St. Lucie County Commissioner rejects local contractor’s appeal to Contractors Examining Board
FORT PIERCE -- The St. Lucie County Commission found its appellate hands tied Nov. 5 when asked to review on appeal a September decision by the Contractors Examining Board to temporarily suspend the license of a Port St. Lucie contractor.
Assistant County Attorney Katherine Barbieri provided the Commission a brief background of the events leading up to the Sept 18 hearing during which the members of the Contractors Examining Board determined to suspend the license of Group One Construction & Development Inc. for 180 days.
“After the hearing where the board took testimony under oath, gathered evidence and heard arguments, the board found that Michael Miranda doing business as Group One Construction had a signed contract for construction of a single-family residence, [but] did not make payment for all of his sub-contractor work labor and materials, which caused a lien to be recorded on the property owner’s property,” she said. “The board found the circumstances warranted the suspension of Michael Miranda doing business as Group One Construction in St. Lucie County… for 180 days. Michael Miranda filed an appeal with the county administrator as required by the code.”
County Attorney Dan McIntyre then warned commissioners that they were sailing through previously uncharted appellate waters.
“We’ve talked about the procedural aspects of this because it’s so unusual,” he said. I’ve been here a long time and I don’t think we’ve ever done this before. We’re reviewing the record and facts that were in front of the Contractors Licensing Board, and that’s really all that we can consider.”
The county attorney’s abundance of caution put County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky on edge since he knew some of the affected homebuyers would most likely petition the Board for redress during public comment.
“Because we haven’t done this one before, I just wanted to walk through this a little bit slower than we normally would,” he said. “We’re not hearing any additional evidence, but it is a public hearing, so how do we manage the public hearing?”
Mr. McIntyre admitted the public had to speak, but commissioners should not be swayed by their comments.
“You’re like a set of appellate judges, and you need to focus on the record,” he reiterated. Commissioners then heard from Mr. Miranda’s Stuart attorney Owen Shultz, who read from a portion of the county code regulating building contractors.
“The issue for this appeal is whether or not the Contractor’s Examining Board had sufficient evidence to find that Mike Miranda violated a specific provision of the county code,” he said.
“That’s the sole provision that was at issue at that hearing: whether Mike Miranda signed a statement with respect to a project or contract which falsely indicates that payment has been made for all subcontracted work. I suggest to you that there was not a shred of evidence at that hearing that Mr. Miranda signed a statement falsely indicating that he had paid all of his subcontractors.”
Mr. Shultz did admit, however, that one of his Mr. Miranda’s customers, Carl Schoen, terminated his construction contract due to a $2,700 claim of lien for unpaid insulation work on his unfinished home.
“Mr. Miranda filed a response that included some documents showing the board that he had not been paid yet from the bank for the insulation subcontractor’s scope of work,” the attorney said of the incident. “It was a basic garden-variety construction dispute, but what there wasn’t, was any evidence that Mr. Miranda signed a false statement.”
The attorney for the appellant insinuated that the Contractor’s Examining Board had been influenced by frustrated homebuyers in its decision.
“Many of the same people who’ve signed up to speak at this hearing were at that Examining Board disciplinary hearing, and they did an effective job of poisoning the well,” he said. “So those Examining Board members were ready to pounce on Mr. Miranda before the hearing ever started because they heard about customers who were having problems with their homes.”
The outside counsel representing the county’s Planning & Development Services Department, Jeffrey Bass, rebuffed those claims.
“They based their decision on the sworn testimony of the appellant himself,” he said. “They based their decision on the sworn testimony of the homeowners, who signed a contract with this man and testified to that. And is there a contract in the record where the appellant promised to pay the insulating contractor? Yes, because it’s signed by the appellant. Did he pay? No.”
Even more convincing, Mr. Bass insisted, were the financial documents provided by Mr. Miranda himself.
“The draw schedule is evidence offered by the appellant, and what does the draw schedule show?” he asked rhetorically. “That a draw was made for roofing, and… there was an intent to lien by the roofer because the draw was made and the roofer was not paid. We also see on the draw schedule indisputably competent evidence… that work was performed by the insulation sub but yet no draw was requested.”
Mr. McIntyre again reminded commissioners to not be swayed by the testimony of the homebuyers, several of whom were retired and had invested a chunk of their life savings into homes yet to materialize. One was retired Broward Schools employee Verda Ferrell, whose husband held up a sign saying Mr. Miranda owed them $90,247.
“After 45 years of working we were looking forward to building our final retirement home in Port St. Lucie,” she said. “We were surprised to find that he only applied for our permit seven months after we started, and we thought we were ready to go. None of us wanted to be the victims of outright theft, losing our hard-earned money and not getting the homes that we were contracted for.”
Lex Schoen, whose case Mr. Shultz referred to, also addressed the Board.
“He was paid $21,600 from Seacoast bank, and $11,000 was supposed to go to the roofer,” she said. “Mr. Miranda never paid the roofer. Now we have to pay the roofer and pay double. How is this not illegal, how is this not criminal?”
Her husband Carl agreed.
“We all understand setbacks, but this has been blatant neglect, and it should not be tolerated,” he fumed. “The previous committee made a step in the right direction by suspending this man’s license. It should have been revoked.”
Another speaker, Sandra Lane, says her custom dream home has been partially complete since May with no resolution in sight.
“He was given a CO [certificate of occupancy] on my house on 5-13-19, but never came back to complete the house,” she said. “He’s been given over $353,000 for my house, and I have gotten an estimate to finish and correct the things that are wrong, and it’s $63,000. There’s only $27,000 left, which is the 10 percent the bank has held back.”
In addition to liens placed against her new home by subcontractors for multiple unpaid invoices, she is still unable to occupy it.
“We can’t live in the house or get homeowners insurance because the house isn’t complete and they want pictures to prove that it’s complete,” she explained. “We can’t get a release from the bank to have a new contractor to finish the house without him [Mr. Miranda] authorizing and the bank signing a release that we won’t sue them because of them releasing the money to him.”
Kitchen cabinetry subcontractor Ulysses Cueto nearly broke down in tears describing the financial difficulties he’d encountered upon Mr. Miranda’s lack of payment for $30,000 of his services and his having to apologize to homebuyers when putting liens against their new homes.
“We’re a small business, it’s me, my wife and my son,” he said. “We almost lost everything because of Mr. Miranda and got to the point where we had to sell half of our stuff. We’re at a point where I really don’t know what to do anymore.”
Mr. Cueto believes more should have been done by the Contractor’s Examining Board.
“Yes, they suspended his license temporarily, which again I think it should have been permanently revoked,” he added. “Now after six months, what happens, it gets reinstated and he continues to pick up draws and deposits from other people? When do we say this is enough, and this person doesn’t need to have a license?”
Due to the sensitive nature of the appellate process, Mr. McIntyre further cautioned commissioners from even offering advice during the hearing to the complaining residents.
“We have a very limited function here, so you need to focus on the record that was presented to you, [as well as] the arguments that were presented by Mr. Shultz and Mr. Bass,” he said.
The Board subsequently voted unanimously to deny the appeal.