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'Mad as hell': Marshall Fire contractor left projects unfinished, workers unpaid

CR Contracting was doing work for several families impacted by the Marshall Fire, and one couple said this feels like "a trauma all over again."

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — A general contractor in Colorado owes hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to police, after a remodel for a family affected by the Marshall Fire was left unfinished and subcontractors were not paid.

Many families whose home didn't burn in the Marshall Fire were still left without a home for months as insurance remediated smoke damage. One Louisville couple that had to stay away for 10 months decided to do a remodel after the remediation. They are staying anonymous and using the initials CW and MB.

"And we were like, let's make lemonade out of lemons," CW said. "And so we decided to pretty much use all that we had and put it into this project to make our home a home that we really wanted to move home to."

They hired CR Contracting to be the general contractor of this project. They said they felt lucky because the owner, Bob Blanke, told them he wanted to take care of them because of what they had been through with the fire.

The construction on their kitchen and primary bathroom began. The couple moved in to their basement with their two children as the work continued. 

"I felt like our luck was changing, and I was so excited," CW said. "And this was supposed to be this good thing. This good thing after a really hard year.”

But months after CR Contracting was supposed to finish, the kitchen and bathroom are in disarray, despite the couple paying more than $175,000. 

"I paid them 95% of the total project, and we have maybe 50% of the work done," CW said.

One day, CR Contracting just stopped showing up. With little explanation, the couple found themselves with a home in a demolition state and no explanation of where their money went.

They are talking to 9NEWS without giving their names because after they learned the project wouldn't be finished, they started to get notices from sub-contractors saying they were going to put a lien on their home because they never got paid.

By staying anonymous, they hope they can avoid more subcontractors using their home as collateral.

Credit: Louisville family

This couple has receipts that show they paid Blanke the money, but they learned Blanke didn't pay it to his workers.

"Right now, we're at a little over $15,000 for what's owed," said Lance Padilla, the electrician.

"The amount I have invoiced right now is $22,500," said Jarred Thompson, who paints, floors, frames and tiles.

"The balance is right around $40,000," said David Skul, the plumber.

These three workers said they are owed tens of thousands of dollars for projects by CR Contracting in Boulder and Broomfield counties.

Broomfield Police are investigating and said Blanke owes more than $200,000 to 19 homeowners and subcontractors.

"There’s too many emotions," Skul said. "Right now, I’m mad as hell. We’re all small businesses, and to take a $40,000 hit, and 40 between these two guys, I mean that’s a huge hit."

In March of 2022, Bob Blanke did an interview with 9NEWS when he switched up his business model to do excavations of homes burned by the Marshall Fire.

“I invested every penny we had, and every penny we could borrow, to get into this business and really be effective with it," said Blanke, a year ago. "And so far it’s working out, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. "

9NEWS spoke with 20 homeowners who had excavation work done by Blanke, and most of them said there were no issues. The problems began when the excavation work ended and Blanke started doing remodels again in the summer.

Blanke hasn't responded to the multiple ways 9NEWS has reached out, but his bankruptcy and debt negotiation lawyer called.

"Bob wanted me to mention that he's not trying to avoid anybody, he's not trying to run from anybody," said David Serafin over the phone. "He's trying to make everything right. He's trying to get everybody paid." 

In a letter sent to 9NEWS from Serafin, Blanke wrote that he's sorry and that "construction is a tough business" that has become "impossible to execute successfully."

Blanke added he plans to "liquidate assets" and "partially settle accounts."

But the homeowners and the subcontractors want to know where the money is, if it didn't go toward projects or the workers.

"I can't comment on that," Serafin said. "But I can say that this person, Mr.Blanke, is not a person who you know lives a lavish life. I think he would deny that any money has been personally taken outside the business for lifestyle or personal purposes."

In Colorado, people can be charged under the Construction Trust Fund Statute. It penalizes contractors for using project funds for purposes other than paying the people who worked on the job.

Subcontractors hope homeowners simply ask them if they're getting paid and said not to rely on the general contractor's word.

"So they’re writing checks, and the only way they find out that we’re not getting paid is when we put a lien on a property," Skul said.

There were issues for several months before the Louisville homeowners had any idea something was wrong.

"I just want to ask Bob where his integrity is," MB said.

As these homeowners go into debt to finish a project they already paid for, they wonder what could have been.

"I felt like this was our investment in taking care of ourselves, and they were not able to follow through on that," MB said. And that is what I feel most devastated by."

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