Special Report: Chesapeake couple left high and dry after paying contractor $180,000 of taxpayer money

by San Eli News

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – A Chesapeake couple contacted 10 On Your Side because they said their frustrations are at an all-time high. The couple explained that they paid a Virginia Beach contractor federal money to raise their home from flooding, but the work stopped shortly after it started and months later nothing has been done. 

“This is our paradise,” said Joann Thomas.When Joann and Bobby Thomas moved to Chesapeake 32 years ago, they wanted a place right on the water.

“We had very good times here,” Thomas added.

They chose a home on the Elizabeth River on a street fittingly named Deepwater Drive.

“I used to come home from work and enjoy coming out here,” Thomas said.

Those enjoyable days ended in 1996.  That’s when the flooding started and it has only progressively gotten worse.

“Twice it happened to us when it came through the whole house,” Thomas said.  “$60,000 to repair the house was nothing.”

The Thomas’ have suffered from 15 floods.  Two of them were catastrophic from Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and the nor’easter known as Nor’Ida in 2009.  They were sick of swimming in damage.

“We decided it would be great to be able to get a grant, because we heard FEMA was giving grants,” Thomas said.

Years later, the Thomas’ were awarded almost $200,000 from FEMA as part of its Flood Mitigation Assistance program.  The federal government provided the taxpayer money to the city of Chesapeake and then to the Thomas family.

“That was amazing,” Thomas added.  “We were total amazed, because we finally got one.”

The house would be lifted eight feet higher, with a new foundation built underneath. 

“We were raising the house out of the flood zone so that we would never get flooded again,” said Bobby Thomas.

It was now up to the couple to find a contractor to take the job. 

The Thomases said Glen Sweitzer, Jr. and his company Regal Renovations stepped up.  Sweitzer’s price tag was a bit more than the grant, so the Thomases agreed to throw in another $30,000 of their own money.

“We told him right away that was it,” Bobby added.  “We couldn’t do anymore than that.”

The work began in December.  

“It was a relief knowing that we would not flood again,” said Bobby. 

The house was quickly lifted off its foundation. Subcontractors were making progress on the 6-month job, but just three months in, the subcontractors walked off the site.  They told the Thomases they weren’t going to work without getting paid.

Chesapeake released the money to the Thomases.  They in turn gave $180,000 to Sweitzer, who they say was supposed to be paying subcontractors to do the work.

Ian Morse was one of those subcontractors.

“The total invoice for the job was $71,400,” Morse said.

Morse came from Gloucester to help anchor the new foundation into the ground.  He spent $40,000 out of his own pocket for materials.  It was money he figured he would get back.

“We haven’t seen one cent and not any effort to make any kind of payment or even minimal,” Morse added.  “We filed a mechanics lean with the city of Chesapeake and we hired an attorney.”

Bobby Thomas wants to know what Sweitzer did with all the money. “He didn’t do $180,000 worth of work there.”

Very little has changed since March.  The house is suspended in the air and some of the walls are cracking.  The foundation is yet to be built. 

“It’s miserable,” Bobby added.  “I just wish they never started.”

Bobby is living out his garage and using power from a neighbor.  Joann is staying a mile away at her daughter’s house.

“We don’t even live together anymore and it is tough to be here alone,” Bobby added.  “I end up talking to myself in there.”

10 On Your Side reached out to both FEMA and Chesapeake officials.  FEMA says it is aware of the situation.  Chesapeake officials sent a letter to Sweitzer requesting to audit his books.  The assistant city attorney wrote that if work isn’t started again soon Sweitzer must pay back the money.  Chesapeake is also looking at legal options.

“The bottom line is my heart is for the Thomases to have this project completed,” Sweitzer said.

Glen Sweitzer agreed to sit down with 10 On Your Side.  He explained that after the project started, he encountered cost overruns and he needed more money to keep going.

“There are some things that the city has asked of us, there are some things that their counsel has asked of us and I’m working with my counsel to see what that solution could look like,” Sweitzer added.

The contractor said he is disappointed the project hasn’t gone as planned.

“I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this if we are being honest and it’s not just because of how I feel,” Sweitzer said.  “It’s because of how I would feel if I were in their shoes.”

10 On Your Side asked where the money went, but he said his attorney advised he couldn’t answer that question. 

The Thomases have hired an attorney and are exploring legal options against Sweitzer, Jr. and Regal Renovations. 

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