Not too long ago, a bright and prosperous future seemed in store for Greg Mikesell, an up-and-coming builder of expensive custom homes around San Antonio for whom clients and glowing testimonials were plentiful.
âHe built us a nice house at a price we were able to spend. He was energetic, enthusiastic and trying to make it work. He did his best,â recalled Steve Place, who in 2003 chose Mikesell to build a house in Timberwood Park.
In a 2004 profile in the San Antonio
Express-News, Greg Mikesell talked
about his focus on the quality and
design of the houses he constructed.
In a flattering profile published in the San Antonio Express-News the next year, the young builder talked about his focus on quality and design, and how he had cobbled together savings and credit card debt â Horatio Alger style â to finance his first home.
Soon, Mikesell was building high-end homes around the area and employing a loyal lineup of subcontractors.
âHe was great. He had like 20-30 homes on the ground at any time,â said Mike Zinna, owner of MRZ Plumbing, a friend and longtime subcontractor.
âAnd he did quality product. I would have bought a home from him. He was trustworthy,â said Zinna, who estimates he plumbed about 100 of Mikesellâs houses.
But a couple of years ago, something went catastrophically wrong, and last year, Mikesellâs company, Definitive Custom Homes, folded under a wave of customer complaints, lawsuits and demands for payment from subcontractors.
Three homeowners sued Mikesell, claiming shoddy construction, unfinished homes and theft of construction funds.
Creditors â including his painting, concrete, tile, framing, roofing and plumbing subcontractors â claim they are owed several hundred thousand dollars in unpaid bills.
Altogether, judgments of about $700,000 are on file in Bexar County.
Mikesellâs subsequent foray into the entertainment business as majority owner of The Back Porch, a bar on Stone Oak Parkway, also stalled when the business closed this summer.
And looming far more ominously is a criminal probe of alleged financial misconduct by Mikesell.
âHeâs under investigation at this time. The possible charges would be theft and theft by check,â said First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg, who declined further comment.
Contacted last week, Mikesell, 35, declined to be interviewed, but he agreed to respond to questions sent by e-mail about the failure of Definitive Custom Homes, and the allegations made against him by former clients, associates and subcontractors.
In a one-page statement, Mikesell apologized to those harmed by what he termed, his âpoor managementâ of his former business and personal life.
Noting that his misconduct has cost him both his marriage and livelihood, he said he no longer uses drugs or gambles.
And, he wrote, he is negotiating with the Bexar County district attorneyâs office to resolve any potential criminal issues. He attached a photocopy of a restitution check for $36,000 sent Friday to the district attorney.
âI never set out to intentionally harm anyone, and will continue to take ownership and responsibility for what my actions have done,â he said in closing.
Those recent efforts notwithstanding, these days when people give testimonials about Mikesell, they use words like con man, cheat and a man without a conscience.
âHe built my house and cost me a half-million,â said Michael Alisanski, who sued Mikesell last year over numerous problems with an $800,000 house in The Dominion.
âHe put the wrong roof on my house, we had extensive water damage, my mahogany wood floors were ruined, my drainage is screwed up and I never got a warranty on the house,â Alisanski said.
Despite winning a judgment of $471,110, Alisanski said he has yet to collect a penny.
Frank Kukral, an 85-year-old retiree, claims in his lawsuit that Mikesell simply vanished in March 2008 after receiving a final draw of over $100,000, leaving a half-finished house at Medina Lake and threats of liens from unpaid subcontractors.
Ultimately, Kukral paid off the subcontractors and finished the house with his own money, according to his son, Robert Kukral.
He said his father collected only $11,000 of the $104,000 judgment he got against Mikesell.
âI think Mikesell planned it. He saw that cash flow was a problem. He knew he was going down, so I think he tried to get as much cash as he could, then he canned his company and opened a bar,â Robert Kukral said.
Other customers and subcontractors who say they were wronged never filed suit.
âWhen you are a widow woman, thereâs no one to look after you, and that Greg Mikesell has really done me in,â said Maria Roach, 81, who in 2006 hired him to build her retirement home on Canyon Lake.
But the house had problems ranging from faulty grading to inferior brick to defective tiles to window leaks, Roach said. After spending $10,000 of her own money to fix some of the problems, and paying Mikesell in full, she said she still has a lien from Definitive Custom Homes on her house.
Among the subcontractors who were left in the lurch, Quality Roofing of Boerne and Palacios Masonry have sued, together winning judgments of more than $120,000.
According to several close associates, the reason for Mikesellâs spectacular failure is hardly a mystery. The early success as a builder and the money and attention it brought went to his head, and he got swept up in the ârock starâ lifestyle, complete with fancy cars and expensive junkets to Las Vegas, they said.
Ky Shaffer, 37, who was a member of the same fraternity at the University of Texas at San Antonio and later joined Mikesell in a homebuilding venture, said Mikesell always has played by his own rules.
âHe was always a go-getter and a hard worker, but he was one of these types who was always cheating and cutting corners,â said Shaffer, who cited a rather trivial episode from college days to illustrate the point.
âOnce he came over to my house and tried to get four free tires. He actually took a hammer and some nails, and flattened all four of his tires, and then tried to get free ones from Discount Tire,â he said.
âHe told them he had run over a box of nails, but he was so stupid he had pounded them into the sidewalls and they said no way,â Shaffer said.
Others said Mikesellâs reckless appetite for high living hastened his downfall.
âYou can mess around with drugs, you can drink, you can gamble and you can like women, but you canât do all four and keep afloat,â said Zinna, a former friend and subcontractor, who joined Mikesell on pleasure jaunts to Las Vegas.
âHe was happy-go-lucky. Always flashing money and trying to be the center of attention. Itâs fun to hang around with someone like that in Vegas, but his gambling was extreme. I donât like to lose. He didnât care,â Zinna said.
Staff Writer Jennifer Hiller contributed to this report. Read comments