TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A state fund set up to help victims of crooked contractors currently holds nearly $22 million but accessing the funds can take years.
Brenda Digeon gave Danny Musgrove $111,000 over the course of several months starting in August of 2018. A year later she was left with nothing but a rebar footprint on her Zephyrhills lot. No slab, walls, windows, or doors on the spot where she expected a 3,000-square-foot home.
Digeon is one of five Musgrove customers who tried to cover some of their losses by applying for money from the Florida Homeowners’ Construction Recovery Fund, administered by the Department of Professional and Business Regulation. (DBPR)
But 18 months later, they’re still waiting for a determination.
“Three times now they have sent me a letter saying they are requiring more information, and it’s usually information that I’ve already given them,” Digeon said. “I gave them a binder that was maybe six inches thick with everything, including pictures.”
Records obtained from the DBPR reveal nearly $22 million is in the account which is funded by a 1.5 percent surcharge on permit fees.
Six hundred seventy people, including Digeon, have filed claims since the beginning of last year. One hundred fifty-five of the claims, less than 25 percent, have been approved. $3.7 million was dispersed since last January with the average claimant receiving about $23,000.
Digeon’s attorney, Candice Rojas-Colucci, specializes in working with contractors’ victims and said the funds are historically difficult to get.
“I have yet to see a client get the funds,” Rojas-Colucci said. “I would imagine it has been given out, but I haven’t seen it.”
Rojas-Colucci said an unexpected loss of funds to a bad contractor can be devastating to the victim.
“We’ve had clients who’ve commit suicide,” Rojas-Colucci said. “Whose marriages and lives have fallen about because of the money the contractor stole.”
But the recovery fund backlog is only a symptom of a bigger problem, according to Rojas-Colucci and Digeon.
“The fund doesn’t need to exist,” Digeon said. “If prosecutors would just put these guys in jail, prison, this wouldn’t happen.”
Pasco County State Attorney Coordinator Scott Rosenwasser has said his office has not changed its decision against seeking criminal charges against Musgrove.
“As much as we wanted to help the victims of Mr. Musgrove, no additional evidence has been presented that would enable us to successfully prosecute the case,” Rosenwasser said.
“We’ve been reaching out to them to say will you revisit it again because we really believe you should’ve prosecuted in the first place?” Rojas-Colucci said.
Digeon said she will continue pushing for charges.
“We’ve given the state attorney evidence that supports five different statutes,” Digeon said. “I believe Danny Musgrove should go to prison. That’s the only way to send the message to other contractors that you cannot get away with this in Florida.”
Last month, a civil complaint filed by the Florida Attorney General alleged Musgrove ripped off eight homeowners for $361,270. Musgrove owes a total of $461,000, including a penalty and legal fees. But the Attorney General suspended payments as long as Musgrove does not violate any provisions of the judgment.
Musgrove has not responded to multiple requests for comment.