Contractor absent from bankruptcy hearings, stalling customers’ civil claims

A contractor accused of taking thousands of dollars upfront and abandoning projects has now failed to show up to his own bankruptcy hearings multiple times.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A contractor accused of taking thousands of dollars upfront and abandoning projects has now failed to show up to his own bankruptcy hearings multiple times.

Not only have customers been frustrated by the lack of refunds, but as Ronald Brentt Ergle’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case continues, it puts their civil lawsuits on hold.

“If someone files bankruptcy, they get the protection of the bankruptcy court,” attorney Richard Hricik, who does not represent any party in these cases, said. “It also allows people to take chances in an economy and try businesses and fail.”

But customers feel there is more to the story than just a failed business.

“He’s obviously exploited the system, the loopholes in our legal and justice system,” Brian Kelley said. “[Ergle] knows what he can and can’t get away with otherwise. He would have been caught by now.”

Kelley thought he would have had his dream garage by now for his passion project, working on collectible cars.

After saving up for years by working for the military, Kelley paid Ergle of Palmetto Restoration and Construction $30,000 upfront for the project in June 2022.

However, he says he never got much more than a dug-out trench.

“So now we have an island in a moat in our backyard,” his wife, Michelle Kelley, said.

Kelley sued Ergle in May for breach of contract.

He is one of several customers who claim Ergle abandoned their projects, costing them thousands. Two others also sued.

There have been three 341 meetings of creditors via phone since Ergle filed for bankruptcy in May, which as the debtor, he is required to attend.

A third one, held on Sept. 8, U.S. Trustee Michelle Viera stated: “Let the record reflect that Mr. Ergle has twice previously failed to appear at this 341 meeting... As of this morning Mr. Ergle has failed to provide any of the documents as ordered in the court’s order.”

In an email, Ergle responded to requests for comment regarding his absence that he was not going to “show up to bankruptcy hearings that are not valid nor mine.”

The bankruptcy court plans to auction off materials discovered in storage units rented by him, according to court records, filled with personal tools, equipment and construction materials.

It estimates they will sell for less than $10,000.

Customers say they’ve paid Ergle, combined, nearly $296,000.

Ergle reports that customers have been refunded through square and materials have been delivered.

Some customers say they have received a few materials, but none report receiving a refund.

Their hopes have dwindled for any accountability in the last few months on the civil and criminal side.

To date, they still haven’t been able to file a police report, as they’ve hoped to do.

“We’ve been told that once he broke ground, once he did work, it is no longer a criminal offense,” Michelle said.

Ergle previously has claimed that he had fallen behind on his projects. According to an investigation, he never had the proper license to build the garages he was contracted to construct and had been fined by the state previously for operating without a license.

Hricik says there are many facts about each individual situation that could separate civil from criminal proceedings.

“The more like you’re a bad businessperson, the less criminal it is, the more like you never intended to be a businessperson, the more criminal it is,” he said.

Even if these customers were to get a judgement in civil court, limitations in state law make it difficult to even get paid out.

In South Carolina, a judgement is valid for only 10 years.

“The clock strikes and it disappears,” Hricik said.