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Supplier sues troublesome contractor

Legal problems for contractor R.E. Graham continue to mount as a supplier on a county building project has filed a suit for nonpayment against Graham's firm, his electrical subcontractor and his bonding company.

The suit is the first legal action involving Graham on his construction of the Lecanto Government Center Environmental Health and Agricultural Extension Building. The builder has been the subject of a half dozen lawsuits over nonpayment to suppliers and subcontractors on the botched Homosassa Elementary School project.

Graham is also facing drug charges in Daytona Beach and was in the Volusia County Jail on Monday with those charges pending.

In the latest lawsuit, Southern Electric Supply and its affiliated businesses say Graham's electrical subcontractor, GLR Electric Inc., did not pay for $12,754 worth of materials used in the county project. The supply firm filed the case against GLR Electric, R.E. Graham Contracting Inc. and Fidelity and Deposit Co. of Maryland, the bonding company, seeking payment and attorney's fees.

Citrus County officials ran into problems on the health and extension service building about the same time that school officials were struggling to get Graham to finish repairs at the new media center and cafeteria at Homosassa Elementary.

Those additions were missing reinforcing steel and grout in the walls and had flawed connections between the walls and the roof. The school district stuck with Graham to repair the extensive problems, but as the repairs wound down and dragged on, his workers began disappearing and complaints about nonpayment surfaced.

Eventually the school district's own employees and outside firms were hired to finish the job. The school system has not yet decided whether to take Graham to court to recover the estimated $350,000 in costs and damages officials have determined that Graham still owes.

The county job also was delayed from the outset, and Graham argued that he was facing a material shortage. But as the county's building neared completion, Graham and his crews also disappeared from that job, forcing the county to complete the last bits of work there.

Since then, the county has sought repayment through Graham and his bonding company, County Commissioner Gary Bartell said. The bonding company took delivery of the certified letter from the county, but Graham did not.

Bartell said that the remaining work on the county building had been minor and Graham never made the last draw request for monies the county was holding for him on the project.

In the school district's case, officials are holding $600,000 back on Graham's contract but still figure he owes the district another $350,000.

Graham also did a second project for the school district: completing a sprinkler system for the stage at the Curtis Peterson Auditorium in the Lecanto school complex.

Mike Mullen, the district's executive director for support services, said last week that Graham also left before finishing that project. And he never made a final request for funding in that case, either.

Around the same time, Graham was the contractor on the new manatee pool at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. He also left that job site with work undone.

Three of the six lawsuits arising from the Homosassa school debacle have been closed. Of those, one brought by the structural steel supplier ended in a $1.1-million judgment against Graham and his bank.

In September, police said they found Graham in a Daytona Beach hotel room with cocaine, methamphetamine, Xanax, drug paraphernalia and a stolen gun. He failed to appear to a court hearing. He also had been picked up for driving with a suspended license, a consequence of failing to pay child support, both in Sumter and Marion counties.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sppimes.com.

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