Marstons Mills Modular Home Builder Donald Shulman Under Fire From Angry Customers

A modular home builder who allegedly bilked several customers out of millions of dollars may have avoided any consequences in criminal court, but the people who claim Donald B. Shulman defrauded them of their money have turned to other means hoping to get some measure of justice.

“We want him out of the business because he will steal from other people,” said Ethan Schaff of Stoughton, who ran afoul of Mr. Shulman in 2011 while trying to build a new home on Shorewood Drive, East Falmouth—a home that as of this month has yet to be completed.

Mr. Shulman, 60, of Marstons Mills, last appeared in Falmouth District Court on January 18, when charges of larceny over $250 by a single scheme and larceny over $250 were dismissed on a legal motion. Judge Michael C. Creedon wrote in a memorandum that the matter was better suited for a civil lawsuit rather than criminal proceedings.

Mr. Shulman, had he been convicted, would have faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $25,000 in fines on each charge.

Mr. Schaff, an attorney specializing in criminal law, and his wife, Beth, brought the criminal case forth last May, after Mr. Shulman allegedly defaulted on a contract to provide a modular home for their Shorewood Drive property, which received the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals’ approval for a raze-and-rebuild project in 2011. The Schaffs, who still plan to move to Falmouth within the year, are now pursuing a civil case against Mr. Shulman.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is currently reviewing complaints against Mr. Shulman, who previously did business under the name Realty Development Associates Inc. of Sagamore and Norton, and was an authorized dealer for Westchester Modular Homes of Wingdale, New York. As a result of the complaints against him, Westchester has severed ties with Mr. Shulman; he is no longer listed on the company’s website as an authorized dealer.

We want him out of the business because he will steal from other people.

                                           Ethan Schaff          

Mr. Shulman is now doing business under the name Affordable Modular Houses, which has an office in Sandwich, although the business’s phone number, which goes into a voicemail system, still announces it is for Realty Development Associates.

Mr. Shulman responded to requests for comment by e-mail. He explained he was currently off-Cape and unavailable to discuss the matter, but said there was “a great deal of inaccurate &/or misinformation intentionally being circulated” about the case, including that “there is no company named Affordable Modular Homes...Realty Development Associates is the only operating company.”

“Due to pending litigation as well as potential future actions, I can not specifically comment on individual allegations,” he added.

The Schaff Case
According to court documents, Mr. Schaff in 2011 paid an initial deposit of $190,000 to Mr. Shulman for a modular home for the Shorewood Drive property. A month later Mr. Shulman allegedly contacted him and offered a discount, and to throw in several extra perks for an advance of $60,000 on the balance owed. Mr. Schaff made the payment and a delivery date of January 2012 was set for the modular home.

Mr. Schaff said Mr. Shulman missed that date but gave no specific reason why, then set a new delivery date of April—after asking for an additional $25,000 advance to ensure timely delivery. Mr. Schaff requested proof that the home was, in fact, built and ready for delivery, to which Mr. Shulman allegedly responded by e-mail, “Who in this day and age would build an entire home without being paid?”

Mr. Schaff said after these first few delays and requests for more money, “I started to smell a rat.”

The week before the scheduled delivery date, Mr. Shulman allegedly met with Mr. Schaff, and asked him to pay an additional $140,000 directly to the modular home manufacturer. Mr. Schaff pointed out that he only owed $70,000 on the home, and Mr. Shulman allegedly tried to persuade Mr. Schaff to give him that amount instead.

At this point Mr. Schaff contacted the home manufacturer directly, and learned that Mr. Shulman had forwarded to them only $1,000 of the money the Schaffs had handed over.

After negotiating a deal with Mr. Shulman and the manufacturer, Mr. Schaff saw his house delivered a week late, but as it was being assembled he said he learned from the workers that their paychecks were bouncing.

When Mr. Shulman was approached by WBZ-TV, which last month ran a feature story on this case, Mr. Shulman responded to the news station in a letter stating his financial issues were the result of the recession, and claimed he was working on a plan to reimburse customers “in justified cases.”

A Wareham-based sales agent for Westchester Modular Homes visited the site and informed the Schaffs that they, along with several other customers who had done business with Mr. Shulman, were facing the prospect of never seeing their homes finished because Mr. Shulman did not have the money to cover assembly expenses.

Court documents state that Mr. Shulman was continually diverting money from one customer to temporarily cover expenses attached to another customer.

Mr. Schaff said when he threatened court action, Mr. Shulman transferred the mortgage on his Race Lane, Marstons Mills, home to the Schaffs to cover his debts.

A court docket from Barnstable Superior Court indicated that the mortgage was turned over to the Schaffs in April 2012. When the Schaffs attempted to foreclose on the property in December, “the day before we were supposed to foreclose, Shulman filed for bankruptcy protection.”

Mr. Shulman has a hearing on his Chapter 13 filing on April 19, during which creditors may ask questions of Mr. Shulman, who will be under oath while arguing to the court the legitimacy of his bankruptcy claim.

Taking Action
That hearing is one of the avenues Mr. Schaff and several other alleged victims will attempt to, if not reclaim their lost money, prevent Mr. Shulman from continuing to do business.

Mr. Schaff said he is planning to appear before the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation in an effort to have Mr. Shulman’s Home Improvement Contracting (HIC) license revoked. David Fritsche of Dennis has also filed an appeal of Mr. Shulman’s HIC license, according to Mr. Schaff.

The Schaffs and six other former clients of Mr. Shulman are also considering taking their respective cases to the FBI “because what he pulled was basically a Ponzi scheme,” Mr. Schaff said.

The seven families meet monthly to share their experiences, work together to resolve their respective problems, and to support one another emotionally. “We’re like a therapy group,” Mr. Schaff said.

They have also banded together to share their experiences with the public through a blog titled “RDA Donald Shulman Victims” which they hope will perhaps encourage other victims to come forward.

The customers, who come from as far away as Hopkinton and Provincetown, have all posted on the blog their stories of their dealings with Mr. Shulman, the most frequent claim being that Mr. Shulman repeatedly asked them for advances on their respective projects and failed to deliver the homes by the promised deadlines, if at all.

Among the other complaints:

• Subcontractors hired by Mr. Shulman were often late, or never showed up;

• Subcontractors hired by Mr. Shulman performed shoddy work, forcing the customers to pay extra to fix the problems;

• Subcontractors who never received their pay from Mr. Shulman pressed the customers to pay them directly, threatening to leave work on their homes incomplete if they did not pay;

• Requests for refunds for incomplete projects, or reimbursements for costs paid by the customers out-of-pocket, were never reimbursed by Mr. Shulman despite his promises to do so;

• Projects saw long stretches of time during which no work was performed on the houses, with no explanations given for the delays;

• Promises of expedited deliveries and work in exchange for rush fees and additional advance payments went unfulfilled.

The clients estimated that they have paid Mr. Shulman in total $1 to $2 million.

Mr. Schaff said Mr. Shulman has yet to provide a consistent reason for his financial issues.

When Mr. Shulman was approached by WBZ-TV, which last month ran a feature story on this case, Mr. Shulman responded to the news station in a letter stating his financial issues were the result of the recession, and claimed he was working on a plan to reimburse customers “in justified cases.”

The customers maintain they have not been contacted by Mr. Shulman about reimbursements.

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