A group of local electricians asked Live 5 to help investigate after they stopped getting paid for work on a redevelopment project in West Ashley.
Westwood Plaza Shopping Center at Ashley River Road and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard is getting a major facelift.
The project will hopefully bring new jobs and a fresh look to the area.
At least six electricians tell Live 5 they were getting paid weekly for their work on the new TJ Maxx there at first. But suddenly, about three weeks ago, the payments stopped.
Some paychecks bounced. Some money supposed to be loaded on pre-paid debit cards and never was.
The workers we talked to said they were owed anywhere from $750 to $1,900 or more.
They were working for a subcontractor named Jeffrey Husta, the owner of FTL Electric LLC out of Rock Hill.
Steven Gadsden and his father, Melivn Gadsden, were both working on the project and said when the money stopped, they drove to Rock Hill and demanded paychecks.
“I went there. He gave me checks. He told me he liked to be an honest guy, do the right thing. Then we get back here Monday and this check is no good,” explained Steven, showing us the bounced checks.
“Now I have to go and get cans and stuff just to try to sell to make up this money that I worked hard for and now I don't have,” Steven added.
Live 5’s Carter Coyle also went to Rock Hill to find Husta and ask him when the workers would get paid. Husta said, “We are actually going to be able to pay them for the checks that were returned this week.”
That was last week. The electricians said they were not paid then.
Husta told Live 5 the paychecks were originally delayed because the main construction company running the project didn’t pay him on time.
Adolfson and Peterson Construction is based in Charlotte.
Vice President Brian Fish said in a statement, “FTL was hired by AP and defaulted on its subcontract due to nonpayment of employees and vendors. AP is doing its best to identify those impacted by lack of payment while concurrently trying to complete the project for its client.”
On Monday, August 29, AP said it paid eleven workers and believed FTL has since paid the five remaining employees.
Husta said the responsibility was on his shoulders. “Contractually here, it'll be me. Yep. It will be me. Contractually. So that's why am just kind of taking the burden of myself and just dealing with it as best we can.”
But this is not the first time Husta has owed people money. He’s also been investigated for wage disputes before.
In a civil case, an Oklahoma company said they gave him supplies for electric work on projects like government veterans facilities and an autism school. Southeastern Electrical Distributors said in the court documents that Husta owed them more than $244,000.
A Moncks Corner package store said Husta owes them about $4,500. Some of the electric workers cashed checks there and when they later bounced, Cut Rate Package store says their business was on the hook for the loss.
Husta’s company also owes nine years of delinquent taxes. York County tax records showed FTL Electric LLC owes nine years of taxes, more than $9,500. Husta said he wasn’t aware of the delinquent taxes.
The county says they send at least two letters a year to remind companies what they owe.
Husta admitted, “No, I’m not,” when asked if he was a good business person. He said it was up to the state to decide if he should stay in business.
He’s right. The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said companies like FTL must apply every other year, on odd numbered years, to renew their license. Husta and FTL are properly licensed in South Carolina.
We asked the department if they consider things such as wage complaints and delinquent taxes when renewing a business license.
“Yes,” said an LLR spokesperson in an email. “Upon renewal, a licensee is required to answer questions about court cases, liens, judgments, etc. Depending on the information, a licensee be required to come before the Board to answer questions about those issues. The Board then will determine whether he/she may renew or if they need to provide additional information to the Board.”
“It's very frustrating because if I work- I would like to get paid for my work. I'm not asking him for any more, or any less,” said Benjamin grant, another worker who went weeks without his paycheck.
The Department of Labor investigated FTL Electric three times since 2013 for wage violations. In May 2013, it was fined $1,412.50 for four violations. In November 2013, it was fined $1,653.30 for one violation. In January 2015, it was fined $106,901.59 for 65 violations involving 30 employees.
Jason Coker, Assistant District Director for the DOL Wage and Hour Division in Charleston, said these recent complaints are just the type they try to investigate. “Especially since it involves more than one person, we want to ensure broad compliance with our limited resources. So in a case like that, it's definitely something we would want to look into.”
He encourages workers in any situation like this to contact them for help. https://www.dol.gov/wecanhelp/howtofilecomplaint.htm
Kimco Realty owns and manages Westwood Plaza, where this development is underway.
Regional President Paul Puma said on a large job like this, it’s not uncommon for a subcontractor to fail. He said their legal team is investigating. “We have to be careful and make sure the work that was contacted for gets done properly.
And that all the subs are reimbursed fairly and equitably. And that we deal with the party that has failed to make payments.”
In the meantime, the men we talked to are securing new jobs and catching up on bills after finally getting their paychecks. “If I knew this from the beginning, I would have never worked for him,” Melvin Gadsden pointed out.
Husta insisted not all of his projects turn out like this. “There's probably one out of 25. Would you consider that successful or unsuccessful?”
He continued, “I don't mind the scrutiny because I self-evaluate on that a lot. But in the end, I just make my decisions based on what I think is the safest bet for me, my business and employees.”