Friday, July 26, 2013

TOP STORY >> Lawsuit seeking redress

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Water Com-missioner Joy Kinman is worried about damage to her reputation over what her attorney says is a “frivolous” accusation in a July 8 lawsuit.

Gretchen Madison, 89, is seeking $520,000 because she says Jacksonville contractor Marcus Dupree of Northstar Consultants, after he tore down her old house, built a new one that is uninhabitable.

Madison claims that the $60,000 house Dupree built for her at 420 Freda Lane in McAlmont, where she has lived for almost half a century, is rife with hundreds of code violations.

Dupree didn’t return a call from The Leader by press time.

Kinman and her adopted son, Chili’s manager Robert “Drew” Walker, are also listed in the complaint. Walker is an officer of Northstar.

Walker went to the Arkansas Contractors Board on Wednesday to relinquish his license, Kinman said. Walker said his signature wasn’t even on the forms the board gave him that reactivated his license, which Dupree used to conduct business because it was attached to Northstar.

Dupree never had a contractor’s license. Walker said he didn’t know his partner was using his license.

Kinman, a licensed home builder, gave a reference for Walker and allegedly asked two others who didn’t know him to do the same so that he could obtain a contractor’s license.

Kinman, who joined the water commission in April, said, “I have an impeccable reputation and this is about to make me sick. I feel really bad for (Madison). My heart goes out to her. If I had been involved, this never would have happened (to her).”

She added, “We’re victims too.”

Madison’s family said Kinman and Walker are just as much at fault for what happened because, if Walker not obtained a license with the three invalid references, Dupree would not have been hired to construct the house.

Kinman’s defense is that, years ago, she accidentally checked the wrong box on a form that asked if she was related to the applicant for a contractor’s license.

Underneath that question, the form states, “If yes, you are not eligible to complete this form. STOP!!!”

Three references are needed to obtain the license and none of them can be from a relative.

Walker, who owns Bronze Bombshell in Jacksonville and SunRays in Cabot, said he hasn’t worked at Northstar in five years. The company remained open because it was in debt, Kinman explained.

The two other references given for Walker by Patricia Young and Lucille Cook are also invalid, Madison’s family claims.

Madison’s son-in-law, Todd Parsley, said the two women were Kinman’s neighbors and gave the references as a favor to her.

They said they didn’t know a Robert Walker, according to the complaint, and that Kinman’s late husband built their homes.

Kinman explained that the women probably didn’t know her adopted son’s first name was Robert because he is known as Drew.

She said her son did work for her husband’s company for several years and helped construct both of her neighbors’ houses.

Parsley disagrees with all of Kinman’s claims.

He noted that the first thing he found hard to believe is that Dupree left his business partner in the dark.

Parsley said Walker was Dupree’s best man in the contractor’s recent wedding and the two were seen having dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in Sherwood numerous times.

Parlsey also told The Leader that his lawyer, Victoria Leigh, made an anonymous call to Young and Cook.

They confirmed that Walker of Northstar Consultants built their homes, Parsley said. But when the lawyer told them he would be sending them sworn statements to sign, the women changed their story.

Parsley said they then told the lawyer that they gave Walker, who was 19 at the time, a reference as a favor to Kinman.

The reference Kinman gave also states that Walker built approximately 100 homes in his four years of experience. The complaint states that Madison believes neither Dupree nor Walker have ever built a home.

Parsley added that he didn’t understand why the business wasn’t closed when Walker decided to pursue another profession.

The complaint also states that the person holding the license, Walker, must supervise projects according to the Contractor’s Board regulations.

That didn’t happen. But Kinman and Walker say Dupree never told Walker he was constructing the house.

She also said, “Robert Walker worked for us for years as a layperson. We taught him the ropes. He was qualified. He worked on (Young’s and Cook’s) houses. Drew would have gotten references regardless.”

Kinman added, “He’s an honest guy. He’s a loyal guy.”

Walker said, “I feel sorry for (Madison).”

He continued, “My reputation is solid. I’ll let my actions speak for me. I do a lot of charity work. If you ask anybody about me they’re not going to say anything bad about me.”

About his former partner, Dupree, Walker said, “I don’t really want to throw anybody in the mud. That’s just not in my character.”

Kinman told The Leader that she has never met Dupree or Madison, but said her son’s former partner “used and abused” Walker.

Madison, who is staying with her daughter in Cabot, had lived for 49 years in a stick-built home at 420 Freda Road in North Little Rock. Then the house was damaged beyond repair by a water leak.

She obtained three bids to tear it down and rebuild it.

According to her complaint, Dupree said he would construct it “the same as if he were building it for his mother.”

He started building the house without providing Madison with a blueprint, spec sheet, treating the lot for termites or leveling the lot, she claims.

Madison’s complaint states that she noted several problems throughout the project but Dupree kept saying he would take care of them.

It states that he used an unlicensed electrician to wire the home.

Then Dupree started missing deadlines, Madison claims.

Her daughter and neighbors witnessed Dupree stealing materials from the job site in February after he was issued a cease and desist in late January. A police report was filed.

The state Department of Health cited seven violations upon inspection of the house. The Board of Electrical Examiners found 22 violations. The state Fire Marshal’s Office found nine areas in violations.

Madison’s home is not level, the complaint states. While inspectors said it could be brought up to code, the house would have to be rebuilt to be level.

Dupree also threatened Madison and her son, Todd Parsley, with physical violence, according to the complaint.

Madison is demanding a trial by jury.

She is seeking $60,000 in actual damages, $60,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages in addition to attorney’s fees and court costs.