Viva Las Villa!

Builder Paul Lambert's dream house is the hit of the show homes, but homebuyers and creditors are raining on his parade.

"I think we've been really responsive," he says. "This market is the toughest I've seen, but we're still building houses. And compare my houses with US Homes houses. My designs are more creative. I can give better prices. I inspect every house. I check every phase of construction. Do you think [Richmond president] Dave Mandarich goes and checks out every house? It would be a shame just to have these cookie-cutter houses, where there's no attention to detail."

Quality, Lambert insists, is a passion with him. "People are putting their life savings into these houses," he says. "They have a right to expect it to be done right."

The Stovers say Lambert ignored them until they went to court.
John Johnston
The Stovers say Lambert ignored them until they went to court.

Paul Lambert got into the homebuilding business as a disgruntled consumer. He started Paul's Place in 1979, a popular fast-service restaurant featuring Chicago-style hot dogs and gourmet hamburgers, and expanded to four stores by the time he sold his controlling interest in the operation in 1987. Left with time on his hands and a no-compete clause in his sale agreement, he began looking for something to do -- and found it in the housing market.

Lambert and then-wife Doron visited the 1988 Parade of Homes and wound up purchasing a custom model from Bainbridge. It was not quite everything he'd hoped for, an experience he recounts in one of his company's sales brochures: "After months of searching, our excitement turned to disappointment as we realized that a high-end custom home usually meant an increase in square footage, but not in quality or craftmanship," he writes. "It became evident that my concept of how the ideal home should be constructed was much different from that of the homebuilders I encountered."

In 1989, Lambert built his first spec home, in the Falcon Hills section of Highlands Ranch. Three years later, he had his own award-winning entry in the 1992 Parade of Homes at Rock Creek. The Denver economy was starting to shake loose of its late-Eighties malaise, and demand for luxurious custom and semi-custom homes on the fringes of established suburbs was increasing.

Lambert never looked back. He had a knack for sensing where the market was going, lining up the essential financing and persuading developers to sell him the choicest lots in the most desirable areas. It was a necessary set of survival skills, he says.

"The hard part for a smaller builder is finding the right land," he says. "The developers would rather sell to Richmond, where they know they've got the cash. Look at Daniel's Gate. It's not a great group of builders, to be honest with you. But it's who the developer decided to go with -- except for me. I was able to get in here because I had some great contacts."

Just how successful Lambert's business was became a contentious issue when Doron filed for divorce in late 1998. The case evolved into a bitter and costly battle that has stretched on for almost four years. Initially, Lambert claimed his gross monthly income was around $7,000; Doron, who was not directly involved in the operation of Dorian Homes, claimed that her husband had boasted of making between $700,000 and $1 million a year, and she produced bank statements showing that he withdrew between $20,000 and $50,000 a month.

Lambert responded that he'd received $59,000 in wages and $256,290 in "loan guarantee fees" in 1998, fees that were "typically offset by the loans he owes Dorian Homes for monies advanced to him to meet his monthly debt obligations." But as more financial details became known -- many of them now sealed in the court file -- Doron's monthly payments for maintenance and child support were increased from $4,500 to more than $12,000.

The acrimonious wrangling over money and parenting issues involving their three children dragged on for months. Early on, Doron obtained a temporary restraining order against Paul, claiming that "he is unwilling to voluntarily vacate the marital residence," that "there have been physical and verbal altercations" and that "Respondent has threatened to kill Petitioner and threatened to break her legs." For his part, Lambert denied any bad behavior and claimed that he'd been forced on at least one occasion to defend himself from his wife, after she'd hit him "more than twenty times with her fist."

The voluminous divorce file is teeming with ugly accusations about everything from concealed assets to denial of parenting time. Both sides have sought contempt citations against the other; after two years of litigation, Doron was sufficiently concerned about Paul's supposed depletion of marital assets through new car purchases, gambling excursions to the Bellagio and other Strip hotels, and "lavish and lengthy vacations" with his new girlfriend, 31-year-old Liza Robillon, that she asked the judge to limit Paul's spending to $20,000 a month. The judge complied -- and ordered both parties to "stop making derogatory comments about each other" and "stop discussing the divorce with children."

A final divorce decree was issued in July 2000. Doron was awarded the couple's $830,000 house in Falcon Hills, $12,250 in monthly expenses and child support, and the Lexus SUV. Paul kept Dorian Homes and the Mercedes. But the case continues to this day, with recent filings over parenting issues, motions for contempt, a hearing set this fall, and legal fees now stretching well into six figures.

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