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Hudson builder violated code, investigation finds

An investigation by the Hernando County Development Department has concluded that Hudson builder Tommy Clark routinely violated the county's construction code by defrauding homeowners and refusing to pay subcontractors.

The report said the county Construction Licensing Board would be asked to restrict Clark's permit-pulling privileges.

Until last week, county building officials, who have been investigating Clark's Springwood Homes for months, had planned to do just that at a disciplinary hearing Monday night before the licensing board.

However, county building official Grant Tolbert has postponed the hearing for a month to give Clark and his financially struggling company a few more weeks to pay off debts to subcontractors and homeowners.

Building officials began investigating Clark and Springwood Homes last year after receiving complaints from 10 homeowners, who said their homes had been left unfinished, and from 16 subcontractors, who claimed they weren't paid for work they did on the homes and on an office building. They have filed more than $135,000 in liens against Springwood since October.

Hudson-based Springwood Homes, once one of Hernando's biggest home builders, has lost its building privileges in Charlotte County and is under investigation by sheriff's officials in Hernando and Pasco counties.

Last week, Tolbert decided to grant Springwood Homes more time to sort out its financial problems after receiving a letter from Clark's attorney, Paul H. Nessler Jr. of Spring Hill.

In the letter, dated March 4, Nessler said Clark "will voluntarily abate his building permit privileges in Hernando" for 60 days as "a gesture of good faith."

Nessler stated in the letter that Springwood Homes was about to sell a piece of commercial property, and that proceeds from the sale would go to subcontractors and others who are owed.

The letter did not describe the property, its location or to whom it was being sold. It only stated that a "contract has been signed which will close on or before April 1, 1994."

A woman who answered the phone at Nessler's Spring Hill office said Nessler would not comment on the letter. Clark could not be reached for comment Monday.

Clark has attributed his financial problems to the recession and the slowdown in the building industry on the North Suncoast.

In December, he said he had lined up an investor who would restore the company's financial health, enabling him to pay off subcontractors.

It could not be learned Monday what connection, if any, the investor has to the proposed sale of commercial property.

Jim Friedrichs, certification supervisor in the Hernando Development Department, said he did not know much about the property for sale other than that it was on U.S. 19 in north Pasco County.

Tolbert said Clark's decision not to seek building permits for the next two months means that "we don't need to worry about additional homeowners being affected" by Springwood's financial difficulties.

Tolbert said he couldn't evaluate Springwood's financial situation, but he said Clark "seems to be trying to address his problems."

The 23-page report on Springwood Homes documents a slew of complaints against the company from subcontractors and homeowners.

Most of the complaints allege that Clark signed affidavits indicating he had paid subcontractors for work on homes when, in fact, he had not done so. Subcontractors placed liens on the homes, and several of the homeowners were left with unfinished houses. Many had to hire other builders to finish the work for which they had already paid Clark.

"You've got people that weren't paid, homeowners out of money and false documents being signed," Friedrichs said.

Losses for homeowners have ranged from $5,000 to $26,000, said attorney David Carter, who represents some of the homeowners with claims.

Carter said he hopes Clark's sale of the U.S. 19 property goes through. "We don't want to sue the man. We just want to get paid," he said.

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