Contractor charged with theft by swindle in St. Paul housing

A former residential building contractor charged with theft of more than $1 million from a nonprofit affordable-housing developer in St. Paul is facing new allegations.

Gary Charles Findell booking photo
Gary Charles Findell (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

Prosecutors charged Gary Charles Findell this week, saying that within days of law enforcement interviewing him last year about financial issues at a housing project, he entered into a construction contract with a couple to build a home in Door County, Wis. They lost nearly $300,000 to Findell, according to their attorney.

Between both cases, Findell is charged with six counts of theft by swindle. He has pleaded not guilty to the initial charges and a court date is scheduled for next month for the new charges. Neither Findell nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office makes the following allegations in criminal complaints:

Findell, 66, previously owned Design Development LLC, which was a general contractor for a development of single-family homes undertaken by Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services. For the Village on Rivoli development, Findell’s company was to construct nine modular, solar-powered homes as part of a larger development.

Law enforcement started investigating after being informed that Findell forged more than 20 lien waivers for subcontractors on the project and then didn’t pay them. Two of the nine homes were completed, but construction was stopped because the subcontractors reclaimed most of the materials.

When law enforcement interviewed Findell in May 2021, he said he used funds he received for the project to pay other debts.

Also in May 2021, through a separate company that Findell owned — NeuHus LLC — he entered into the contract to build the home for the couple in Wisconsin.

Three days later, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry revoked Findell’s state builder’s registration, along with the licenses of two of his companies, and assessed a penalty of $250,000.

Prosecutors charged Findell in September with four counts of theft by swindle in the Village on Rivoli project.

Before then, Findell received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from Tom and Krista Gardiner for the Wisconsin home. They live in Florida and Krista’s family is from Washington Island in Door County.

“She’d been going up there every summer since she was a kid and we’ve been bringing our kids up there, so that’s kind of our special place,” Tom Gardiner said Wednesday.

When they started working with Findell, he didn’t tell them “he had incurred significant amounts of debt and legal liabilities, that he was about to and quickly did lose his licensure to act as a contractor in Minnesota, that NeuHus did not hold the required licensure to perform residential construction work in Wisconsin, and that he did not have sufficient funds to pay the vendors and subcontractors for the construction of their home,” the complaint said.

Tom Gardiner said when he found out that Findell had been charged with theft in St. Paul, he’d already paid Findell about $500,000. Findell had done site work, purchased some materials and started assembling the cabin, Gardiner said.

But when Gardiner said he asked Findell to “reconcile everything, there was about $300,000 that he couldn’t account for. I asked him to return it, but it was one excuse after another and he never returned the money.”

They found another builder who “picked up where Gary left off” and they’re been moving forward with construction, Gardiner said.

When it comes to the St. Paul development, the city’s planning and economic director, Nicolle Goodman, said Wednesday that she’s optimistic the “project will come to fruition.” The two houses that were initially assembled had to be rebuilt, according to the complaint.

“It has continued to move forward, and we intend to prudently work through the unique circumstances to ensure completion for the benefit of the residents of St. Paul,” Goodman said. “The first two homes are nearing completion now, and the remaining seven are expected to begin construction before the end of the year.”