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Builder loses lawsuit; couple lose savings

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

Steven Yeary, the one-time builder of New Tampa dream homes, has lost a civil suit that charged him with fraudulently taking a couple's $37,000 deposit on a house he could never build for them.

Circuit Judge Robert H. Bonanno ruled against Yeary, who failed to show up for many court dates and depositions, and awarded triple damages of $111,000 to Michael and Rae Ann Stapleton of Land O'Lakes. Also named in the suit was Yeary's partner, Craig Brown.

"It's just a pain . . .," Michael Stapleton said. "The guy's a bum."

But so far, there are no real winners in the case.

Yeary has filed for bankruptcy and the Stapletons will have to go to court again if they ever hope to see their judgment and the attorneys fees Yeary owes them. Meanwhile, Yeary was charged with grand theft and arrested in late July. His criminal case got under way this week.

Neither Yeary nor Brown nor their attorneys could be reached for comment.

In 1996, the Stapletons gave Yeary $37,102 as a deposit on the $371,000 house they wanted him to build for them in the Estates at River Park neighborhood.

But Yeary never told the Stapletons, who borrowed more than $120,000 to buy the lot in River Park, that he was not an approved builder in the development. For 16 months, the Stapletons asked for their money back.

In 1998, Tampa police began investigating Yeary's company, Nouvelle Maison Home Builders, after the Stapletons and several other couples charged that Yeary failed to live up to his contracts.

Yeary and Brown were also the builders behind the Somerset enclave on Amberley Drive, at the entrance to Tampa Palms. Only two homes were built in a niche neighborhood that had lots for about a dozen more. So few of the lots sold that Somerset's owners, two professional football players, sought to raze the homes and sell the land to Walgreen's.

That idea never got past the Tampa City Council.

Meanwhile, the Stapletons have remained in their Land O'Lakes home because the money they gave Yeary represented their life savings.

"We're going to have to sell that property," Stapleton said. "We've been paying so much in land and housing, we're running out of money. We can't afford it anymore."

Stapleton said Yeary was once a friend who was a respected member of their social circle.

"We used to hang out together," Stapleton said. "He used to be a friend of mine. I even told the idiot, "Just give us the money back and if you get approved, you can build the home.' "

Stapleton's case against Yeary and Brown never came to trial and Judge Bonanno ruled against them because the defendants "have intentionally failed to comply" with orders to seek mediation or set a trial date. Bonanno also said that Nouvelle Maison Builders "repeatedly failed to attend properly noticed depositions. . . . The allegations made give rise to financial mismanagement, misconduct and abandonment."

The day before Bonanno's ruling, a warrant was issued for Yeary's arrest on the grand theft charge. He turned himself in and posted bail on July 27, according to records.

_ If you have a story about New Tampa, call Logan D. Mabe at 226-3464.

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