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“I’m mad. But now I’m just heartbroken. I just can’t believe a human can do that to people.”
Connie Becker and her husband Mark say they paid $87,000 in February to a construction company called DADU Homes, to build a small apartment called an ADU.
However, the unit is unfinished and now the couple says they are receiving bills from unpaid contractors. Including a lien on their property for $18,000.
The Beckers say this has created an extreme hardship for them, and Connie is worried that the stress is taking a toll.
“Mark’s had a heart attack before, I don’t like him being under stress, she said. “It just scares me.”
The Beckers are not alone. Cheryl Hovan also paid more than $130,000 to DADU Homes in 2022. She’s a retired schoolteacher and moved from Florida to be closer to her grandchildren.
“It’s like someone stole from you -- I feel betrayed,” Cheryl said. “I’ve worked hard all my life and somebody is just going to walk away with my money.”
Cheryl’s son Tyler Hovan, says he thinks this was the plan all along.
DADU Homes’ owner Ken Miller has been politically active in Tacoma and Pierce County government for decades. He was a commissioner with the Pierce County Housing Authority, and was influential in advocating for policies and laws concerning ADUs.
His credentials were one of the big reasons Heather Espinoza, the Becker’s daughter, trusted Ken Miller.
“The reason you trusted this man and I believe the reason the subcontractors trusted him was because of his standing in the community and because he presented himself as this honorable, honest, nice, accommodating person,” Heather said.
Court documents from the Beckers and another DADU customer, Rick Kane, say they are accusing Miller of fraud.
“He should do time. I mean, I emptied my family’s savings account. I emptied my mom’s savings account for this home that we’re sitting in that’s unfinished.”
Attorney Russell Knight represents Jennifer Catino, another one of Miller’s customers who paid him $120,000. He did zero work.
“He took the money, had no intention whatsoever of doing the work, did no work, and refused to refund her money,” Knight said.
Jennifer sued Miller and Miller made another legal move – he filed for bankruptcy. Then in July, Miller and DADU Homes also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Philip Broussard was one of DADU Homes project managers. He says one of his issues was dealing with contractors demanding payment.
“I was getting calls almost daily from angry subcontractors, angry suppliers, angry homeowners, people that were just absolutely furious about projects that weren’t being done,” he described.
“They’re $30,000 in the hole,” Broussard continued. “And four months goes by, five months goes by, six months goes by, and they’re calling me. I can’t afford to do this -- this is the stuff that puts us out of business.”
What’s interesting is DADU Homes filing shows $5.2 million in revenue from 2021 to 2023.
So where did all that money go?
“Yeah, that’s the big question,” said Cheryl’s daughter-in-law, Ashley Hovan.
Miller isn’t talking. We called and stopped by the North Tacoma house he lists as his home, but he declined to speak to us. According to his bankruptcy filing, Miller has very few assets. Now, DADU homes customers say they are burning through not only their retirement, but their dreams too.
Cheryl said when she heard he filed for bankruptcy, she lost hope.
“I said, I want to go out to the garage because all my stuff is in boxes in Tyler’s garage,” she said. “I just want to go out there and throw it all away.”
After we stopped by Miller’s home, he sent a text to say he was stepping down as a Pierce County Housing Commissioner. He’s already received his discharge in his personal bankruptcy, which means every one of his customers are hoping there are assets to split up.
If not, some who paid thousands of dollars and will get nothing in return.