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HOUSES OF ILL REPUTE

A homebuilder under grand jury investigation in Florida for leaving dozens of buyers without promised houses is now building luxury homes near the Front Range town of Evergreen, where he moved in 1993. Clyde Hoeldtke, 58, once one of the largest residential builders on the Gulf Coast of Florida, claims he's finished all but 3 of the more than 100 houses he left unfinished in that state when he folded financially troubled Beacon Homes.

Beacon customers who say Hoeldtke cheated them number at least 160, according to Roger Biver, a resident of Hudson, Florida, who organized a citizens' group seeking criminal sanctions against the builder. Two and a half years ago, Biver and his wife moved from England to take possession of their Beacon home, only to find a vacant lot where the house should have stood. When Hoeldtke's sales manager talked the couple into taking a similar but uncompleted house in place of the one they bought, Biver moved in and answered his front door soon afterward to greet a couple from New York holding a deed to the house in hand.

"Mr. Hoeldtke sold the house twice," says Biver, "then it turned out he had mortgaged it, too." The final blow came when Biver discovered the house was burdened with fifteen liens filed by subcontractors Hoeldtke hadn't paid. "We got a half-finished house and all the liabilities with it," says Biver, who adds that there are cases "much, much worse than ours," including instances of people losing their life's savings.

Florida prosecutors won't say whether they're investigating Hoeldtke, but the grand jury probe has been reported by Florida newspapers and confirmed by Hoeldtke. "I have broken no laws. I have committed no crimes," Hoeldtke has insisted to reporters since "cash flow problems" swamped his construction company in 1992. But last fall, irate Beacon customers spurred the Florida state attorney's office to begin a grand jury investigation of the self-described Christian businessman for alleged fraud, misappropriation of funds, forgery, racketeering and theft. That investigation is still in progress.

Doing business in Colorado as KJC&S Construction, Hoeldtke is selling lots and building houses priced from $700,000 to over $1 million in The Timbers, a 120-acre gated community south of Evergreen, according to his assistant, Jeri Hildenbrand. Hoeldtke and his wife, Joan, have owned the Timbers acreage since the 1970s, when they built a getaway dream house of their own on a thirty-acre hilltop parcel complete with tennis court and duck pond. The Hoeldtkes began developing 27 additional lots at the site in the mid-1980s, 11 of which are now occupied. Seven of those luxury homes were built by Hoeldtke, whom Hildenbrand calls "a Colorado builder," even though he lived and worked in Florida for nearly all of his 32 years as a contractor.

Hoeldtke did not return calls from Westword. Hildenbrand refers inquiries to an article the homebuilder penned last September in Evergreen's Canyon Courier weekly newspaper addressing his business and legal troubles. There Hoeldtke wrote that he refused to seek bankruptcy protection from creditors when Beacon Homes went under, instead liquidating personal assets such as Timbers acreage to cover several million dollars of debt, much of it due subcontractors and homebuyers in Florida.

Hoeldtke professed surprise that the state attorney's office took its investigation of his business practices to a grand jury. "In the state of Florida, the prosecutor must go to the grand jury only in the case of murder," Hoeldtke noted. "I don't know why they held the grand jury hearing" on the homebuyers' complaints against him.

But one Beacon Homes customer says dealing with Hoeldtke almost killed her. Carol Rieg and her husband, Daniel, told the St. Petersburg Times they put $48,000 down on a house in Millwood Village, near Hudson, in the summer of 1992. Construction was supposed to be completed by that November. Yet when the Riegs moved from Maryland to take up residence, they found only a concrete slab on their lot. Carol Rieg suffered a heart attack the next day, which she blames on the stress of the previous day's events.

Things didn't get much easier for the Riegs in the succeeding months. When they hired another builder to put up their home, Clyde Hoeldtke slapped a $22,000 lien on their property. The lien killed the Riegs' application for a bank loan to pay the new contractor, they told the Times. The couple managed to complete construction with money drawn on credit cards. Then Hoeldtke attempted to foreclose on their new home when they finally moved in, said the Riegs, who are suing the builder.

Hoeldtke encumbered many homes with similar liens and financial entanglements, says Roger Biver.

Until his company's financial woes set in, Hoeldtke apparently enjoyed a good reputation as a Florida homebuilder, a reputation that inspired the trust of buyers such as the Riegs and Biver, who checked into his record and that of Beacon Homes before putting money down on homes. "He'd built 13,000 homes over 25 years and for very affordable prices," says Biver. "He'd had a fabulous reputation."

According to Hoeldtke's account in the Courier, it was his drive to provide high-quality homes at great prices that did much to undo his business. He told the paper that as he struggled beneath debts that had risen to $32 million by 1992, he slashed prices of his houses below cost in a last-ditch attempt to increase sales volume.

With the list of unpaid subcontractors and unsatisfied homebuyers growing, Florida authorities stepped in. In 1993 several counties in the Gulf Coast area suspended Hoeldtke's building licenses. A year later six different state and local agencies in Florida were investigating his business dealings. The construction mogul had by then retreated to the hills and meadows of his Timbers development in Colorado. Hoeldtke, who in the 1970s co-authored a book on Christian "renewal" and toured the country lecturing on the subject at churches, became active in a circle of Christians in the Evergreen area. According to neighbor Ron Lewis, Hoeldtke organized a "house church" with a congregation that has grown to about 150 people who take turns hosting services in their homes. "Clyde says it's not a church, it's an assembly," adds Lewis, a land developer and Christian activist.

Hoeldtke's piety seems to have its roots in his mother's religious faith. Answering what she described as a call from the Lord, 78-year-old Evelyn Hoeldtke last summer began a personal reclamation project at the nearly abandoned headquarters of her son's Florida business empire in the community of Bayonet Point. With two elderly friends she hired to help, Mrs. Hoeldtke set about weeding overgrown flower beds, sweeping up glass from vandalized windows and tearing out jungles of grapevines that had overgrown the grounds of her son's offices just down the street from the church where he periodically spoke of his businessman's relationship with the Lord. She wanted to do what she could to restore the Hoeldtkes' good name in the community, the builder's mother confided to the Pasco Times.

It was his sense of morality that lead Hoeldtke to shun bankruptcy and pledge to personally repay those he owes homes and money, the builder told reporters in Florida. "Our homebuyers and vendors have every reason to be angry and disappointed," he wrote in the Canyon Courier. "They bought from Beacon Homes and worked for us because of our impeccable reputation for 32 years. The majority of the bills have been paid. We have liquidated millions of dollars of personal assets to make it happen. The worst is behind us."

Not if a group of disgruntled Hoeldtke customers has anything to say about it. In the spring of 1993, Daniel Rieg and Roger Biver formed the Beacon Action Group to see Hoeldtke brought to court. Last fall, when Hoeldtke claimed to have finished all but three homes, the group asked the St. Petersburg Times to publicly solicit homebuyers or creditors who had been made whole by the builder. No one came forward, reports columnist Teresa Burney of the Times.

Clyde Hoeldtke has called his critics "a vindictive, highly vocal small group that has used the media to become part of the problem." Almost all of his homebuyers are satisfied with his company, he claims, calling them "13,000 happy Beacon homeowners.


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