Glass Half Full? Companies claim billionaire developer isn’t paying up for changes to Missouri Wine Country
AUGUSTA, Mo. (KMOV) -- A billionaire developer has invested big bucks to make one local wine town the next Napa Valley.
But is the glass just half full? News 4 investigates has heard from a number of people who say the developer isn’t fulfilling his promises to pay up.
Augusta is a sleepy small town about an hour west of St. Louis. There are suddenly lots of a certain kind of sign. On the gas station, the storefronts, the recently installed statutes, the wineries themselves, even near the front gable to the historic town: The Hoffmann Family name.
Dave Hoffmann and his wife Jerri have their roots in nearby Washington.
According to Forbes, Hoffmann is the biggest developer in Naples Florida. He also owns Hertz Arena and the Everblades hockey team, properties in ski town Avon, Colorado, and dozens of companies.
According to one article, “The Hoffmann Family of Cos. buys, on average, a business and a building every month.”
A few years back, they started buying up Augusta and planned to invest more than $150 million promising to make it the next Napa.
Work started right away: new fencing and lots of fresh coats of paint.
Augusta Winery turned bright red.
They painted Mt. Pleasant pink.
There’s a new restaurant and clothing store.
The changes in town are plain to see. But News 4 Investigates has spoken with a number of local companies who claim they did the work or have done business with the Hoffmanns. They said they haven’t been fully paid.
“We have concerns that our community, some of our businesses are being dealt an unfair hand,” said Joe Brazil.
Brazil is the St. Charles County councilman representing Augusta. He told News 4 he first heard from just a few.
“Okay, the first couple, it’s just a grievance and maybe it’s a civil matter,” he said. “And then it stacks up to over ten different contractors and different folks. Then it becomes a pattern and it becomes a big concern.”
News 4 investigates has even learned of three lawsuits filed against the Hoffmanns for work done in Augusta.
One, from Crossroads Construction, claiming the Hoffmanns still owe them more than $170,000 for work they did on a number of properties.
One case claims the Hoffmanns owe more than $100,000 to a company for extensive outdoor lighting at the wineries.
Another suit is from a local architecture firm that was contracted to do design work on a proposed hotel in a field on the edge of town. On hold now, it’s still just an empty orchard. The firm claims in its suit they’re still owed more than $72,000.
In some legal proceedings, the Hoffmanns said they deny owing any additional sums.
Eric Struckhoff is a VP with Budrovich, a family-owned, but large local construction company. The Hoffmanns hired them to do work on the luxury yacht, The Miss Augusta, as well as the pilings and gangway allowing visitors access for cruises.
“But once the project was complete, there was a substantial amount of money that was out there that was still owed to us,” said Struckhoff.
Their efforts to collect, he said, went nowhere for months.
“And then the phones went cold,” he said.
Only when they planned to repo the gangway and file a lien on the county did the Hoffmanns pay up, he said.
“The final straw, something we certainly didn’t want to do. And we don’t make a habit of doing, but we also are in the habit of collecting our money,” Struckhoff said.
Though Budrovich has been made whole, Struckhoff told News 4 he’s heard from others that haven’t.
“Don’t build your empire on the backs of people that that can’t afford to carry you,” Struckhoff said.
He’s worried smaller companies can’t bear the burden.
“It doesn’t take long to rack up a $10,000 lawyer bill to possibly not even collect anything,” he said.
In fact, News 4 Investigates also has spoken directly with several other companies making similar allegations, but who were fearful to speak on the record, concerned for legal or other retaliation.
It’s not just Augusta in question. The Hoffmanns bought a home in St. Albans, Missouri in 2020 and started extensive landscape work on it.
“We have never in the history of our 70 years have we gotten to this position, ever, so it’s very disheartening,” said Tony Frisella, Jr.
Frisella told News 4 Investigates his family’s nursery and landscaping business hasn’t been paid for a substantial amount of work they say they performed here.
“Six figures, well into the six figures,” Frisella said. “We are a small business, that hurts bad,” he said.
Attempts to come to the table, he said, have gone cold.
“It’s my last name on there, sorry, they take pride in their name, we take pride in our name, we want to make sure we are proud of what happened on the job,” he said.
News 4 wanted to talk to the Hoffmanns and received several calls and voicemails from David Hoffmann himself, claiming it wouldn’t be fair to report on this and that there are two sides to every story. He and Don Simon, the CEO of the Missouri Operations initially scheduled and subsequently canceled interviews with News 4 Investigates.
A spokesperson sent a statement writing: “Unfortunately, when investing the amount of money we have for a development this large, disputes happen. While the vast majority of our contractors have done an amazing job, some have not. For those who have not, we plan on defending our rights.”
Brazel said he’s still hopeful about the Hoffmanns, but what he’s heard is worrisome and he said he’s concerned it’s a sign of what’s to come.
“It creates a problem in the community when you have somebody who has taken advantage of people. So if that’s all true, it’s not good for our community,” he said.
News 4 Investigates did talk to some companies who said they have been paid in full by the Hoffmanns.
Thursday, News 4 Investigates learned of yet another company who said they’re going to file legal action.
After days of requests, News 4 did get a phone interview just Thursday with Simon.
“They have been paid, maybe not paid in full. A couple are in litigation, so I cannot talk about that,” said Simon.
He claimed that the reason that some vendors weren’t paid was because of projects not being completed or damage to their property.
He said a dozen is a small number of the overall companies they’ve worked with.
“We work as partners, we don’t want to see partners get hurt, but we also have a quality of standards and when the job is done in a satisfactory manner, people get paid.”
He said he could not speak to Frisella not being paid because that project ran through Jerri Hoffmann specifically, even though he previously worked for Frisella on that project.
St. Charles County has filed three ordinance violation cases against the Hoffmanns’ properties. One is for illicit sewage discharge, another for zoning violations.
Those cases are still ongoing.
News 4 Investigates also found a legal proceeding for failure to pay a 5% tax on the rooms they rent out there in Augusta. But we checked and as of just last month, that’s fully paid up.
Do you have more information about this? Email Chief Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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