Contractor Draws Scrutiny in Montana

By Beacon Staff

A contractor who is facing 15 felonies in Washington and has been accused of improper business dealings in at least two other states is now operating in Montana, leading to complaints from homeowners and former employees who say they’ve been swindled.

The grievances have prompted an investigation by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

John Mulinski, who runs Sunrise Quality Construction, Inc., is working as a registered contractor in the Flathead Valley and possibly other locations, including Missoula. Homeowners and ex-workers say Mulinski has left projects unfinished and failed to pay his employees.

Their complaints mirror the accusations made against Mulinski in states along the Pacific Coast, according to the criminal charges and numerous media accounts, several as recent as September.

Seattle’s KING 5 news, which has covered Mulinski at length, reported that he lost his registration to be a contractor in California, Oregon and Washington because of unseemly business practices. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted King County Sheriff’s Detective Edward Ka from court documents as saying, “a clear pattern emerged from my interviews of these subcontractors.”

“John Mulinski would hire the subcontractors to work on construction or remodeling projects,” Ka continued, “and would then refuse to pay them for some or all of what he owed them.”

Authorities raided Mulinski’s Covington, Wash., home in July, seeking employee records and other information. Mulinski was later charged with 15 counts of felony theft for bilking subcontractors and customers out of roughly $1 million. He made an initial appearance in district court in September and pleaded not guilty.

A King County district court clerk said last week Mulinski made a second appearance on Oct. 28. He has a status conference hearing on Nov. 18. A clerk in a separate branch of King County’s district court said Mulinski is also facing three counts of unregistered contracting, with a court date scheduled for Dec. 13. He was jailed in June for unregistered contracting.

Reports describe a pattern in which Mulinski, through multiple firms, took payment for construction jobs but didn’t pay his subcontractors, in some cases prompting them to file liens against the property owners. He has also been accused of overcharging and failing to complete projects, according to news accounts.

Mulinski has been active in the Flathead Valley but appears to be operating in multiple communities in Montana, according to Matt Paszek, an investigator with the Department of Labor and Industry. Mulinski advertised for Sunrise Quality Construction in the Beacon before his history became evident.

Tom Watson, a Flathead contractor, said he responded to a post from Mulinski on Craigslist seeking help. He said he signed on with Mulinski’s crew and worked on several roofing jobs, but was only paid for a portion of the work performed at a rate less than he was promised.

Watson said he has called Mulinski repeatedly but hasn’t collected the rest of his money, which amounts to about $2,700. The addresses given on the work contracts for Mulinski’s construction firm, Watson said, are to vacant properties. Watson knows of other ex-employees in the same position.

“Bottom line, this guy’s a crook,” Watson said. “All he’s doing is collecting the upfront money from the homeowners and moving on to the next job.”

Meanwhile, jobs remain unfinished, Watson said. In some cases, the roofs were torn off and never shingled, he said.

Ron Reeves, a homeowner, said Mulinski asked for money up front for materials and other costs. But after he found Mulinski to be dishonest, he canceled his services. Reeves eventually finished the roof but said he’s still out $2,200.

Watson said he and his partner, another former Mulinski employee, have gone back to finish some of the roofs on their own.

“I have no clue how many roofs are open out there,” Watson said. “After six months these (homeowners) are screwed. They don’t have any shingles on their roof.”

In an interview, Mulinski said he knows of four employees who quit, but argued that the money disputes stem from the employees’ failure to properly report their hours worked. He said he’s spoken with the state to “make sure we know what our rights are,” adding that he still intends to compensate the former employees once their paperwork is sorted out.

“All of them will be paid,” Mulinski said.

Mulinski declined to talk about his charges in Washington, or any of his business dealings outside of Montana, but his attorney told Seattle’s KING 5 in late September that “construction jobs breed disputes,” with “issues about workmanship, all that stuff.”

“Construction gets messy,” his attorney added. “It seems as if he’s been singled out.”

Neither the Flathead County District Court nor Justice Court has any records of charges or complaints filed against Mulinski.

Mulinski said he’s “not going to comment about any information about my company,” in response to a question about where his company is based. But Zan Deery, lead investigator for the Spokane division of the Better Business Bureau, raised similar doubts as Watson regarding the validity of the mailing addresses given by Mulinski for Sunrise Quality Construction.

“He has no viable address,” Deery said. “We’re unable to ascertain what’s at the address he’s using.”

Deery’s agency has a file on Mulinski, using both information carried over from past Better Business Bureau records in western Washington and new information from Montana.

Included in the report is the Washington State Attorney General’s “assurance of discontinuance” against “Home Curb Appeal LLC, National Inspectors LLC and John Mulinski.” The document, filed by the attorney general and acknowledged by the respondents, cites “unfair or deceptive acts or practices and unfair methods of competition in violation” of state law.

Deery said her organization doesn’t deal with criminal matters but instead tries “to help customers make an informed decision” through a “neutral, factual report.”

“He’s got a lot of things that are against him right now as far as operating ethically and above board and in a forthright manner,” Deery said. “And he’s going to have to resolve these issues before he gains the trust of the people again, if he ever does.”

Mulinski paid his fees to register as a contractor in Montana in July, according to the Department of Labor and Industry. After contractors are registered, the labor department is responsible for ensuring that employees are covered under workers compensation, said Melissa Billman, a compliance specialist with the Independent Contractor Central Unit.

Billman said her unit responded to a workers compensation inquiry concerning Mulinski. Since it was discovered that his employees are covered under workers compensation, Mulinski faces no sanctions.

“We can’t investigate workmanship or quality of work; the only thing we investigate is work comp issues,” Billman said. “He’s complying with our laws as far as our unit is concerned.”

But Paszek, the investigator, said the labor department can also consider other factors, such as consumer protection issues. Paszek said he’s fielded multiple calls regarding Sunrise Quality Construction but couldn’t comment in depth about his investigation.

“I am aware of a few things,” he said.

Paszek reminds anybody hiring a contractor to thoroughly check backgrounds and references. Watson said he and Mulinski’s other former Flathead employees intend to do “anything and everything we can to just get our money out of the guy.”

“This guy needs to be stopped,” Watson said. “He’s doing some damage.”

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