ELBERT COUNTY, Colo. — At least three criminal investigations are underway regarding the business practices of a Colorado contractor accused by customers of taking money but not finishing the job.
The latest person to come forward is Steven Long, owner of the food truck, The Chaotic Kitchen.
"We've invested $29,600, and all I have is a pile of steel in my backyard," Long said.
Long said in 2019, he hired Steel Building Manufacturing, LLC to complete a steel building for a his food truck. State records show the business is registered to a Donald Steinke.
"The weather, obviously, in Colorado is a big factor," Long said. "We have the water tanks on there, and everything freezes. So, you know, we're trying to find ways to keep it warm enough so that we're not fighting to run our business."
Three years later, Long's food truck is still exposed to the elements in his driveway.
"I continually texted with him and contacted him ... and [Steinke] was never available and never returned calls," he said. "I had to take out a loan. I'm paying on the loan that I have nothing to show for. It's money, that's just gone."
In August, Denver7 reported on accusations brought forth by Eryn Christine. She said she hired Steel Building Manufacturing, LLC to complete a steel building, but later canceled the project after months of delays.
Christine told Denver7 Steinke said he would refund $13,000 of the money she had paid him, but that didn't happen.
"His response on July 7 was, "My bank put a hold on it. You'll get your money when I have it,"" Christine said at the time.
In August, Steinke told Denver7 that Christine would receive her refund by Sept. 12. Christine said once again, the refund never arrived.
In a phone call with Denver7 on Sept. 16, Steinke said, "Every single customer — I gave their money. I have never taken anybody's money, ever. I don't owe anybody any money at all."
Additionally, Steinke refuted Long's claims.
"Again, Steve Long, I don't owe him any money and he doesn’t owe me," the contractor said.
During that same phone call, Steinke later said he would deliver Christine's refund as soon as possible.
On Sept. 16, Christine told Denver7 she found a check in her mailbox for $10,129 — $2,850.83 less than her deposit.
“I’m inquiring as to why you returned a partial check to us? We expect those funds to be returned to us immediately.” Christine wrote to Steinke in an email provided to Denver7.
Court records show more than a dozen civil complaints have been filed against Steinke, dating back to 2000.
In his phone call with Denver7, Steinke said the complaints should be attributed to "disgruntled customers."
"If they pay me, I do the job. That's it. I do not take their money and not do the job," the contractor said.
Elizabeth-based attorney Todd Collins has brought forth several civil lawsuits against Steinke and Steel Building Manufacturing. He said a case he filed last fall was just granted a default judgement by Elbert County Judge Gary Michael Kramer.
The attorney said over the course of a year, he and his client gave Steinke "multiple" chances to respond to the lawsuit before the judgement was issued.
"All I can really say about this is we have received judgment and we're moving on to the next steps after receiving judgement," Collins said. "The case is still open because we named one of this company's subcontractors, who also took $26,000 from our client and basically fled the state with it."
The Elbert County Sheriff's Office confirmed it's opened two criminal cases into the business practices of Donald Steinke. An ECSO spokesperson said once the cases are complete, they'll be forwarded to the Economics Crime Division of the 18th Judicial District.
"We have been working closely with the sheriff's office on this ... especially because of what I just mentioned, with the subcontractor taking $26,000 and leaving the state with it. That's just clearly theft," Collins said.
Denver7 confirmed the Douglas County Sheriff's Office is investigating Steinke's business practices as it pertains to Christine's accusations.
Christine told Denver7 she first contacted DCSO over the summer. A DCSO spokesperson confirmed the case was assigned a detective in mid-September.
Long doesn't believe he'll see his money returned, but he wants to speak out.
"I just don't want to see anybody else getting the same situation I'm in," he said. "I mean, he's obviously been doing this for years and years. It's devastated us financially, and I just don't want to see that happen to anybody else."
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