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Arrested Development

Clyde Hoeldtke, the Evergreen developer who built Florida houses under the name Beacon Homes, liked to think of his customers as satisfied. "Thirteen thousand happy Beacon homeowners," he'd called them, even after he left numerous buyers with incomplete homes or liens filed against them by subcontractors Hoeldtke hadn't paid.

Now his description may be even further from the truth. Two weeks ago Hoeldtke cut a plea bargain with Florida state prosecutors who'd charged him with misapplication of construction funds. He received a suspended four-and-a-half-year prison sentence and agreed to pay $154,000 in restitution to a handful of dissatisfied homebuyers. Hoeldtke also will wear an ankle monitor to ensure that he remains under virtual house arrest in Colorado for the next two years.

The deal has pleased few. "We would have liked to have seen him in jail," says Roger Biver. Biver moved to a Hoeldtke development in Hudson, Florida, from England nearly four years ago but found only a vacant lot where he expected his living room to be. He eventually got a Beacon house but soon discovered it had been sold to another family as well. The whole episode cost him $30,000.

In the spring of 1993 Biver helped organize the Beacon Action Group, an association of frustrated Hoeldtke homeowners. Eventually, Biver says, the group grew to 159 members who claimed they were out $1.5 million, thanks to Hoeldtke's financial mismanagement. Since its founding, the group has pushed the Florida attorney general to prosecute the developer. Says Biver, "We've been livid for three years."

As a result of Hoeldtke's plea bargain, however, it looks like most of the Beacon Action Group will have to make do with simply remaining livid. For starters, only 23 of the 159 homeowners whom Hoeldtke allegedly bilked will receive restitution. Florida officials say the rest of the group could bring civil action against Hoeldtke. But they also concede that that scenario is unlikely: Many of the developer's victims are elderly, broke, or simply fed up and ready to move on.

In addition to the small number of people eligible for restitution, the Floridians point out that the rest of the developer's sentence hardly seems harsh. They note, for instance, that house arrest is made considerably easier when you live in a 5,600-square-foot mansion nestled in a thirty-acre hilltop Evergreen estate--tennis court, duck pond and barn included.

And that $154,000 restitution check seems like a lot of money only until you compare it with the estimated $3 million the developer is believed to have left behind in bills. "I've been robbed twice," complained one homeowner at the conclusion of Hoeldtke's March 4 sentencing in New Port Richey, Florida.

For their part, prosecutors say they did the best they could, given the evidence against Hoeldtke. Gail Conolly, an assistant statewide prosecutor, pursued the developer for more than four years, only to see him walk away to his Colorado estate. She says she can understand the homeowners' dismay. "If I had my way, he'd sell that place and pay all the people he owes money to," she says, adding that, legally, Hoeldtke is entitled to keep his home.

Conolly explains that a Florida grand jury concluded early last year that Hoeldtke did not intentionally bilk Beacon homebuyers but merely mismanaged their money. The grand jury also sympathized with the developer because he'd plowed more than $2 million of his own money into Beacon Homes after falling behind on his bills. Hoeldtke himself (who could not be reached for comment and whose Florida lawyer did not return calls) later argued in his own defense that the vast majority of his developments--13,000 homes over thirty years--were a success and that only in a handful of instances did he run into trouble.

"This was a no-win situation from the beginning," says Conolly. "Let me tell you, it wasn't fun sitting up there in the courtroom during his sentencing and listening to these people, many of whom had lost their life savings."

Meanwhile, Hoeldtke, 59, will be electronically monitored by corrections officials in Colorado. He will be permitted to continue to work from his house outside of Evergreen, where he has owned and developed land in an ultra-exclusive mountain enclave called The Timbers; houses there sell for at least $700,000. Neighbors say that while sales at The Timbers are slow, Hoeldtke is in the process of developing at least one home.

Prosecutor Conolly admits that it's a bit unnerving to see Hoeldtke still working as a developer. Even so, she adds that things could be worse. "I'm just glad he's not in Florida anymore," she says.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer