The Bakersfield CalifornianSeptember
18, 2007 Section: A Section Page: A1
VANESSA GREGORY, Californian staff writere-mail:
The fireplaces are gone. They were repossessed from the half-built structure Ammanda
and Thomas Meek thought would be their dream home. "It was 2,600 square feet, full custom," Ammanda Meek said. "It's framed
and it's got a roof. That's as far as it got." Construction stopped, Meek said, after a builder the couple hired in February
stiffed subcontractors out of their rightful pay. Donald Juhasz, a licensed contractor and the owner of DMJ Customs Inc.,
altered documents and then pocketed money intended to finance the construction from the Meeks' lender, Miamisburg, Ohio-based
National City Mortgage Co., Meek said. Liens totaling $60,000 have been placed against the northwest home, which consists
of little more than a slab, frame and tile roof. Meek and her family are bracing themselves to possibly lose the home to foreclosure.
"It's like every person's worst homeownership nightmare in construction," said the
Meeks' attorney, Richard Papst.
Bakersfield police are investigating theft allegations against Juhasz involving "several" possible victims, according
to Sgt. Greg Terry, a department spokesman. The District Attorney's office has indicated it may file charges against him,
and the Contractors State License Board also is investigating a complaint, spokeswoman Melanie Bedwell said. The Meeks are
plaintiffs in one of two lawsuits filed against Juhasz and his business since August.
Others who hired or invested with Juhasz are hurt and puzzled. They trusted the builder who jumped into the construction
game near the end of Bakersfield's real estate boom.
Juhasz could not be reached Monday. But he will be filing for personal bankruptcy this week, according to one of his
attorneys, Phillip Gillet. Another attorney for Juhasz, William Slocumb, said a judge will need to handle the matter.
"I suspect there's a lot of people jumping the gun a little bit early," said Slocumb. "There are a lot of people that
want instant answers."
Answers are scarce and questions plentiful for those who say they lost money to Juhasz.
"I'm kind of bewildered," said Bert Valencia, who expected Juhasz to build his home on a lot near Renfro Road and Henderson
Valencia and his wife, Veronica, paid DMJ Customs $40,000 to start building their home, he said.
Juhasz used $8,200 to have plans drawn up for the home and kept the rest of the money, Valencia said. He lost touch
with Juhasz in July.
Dave Bonner, who invested $250,000 to build two homes with Juhasz, has not been able to reach Juhasz for more than
a month, either.
Bonner considered Juhasz to be a business partner and a friend.
"Don and his wife and my wife and I would go to dinner together, drink beers together and go to poker games together,"
"He and I go from friends/investors to absolutely nothing," he said.
Bonner filed a deed of trust with Juhasz at the county recorder's house to protect his investment in a home on Efada
Drive in northwest Bakersfield.
But Bonner never got a promised deed of trust for a $115,000 loan he made Juhasz to build in Bakersfield's pricey Talladega
community, he said.
Juhasz, who formed DMJ Customs Inc. in September 2005, left a comfortable job at State Farm Insurance because he thought
"the pot of gold was in real estate," Bonner said.
For a time, Juhasz hosted lavish parties, drove new cars, owned a time share in Hawaii and had a ski boat, Bonner said.
When the real estate market started to falter, Juhasz bowled ahead, paying top dollar for lots, Bonner said.
"He got into it right when the boom was booming," Bonner said. "But it cut off quick and he was committed on other
properties where he had to maintain payments."
Juhasz did know how to build a nice home, said customer Shawna Jachetti.
Jachetti and her husband, David, decided a custom-built home would be the easiest way to ensure bedrooms for their
six kids. Juhasz finished building their home in May. It's 3,400 square feet and gorgeous, Jachetti said. The family moved
in on June 1.
"We slowly started getting phone calls and visits at our front door from subcontractors," Jachetti said. The couple
discovered some subcontractors had not been paid, and now liens have been filed against the home, she said.
"In the very beginning he was a good man," Jachetti said. "He got greedy and corrupted."
But she does want to see Juhasz punished.
As does Meek.
The money lost -- $145,000 to buy a lot, $105,000 drawn from the loan and $25,000 in personal savings -- has been compounded
by emotional strain, Meek said.
She worries the liens or a foreclosure will wreck the 800 credit score she worked hard to maintain. And even as she
pursues legal remedies, Meek has struggled to let go of the home emotionally.
"It consumed me there for the first month," Meek said. "Every waking moment -- to bury this guy."
Ammanda Meek's home was never completed. She says the
contractor took her money, leaving her with a partially constructed home.
All Bert Valencia has to show for his effort to have a custom home built by DMJ Customs is a sign with his family name
on it standing on his empty one-acre lot near Renfro Road and Henderson Avenue.
HENRY A. BARRIOS / THE CALIFORNIAN
Bert Valencia, at the lot that was to be the location of his dream home, said he and his wife, Veronica, paid DMJ Customs
$40,000 to start building their home. The builder, Donald Juhasz, used $8,200 to have plans drawn up for the home and kept
the rest of the money, Valencia said.
Copyright, 2007, The Bakersfield Californian