The recipient of the largest contract in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's hurricane recovery efforts doesn't have a license to build manufactured housing in its home state and has been the subject of dealer and buyer complaints, according to a Georgia regulator.
Circle B Enterprises won a $287.5 million FEMA contract last month to supply temporary housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The actual manufacturing is being done by several other companies, including Cavalier Homes Inc. in Alabama and Patriot Homes Inc. in Indiana.
Circle B's president is Jackie G. Williams, a Georgia businessman. He and the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003. Circle B's Chapter 11 petition was dismissed in March.
John W. Oxendine, Georgia insurance and safety fire commissioner, said his office had problems several years ago with another manufactured-housing company Williams ran called Sweetwater Homes Inc. The company had a license to operate a factory in Ocilla, Ga.
"We had a lot of problems with them," the commissioner said. He said his office had complaints from Williams's dealers about "misrepresentation and shoddy work" and "lots of complaints" from buyers about "poor construction, not repairing things and not living up to the warranty."
Sweetwater Homes went out of business in 2001, a spokesman for Oxendine said. No action was taken against the company because it had closed, he said.
Williams applied for a license again last year as Circle B Enterprises Inc., doing business as Precision Homes in Ocilla. "We were concerned about his character and performance and said he had to go back and fix all those old warranty claims," the commissioner said. "We never heard back from him."
Precision Homes has had a license since 2000 with another Georgia agency, the Department of Community Affairs, to build modular prefabricated homes and "has a pretty good record," spokeswoman Kimberly King said yesterday.
Williams did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The talk in the manufactured-housing industry in Georgia is that Williams is receiving about $2,000 per home, Oxendine said, on the contract for 8,000 homes, which would amount to about $16 million.
FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said that the agency "worked successfully with Circle B in finding manufactured housing for displaced Floridians following the 2004 hurricane season there" and that Circle B was awarded a limited-competition contract for 8,000 homes.
Court records show that Circle B, Williams and his wife sought bankruptcy protection in 2003. Kenny Croft, a Precision Homes executive, said that the bankruptcy filing "was nothing more than a protection" in a dispute with a former business partner. Samuel P. Scott, a Sweetwater shareholder, had sued Williams over the moving of Sweetwater assets to Circle B and reached a $2.1 million settlement in the case, according to court records.
Told of Oxendine's comments about Williams, Joel Compton, another Precision official, said last night that "sometimes people make enemies and sometimes people have a vendetta." He added, "We have impressed some customers," saying Precision had "fulfilled [FEMA's] expectations in previous years."
In fact, Bryan McCreary, a FEMA contracting officer, sent an e-mail to the head of the Manufactured Housing Institute on Sept. 6, saying he was about to release a "request for proposals" for potential contractors. In the e-mail, he said the agency had already "issued one production contract to a contractor that we dealt with in FL who was very responsive and is meeting our specs as they are." Chris Stinebert, president of the trade group, said in his own e-mail the next day that McCreary had told him the contractor was Precision Homes.
Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.