said his client didn't receive part of the money he was owed until police became involved.
"That seems to be the pattern. If you contact law enforcement, and if law enforcement gets in involved, you get your deposit back," the attorney said. "Or if you file a case, you get your deposit back."
Collins said many who've brought allegations against Steel Building Manufacturing can no longer afford legal fees.
"Probably 90% of these cases don't proceed because of lack of funding for legal battle," he said. "The amounts that we're dealing with are just enough for the company to fly under the radar, so to speak. Usually we see these buildings, these contracts for anywhere from about $29,000 to $55,000, maybe $60,000 at the top end. And if you're going to file a legal case regarding someone taking your money or your deposit and refusing to give it back, the legal fees are going to exceed that deposit. It's unfair, but it's just the fact that the legal fees are going to exceed the deposit, and most people don't have the money to afford that."
According to Collins, one man faced particularly tough circumstances after contracting the company.
"Our clients were forced to sell the land that they were going to build their new house on," he said. "I think the Attorney General’s Office is going to have to get involved further than they already have."
Denver7 emailed and called Donald Steinke of Steel Building Manufacturing. He responded, "Refund is expected to be completed by Sept. 12."
In July, Elbert County Judge Gary Michael Kramer ruled in favor of a complaint filed by Colorado Assistant Attorney General John Roberts. The complaint alleged Steinke had been inappropriately affixing professional engineering seals to plans without engineers having the foreknowledge their seals had been used.
A spokesperson for the Colorado Attorney General's Office would only confirm to Denver7 it investigates and prosecutes contractor fraud, civil and criminal.
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