$4 million judgment for church

From The Weatherford Democrat, Margarita Venegas (CNHI), March 23, 2012 –

WEATHERFORD — A judge recently ruled that South Main Church of Christ is entitled to more than $4 million from a three construction companies owned by a man who committed suicide, leading to a public search, last year. However, when and if the church will see that money is still unknown.

“The members of this congregation have been severely harmed by these actions,” church Elder Larry Cobb said of the fallout from the actions of Dempsey Stice.

Stice, who founded Stice Electric, Stice Construction and several other companies, was best known as president of Stice Enterprises at the time of his death in January 2011. The business was the general contractor for many large construction projects in Parker County, including hotels, housing additions, churches, businesses and a medical center and bank.

Among his projects was a $1.9 million renovation project at South Main Church of Christ, not completed at the time of his death.

The church at 201 S. Main St. in Weatherford tackled the ambitious project — which shut down a half-block of College Street — in January 2010, tearing out an old classroom wing and working to replace it with a 20,000-square-foot, three-story configuration that will house administrative offices and consolidate all 26 classrooms in one building.

What the church didn’t know at the time was that Stice, who was reported missing and later found dead in a helicopter he owned that he had landed in far north Parker County, was facing many problems. At the time of his death, he was under investigation regarding forged construction project documents and he had filed for bankruptcy in May of 2010.

In a petition filed earlier this month, on March 7, South Main’s lawyer noted that Stice had completed some renovations for the church in 2009 at a cost of $278,000 and, at the time, the church was satisfied with his work. In his attempt to convince the church to hire him for their $2 million education facility project, Stice told the church that he was experienced in this type of work and had proper training, had the necessary financial capabilities to perform the work, would hire an experienced and qualified engineer and obtain permits, would properly supervise the work and other promises, the petition states.

“These representations were false,” the petition reads. “In fact, what Dempsey Stice contemplated, and what he had done on other jobs, was stamping a fake engineer’s seal on the plans for the project so that he could obtain the necessary permits without the trouble or expense of having a qualified and license engineer review and approve the plans.”

Through fundraising efforts and a $1.6 million loan taken out with Legacy Texas Bank, the church proceeded with the construction, according to the petition.

“Construction of the education facility proceeded through most of 2010,” the petition reads. “In late 2010, the City of Weatherford withdrew the permit for the construction because of evidence of the lack of authenticity of the engineer’s seal on the plans. The evidence of this fraud by Dempsey Stice was the culmination of a series of difficulties for Dempsey Stice, including his filing for bankruptcy, and Stice Construction being sued in a multi-million dollar wrongful death claim. This led to Dempsey Stice flying his helicopter from Weatherford to Mineral Wells and committing suicide on January 14, 2011.”

At the time of Stice’s death, the church was about two to three months away from project completion, said Cobb.

The petition notes that it will cost about $1.4 million to bring the education facility to where it should be at this point.

The church had to hire an engineer to review the work that had been done, to take material samples, determine the structural soundness and more, Cobb said. There has been no reconstruction, but there is still work left to finish, Cobb said.

In his March 8 judgement, 43rd Judicial District Court Trey Loftin stated that the church should receive:

• Actual damages for claims including fraud of $2,118,972.64

• Exemplary damages for claims including fraud of $2,118,972.64

• Attorney’s fees for claims including fraud of $36,000

• Plus, court costs, interest and more

But, there’s no time line on when or if the church will receive that money. Cobb said he didn’t have any ideas about how much they could expect to get and when. He noted that there are legal actions yet to come.

The judgment also included money for attorney’s fees should this judgment be appealed to the Court of Appeals and to the Texas Supreme Court.

And, there may yet be more legal action taken.

While the church dismissed its filings against Shauna Stice, estate administrator David P. Deison and three groups on March 8, Deison’s attorney filed pleas on March 12 stating that the church should have gone through the probate process to recoup money, as other creditors have done. Deison’s filing also states that the district court had no jurisdiction over the estate and cannot distribute estate property or enjoin the estate to pay claims.

“The church has been served with an unsecured creditor’s letter and has yet to file a claim against the estate,” Deison’s filing reads.

Deison’s plea also states that the church should never have been added as a third party to a civil lawsuit filed by Stice’s widow, Shauna. It is through that lawsuit that the church was able to obtain the judgement. Shauna Stice filed a civil lawsuit against Crockett National Bank in June 2011. Within days, South Main filed to be a third party in the suit. Deison’s plea claims that the church would never have been able to file the same lawsuit that Shauna Stice filed on her own against Crockett and that the church has made no claims against Crockett.

For the church’s part, the main concern is that of their church members and donors, Cobb said. He reiterated that the church has been hurt by these events, but they are hopeful that the situation will be rectified.

“We’re prayerful that justice will be done,” Cobb said.

For more about this report, see The Weatherford Democrat.

Staff writers Christin Coyne and Judy Sheridan contributed to this report.

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