Abilene contractors want Stephenville contractors to have the benefit of a lesson they learned the hard way.

Richard Wagley of Wagley Construction and Will Stallings of Stallings Electric are owed money for work completed in August of this year in Abilene for Campus Crest Real Estate Management, also called Campus Crest Communities. A North Carolina based company that builds apartment complexes in cities with universities.

Now, Campus Crest has received a building permit from the City of Stephenville, according to Betty Chew, director of community services, after purchasing several acres on Frey Street near Henderson Junior High School for a large apartment complex.

Wagley and Stallings have filed mechanic's liens on the complex in Abilene and have retained attorneys to foreclose in hopes of recovering their money. They say there are several more companies that have also filed liens.

Two of the liens are:

$332,907 - Wagley Construction

$119,005 - Mark Stallings Electric

They owe a lot of people a lot of money, Wagley said. In Abilene they paid up until the last couple of months.

Wagley said after not receiving payment, he and others began researching and found mechanic's liens against Campus Crest properties in several states including Las Cruces, New Mexico, Greeley, Colorado, and Birmingham, Alabama, and just about any place they've been.

They go out and interview small contractors just big enough to do their job. They interview to see if you meet the criteria and they sign the contract, Wagley said. They told me about half way into the job that I wasn't the lowest bidder but they liked what I said during the interview. Now, I understand how they operate.

I'm a small contractor and they didn't think we would contest the contract, Wagley said.

He said his company has been family-run since 1962 and has never had anything like this happen. Now, his small company is almost paralyzed and can barely meet payroll.

I'm working my (hired) hands just as hard and fast as I can go to get some money in here so I can keep up payroll, Wagley said. It's a bad situation.

Will Stallings said he looked the company up on Dunn and Bradstreet before doing business with them and saw there were no pending lawsuits so he thought they were okay.

It's very difficult to continue forward right now, Stallings said. We have 30 employees.

Rick Look of Paradise Materials, a $41,635 lien holder in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has been trying to get his money from the company for more than a year.

He said he had only been in business for four months when he took a hit from Campus Crest. He said there are multiple liens against the company in his city.

Look said his efforts to collect the money have been met with a barrage of excuses. He said he's heard everything from the check has been sent, to the check was sent to the wrong address, or the check wasn't signed. Now, he said nobody will return his calls.

It really hurt me because I was the new guy in town, Look said. They leave a trail of debt behind them. I have nothing good to say about them.

Attorney Billy Boone, representing Wagley, Stallings and others in Abilene, said he expects to file suit against the company early next week unless money is immediately forthcoming. In all, he knows of approximately $700,000 owed to contractors in Abilene and apparently they may owe a half-million to a million in other cities, also, he said.

Boone said for each property a separate entity is formed, which limits going after the holding company.

It makes it hard to group them together, Boone said.

In order to collect on a lien of this nature, the property must be sold so that the lien holder can receive payment. But, Boone said it's difficult to find a buyer that has the financial means to step up and pay the balance of construction costs.

We're fortunate to have two here who are interested in buying the property, Boone said.

It's really harmed the local contractors here, Boone explained. At this point money talks; everything else walks.

Shannon King, president of Campus Crest Real Estate Management, said her company has built student communities in seven states. A $16 million complex with 192 units to house 504 students is planned for Stephenville and work has already begun, with a projected opening in the fall of 2008.

King said in each building location at least 100 subcontractors are dealt with. For the scope of work done, she said, the number of liens on their properties is relatively small.

A lien is simply a legal venue in which to discuss the monies owed, King said. Any liens that we have are normal construction procedure. A lien simply states that someone has done work for us.

At the time of the interview, King said she was not in her office, and could not provide actual numbers or dollar figures for any of the projects.

We are going to pay everybody 100-percent of what is owed to them if they've completed the work and it is contractually acceptable. There may be a dialogue on what the amount is that's owed, King said. We are not using small companies to finance our properties.

King said she could not speak as to the money that Abilene companies may or may not be owed but she did say Paradise Properties owned by Richard Look would not be paid.

He could not keep up so he had to be supplemented, King said. There is no money owed to him. He did not complete his scope of work.

King said the reason other liens were still in place in Las Cruces, New Mexico, was because of a change in regulations for swimming pools set forth by the state. Even though the complex was completed more than a year ago, the swimming facilities were not. For that reason, the contractor had a difficult time getting the pool installed for the complex and had just done so in May. Most of the liens are in conjunction with that phase of work, she said.

King said five complexes will be built in Texas and she is really excited about that because she's a Texan.

We develop, build, and operate our student communities using the best business practices and principles possible, King said. We are looking forward to being part of the Stephenville community and a good corporate citizen.

ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at angelia.joiner@empiretribune.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 238.