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CLARKS SUMMIT Scott Binsack makes his trade as a home builder, but his best tools are his mastery of marketing and his magnetic charisma.
Ken Jacoby, a local excavator who has dealt with Mr. Binsack, phrased it best in saying he could talk a hound off a meat truck.
But a growing group of detractors now say the marketing and charisma that helped Mr. Binsack craft a high-end home-building company from scratch in four years serves as a thin veil concealing a pattern of deception and unpaid debt.
Hes quite a guy, Mr. Jacoby said. If he spent half as much energy in home building as he did BS-ing, hed be the successful builder he presents himself as.
Mr. Binsacks company Mansions & Estates International LLC faces at least three civil lawsuits from suppliers or contractors who say they havent been paid. Ask Mr. Binsack, he says those plaintiffs are trying to get paid for goods or services they didnt deliver. The legitimate bills, he says, hes arranging to pay.
Some vendors and contractors refuse to do business with him or say Mansions & Estates owes them money. Ask Mr. Binsack, he says they are jealous or angry that he is creating his own distribution and contracting divisions that would compete with them.
A Mansions & Estates memo acknowledges the companys inability to pay bills or finish projects on time. Ask Mr. Binsack, he attributes the financial shortcomings to his companys rapid growth and outlines an ambitious plan to expand further into race car teams, television production, even a magazine.
Some customers have met with representatives of the Lackawanna County district attorney and the state attorney generals offices. Ask Mr. Binsack, he says his customers are satisfied.
In fact, without much prodding, Mr. Binsack boasts that Mansions & Estates is the biggest, best home builder in Lackawanna County.
He defies anyone to tell him otherwise.
Dogged by the past
Mr. Binsack wonders why he gets so much attention.
Since he started the business from a Clark Summit townhouse in 2003, word spread about the talkative contractor with a checkered past who started framing homes, then moved on to remodeling jobs.
In 2005, he launched Mansions & Estates and moved it to a lushly appointed, high-profile corner in Clarks Summit, the heart of the regions high-end real estate market, and launched a massive marketing campaign of billboards, radio and print advertising.
Since then, there are indications that Mr. Binsacks business has struggled with growing pains, to say the least. The memo he wrote dated May 16 to clients and contractors, notifying them of a restructuring and expansion plan to accommodate his business significant growth.
It also included the following: I would like to apologize for the past six months of difficulties in timely payments of debts as well as our ability to ensure customer satisfaction and scheduling of projects, according to a copy obtained by The Times-Tribune.
For those aware of Mr. Binsacks past as a home builder in Monroe County, the recent issues come as no surprise.
In 1999 he was accused of taking money from several customers and not completing their homes. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to theft and bad check charges in Monroe County Court, spent three years in state prison and was ordered to pay $100,000 restitution.
He talks openly about his conviction, contending he did nothing wrong. A near-fatal motorcycle crash prevented him from building the homes, he said.
He pleaded guilty, he said, because his attorney gave him bad advice. Since then, he has represented himself.
He has vowed never to work in Monroe County again.
Suits claim unpaid debt
Upon his release from prison, Mr. Binsack wanted to build big houses in Lackawanna County.
After a few years, however, many vendors and subcontractors refuse to do business with him or say Mansions & Estates owes them money. This year, some of those deals gone wrong have found their way to Lackawanna County Court.
One suit seeks to collect unpaid debts to Penn Security Bank & Trust. Mansions & Estates was in default to the tune of $13,026 for a commercial loan and had overdue balances on two commercial credit cards, according to court documents.
The bank started action to seize Mansions & Estates assets, equipment and accounts receivable, which were security for the commercial loan. A hearing on the seizure is scheduled for July 26, but the banks attorney, James T. Shoemaker, said Mansions & Estates representatives have contacted him with promises of settling.
Then theres Raymour & Flanigan Furniture, which claims Mansions & Estates never paid for $9,068 of furniture purchased for the companys office in July 2005. Mr. Binsack claimed in court documents that much of the furniture was never delivered. The case is pending.
Consolidated Electrical Distributor, owner of All-Phase Electric, is suing Mansions & Estates for $8,618 claiming Mansions & Estates never paid for supplies.
Jacoby Excavation successfully sued Mansions & Estates at the magisterial level, claiming the company did not pay for work performed. Mr. Binsack appealed to county court and that case is pending. Mr. Jacoby doesnt expect to collect, but does hope to make a point.
Im going all the way, though, so this can finally stop, he said.
Mr. Binsack said all businesses his size get sued.
We are a $25 million business, he declared. Anyone our size will have lawsuits, and Im not going to pay for unjustifiable charges. Everyone who deserves to get paid will be paid.
Clients mixed reviews
Some Mansions & Estates customers have approached the Lackawanna County district attorneys office, said Assistant District Attorney Gene Talerico. The claims appear to be performance, rather than criminal, issues, he said.
He does some work, disappears for a few months, then comes back and does more, Mr. Talerico said.
Mr. Talerico said someone would have to prove an intent to deceive at the time the contract was signed, in order for his office to prosecute, which is very difficult. Its not a crime for a contractor to take his or her time to complete a job, he said.
However, Mr. Talerico thought the customers claims had some merit, so he arranged a meeting between Mansions & Estates customers and J.P. McGowan, of the Pennsylvania attorney generals office.
Attorney general spokesman Niles Frederiksen confirmed there was a meeting, but said there was no action pending against Mansions & Estates. The office has only one formal complaint on file.
Weve heard a lot of talk about this company, but we need complaints to establish a pattern of behavior so we can act, he said. Any consumer with a problem with this or any business should share their information with us.
The local Better Business Bureau has one resolved complaint against Mansions & Estates on file. The organization requires two similar unresolved complaints in one year to declare a pattern of problems.
Mr. Binsack points to the sparsity of formal complaints as proof of the quality of his work, saying hes not aware of dissatisfied customers only customers who have refused to make their last payments.
We try to do quality work and strive for customer satisfaction, he said. This is the first Ive heard of people complaining. Our jobs are on target.
Mansions & Estates has some happy customers. In 2005, Joe and Judy Walsh built a new home in Archbald. Mr. Binsack and his crew did the framing, a task Mr. Binsack specialized in since starting a home framing business in Long Island when he was a teenager.
Mr. Binsack did a good job on their home and a nice job remodeling a neighbors basement. So the Walshes asked him to finish their large basement at the time just cement block and concrete floors. The Walshes were in no hurry and the job took six months, but they were happy with the results a gym, toy room and Steelers-themed sports room. She said it came out great.
If the quoted price changed, it was because we wanted something additional, Mrs. Walsh said. Weve heard he had problems, but as far as we are concerned, we had absolutely no problem with Scott, and we have a beautiful basement.
Cut off by suppliers
In the complex, interdependent world of home building, prompt completion of work and prompt payment are cornerstones of reputation. Many area contractors and vendors are second- or third-generation businesses. Word travels fast in these communities, where competitors are often friendly enough to share coffee, business leads and gossip.
News of situations like those that involved the local excavator Ken Jacoby spread fast. In July, Mr. Jacoby said, he completed about 60 percent of a job for Mansions & Estates when a dispute with Mr. Binsack erupted over engineering details.
He gets really obnoxious and tries to get you mad so you quit and take a loss, Mr. Jacoby said. Thats his M.O. He gets you for so much money, then he moves on to the next guy.
Mr. Jacoby rattled off a list of colleagues who had similar experiences and are owed money.
Lou DeMarco, who worked for Mansions & Estates construction for six months in 2006, witnessed the confrontation with Mr. Jacoby. He said he has seen the same situation played out several times between Mr. Binsack and subcontractors or employees.
For example, hell need a spackler and hire one, and when they are just about done with the job, he tells them theres something wrong and not pay them, Mr. DeMarco said. Theres nothing wrong with the work, but there will be confrontation. Hell either fire the person or get them to walk off.
For Todd Chambers, of Abington Excavation, months went by with no payment for work he did for Mansions & Estates in 2005. When he demanded to be paid, it unleashed a barrage of expletives from Mr. Binsack, he said. About eight months later he got paid, he said, but by then had heard of the pattern with other subcontractors and has since refused to work with him.
He came to my hometown, declared that he was going to put reputable home builders out of business, then treated people badly and screwed them over, he said. I hate to see anyone fail, but you cant treat people like that.
Mr. Binsack doesnt deny that he has kicked contractors off jobs. He says thats a sign of his exacting standards.
I pay people when they deserve to be paid, he said. Our workmanship speaks for itself.
Some in the industry saw red flags early on.
Because of the way contractors are paid, with some money up front and the balance at the satisfactory completion of the job, they often rely on short-term credit from wholesalers such as Mariotti Building Products in Old Forge, one of the areas largest suppliers of building materials.
Last year, Mr. Binsack wanted credit from Mariotti. The company refused him.
We know our customers, and we have our ear to the ground when someone new is doing business, said Gene Mariotti, president. It doesnt take us long to find out someone is bad news.
Several other vendors contacted by The Sunday Times admitted they were owed money by Mansions & Estates, but didnt want to speak on the record, hoping they would recoup some of what was owed.
Paying his debts
One person satisfied doing business with Mansions & Estates is Dan Simrell, of Simrell Advertising in Scranton. Mr. Simrell was hired by Mansions & Estates to produce 13 episodes of a reality television show called Mansion Makers that will be marketed to cable channels.
He also helps Mr. Binsack with a weekly two-hour radio show in a paid-for time slot on WILK called Building for the New Millennium. The show features Mr. Binsack, Mr. Simrell and others talking about housing and construction.
I was as skeptical as anyone, Mr. Simrell said. But we checked him out, and the vast majority were happy with Scott. As for his past, I think he has more than paid his debt to society.
Be he hasnt paid his debt to his Monroe County victims.
Mr. Binsack has not paid all the court-ordered restitution and is fighting it. In Monroe County Court, he paints a very different financial picture than he does in Lackawanna County. At a court appearance before Judge Ronald Vican in January, Mr. Binsack argued that he didnt have enough income and couldnt afford to pay the court-ordered $5,000 per month, said Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bolles.
Judge Vican rejected the argument, citing Mr. Binsacks Lackawanna County marketing material about the size and success of his business and his charitable contributions, Mr. Bolles said. Mr. Binsack appealed.
He doesnt have the money for restitution now, he said, because he pumps all income from Mansions & Estates back into the business.
Not a good place for me
When carpenter Pete Maciejewski applied for a job with Mansions & Estates in May, he heard the bluster and saw the reality on the ground.
He met Mr. Binsack in his opulent office. Mr. Binsack boasted about his climb from jailed convict to president of a multimillion-dollar company. He talked about projections for future growth and expanding to Long Island and Georgia.
He talks about the great benefits, he promises the world, throws you the keys to a brand new truck, Mr. Maciejewski said. I had to wonder.
The next day, he didnt have to wonder.
Compared with other crews Mr. Maciejewski has worked on, he said the site of a new home in Clarks Summit was chaotic. Though workers were skilled, the site was unorganized, blueprints were being revised during construction.
Other workers told Mr. Maciejewski they felt sorry for him, and told him his check probably wouldnt clear. He took his check for the days work, $160 drawn on Old Forge Bank, and asked his mother to cash it. The check was turned away, he said.
Mr. Maciejewski decided he would not return to work.
When he called to ask for another check and to resign, Mr. Binsack was outraged, Mr. Maciejewski said. He thundered about his $25 million company, and told Mr. Maciejewski he wasnt upholding his side of the deal, Mr. Maciejewski recalled. Some bank-account snafu shouldnt matter.
I decided that sort of outfit was not a good place for me, Mr. Maciejewski said.
Payroll had been a problem for Mansions & Estates in the past. Mr. DeMarco said Mr. Binsack borrowed thousands of dollars from him to make payroll in 2006. Mr. Binsack paid him back.
When asked about trouble making payroll, Mr. Binsack said all my workers get paid.
With three decades of construction experience, Michael Cefalo joined Mansions & Estates in 2006 as construction manager. Three months later, he was calling clients to apologize, saying the conduct at Mansions & Estates was inconsistent with my Judeo-Christian ethic. He made the calls, turned over his cell phone and keys to the truck, and resigned from his job.
He saw Mr. Binsack have explosive arguments with vendors. On the job, Mr. Cefalo said he faced delays as vendors such as All-Phase Electric Supply refused to sell, citing bounced checks. At Home Depot, Mansions & Estates charge cards were rejected, Mr. Cefalo said. He would pay for gas out of his pocket, he said, when Mansions gas card was rejected.
Im trying to get a project done and my hands were tied, said Mr. Cefalo, who now works for a builder in Pittston.
The final straw came when Mr. Cefalo saw Mr. Binsack try to get $6,000 out of a client for a grinder pump whose cost was already included in the quoted price of the home.
We knew that home needed a grinder pump from the moment we walked the lot, he said. I cringed inside. I took the clients aside and told them not to pay it.
Mr. Binsack blames bounced checks on his employees, including a controller who has been dismissed, and on little local banks that cant handle our growth.
Mr. DeMarco has heard that before.
Its always someone else his attorney, his controller, the bank, his construction manager, Mr. DeMarco said. It is never Scott.
A great movie
Mansions & Estates will continue, despite the obstacles, Mr. Binsack said.
He said the recent restructuring will resolve many of the payment issues. With his own distribution division and subcontractor units, hell have a vertically integrated company that can buy materials directly from manufacturers and do every job without subcontractors. That way he wont have to deal with local suppliers, he said, and hell have better control over quality.
We are rectifying our growth and trying to do the right thing, he said. This is not history repeating itself. I was in business for four months in Monroe County. Ive been working here for four years, and Ive done 140 projects.
Long-time real estate agent Lynn Nichols said Mr. Binsack struck her as organized, smart, ambitious and a hard worker. He told her she was like his mother, she said.
She hired Mansions & Estates to replace her siding. While the crew did a great job, she said, there are small items left undone that she asks about regularly. The crews are off building large homes in Newton Township.
In the last few months, she has heard rumblings and rumors about Mansions & Estates that she finds troubling, because she thinks favorably of Mr. Binsack and his employees.
Hes smooth, seems good-intentioned, and I cant imagine he would work so hard without every intention of long-term success, she said. His ambitions caused too much to happen too soon. If he does succeed and does half of what he wants to, his life would make a great movie.
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