Charlie Sorce’s once thriving fireproofing and insulation business is on the verge of collapsing because he says he is owed $1.1 million for work he did on a major downtown Buffalo project.
The Chautauqua County business owner told News 4 Investigates that he is owed the money for work his company, Insulation Coatings & Consultants, had completed on phase two of the $375 million medical campus downtown. The State University Construction Fund oversaw the project awarded to contractor LPCiminelli in 2014.
“And we did what we were told,” Sorce said. “We worked our butts off.”
Sorce said the project was poorly managed by the state, who constantly changed plans or caused delays. For instance, Sorce said the project started six months late, which forced all the subcontractors to rush to get their work done on time.
Meanwhile, LPCiminelli filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the state, alleging that it is still owed more than $4.4 million for phase one work at the medical campus. The lawsuit does not involve the work Sorce did, the company said.
LPCiminelli states in the lawsuit that the State “caused unreasonable and/or uncontemplated delays in the project through multiple changes in project scope and construction schedule” in the first phase.
LPCiminelli said in a statement that it is working with Sorce and several other subcontractors to submit claims for additional pay to the State University Construction Fund. The company said the additional costs were a result of numerous design changes ordered by the state.
Sorce blames the State University Construction Fund, which designs, constructs, acquires assets within the SUNY system, for the non-payment of the bills.
“The state, I guess, is blaming LPCiminelli saying it’s LPCiminelli’s problem,” Sorce said.
“And LPCiminelli is obviously saying the state, it’s their problem, they need to pay it. Well, LPCiminelli is right. The state told us what to do.”
The State University Construction Fund ignored requests for comment from News 4.
But letters obtained by News 4 Investigates state that the State University Construction Fund alleged that Sorce had overstated his claim.
Sorce wrote back in October 2017 that “it is offensive that this is being seen as an overstated claim. In actuality this claim is quite understated.”
That was almost three years ago and Sorce believes he is no closer to obtaining the money he says he is rightfully owed.
Insulation Coating and Consultants has filed a complaint in county supreme court against Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, who holds performance and payment bonds that LPCiminelli was required to obtain as security on the project. The company is now demanding that Liberty pay the bill with the bonds.
Until this situation gets settled, Sorce said he has had to take drastic steps to make payroll.
“To stay in business, I’ve had to borrow high interest money out of New York City, where they make you pay weekly or daily,” Sorce said.
Sorce has tried to get state politicians to help him, but none has been successful.
Senator George Borrello declined to be interviewed, but did provide News 4 Investigates with a statement that blames LPCiminelli for the unpaid bill:
“While I realize there is a dispute between LPCiminelli and the SUNY Construction Fund over payment for the project, that is immaterial; the company should honor their commitment to Mr. Sorce,” Borello said.
Borello, who owns at least three small businesses including The Sunset Bay Beach Club, said when he contracts with a vendor he is “obligated to them, regardless of the circumstances or the outcome.”
“Just as my predecessor Cathy Young did, my office and I have looked into this complicated situation for Mr. Sorce. The terrible reality is that he is the victim of a conflict between LPCiminelli and the SUNY Construction Fund, a dispute that is currently in litigation. No matter what happens with the lawsuit, LPCiminelli should do the right thing and settle their debt with Mr. Sorce.”
Sorce said LPCiminelli and the state are still trying to sort out problems with phase one of the project.
“Until they get that done they can’t come into phase two,” Sorce said. “And they keep telling us ‘it’s coming, it’s coming’, well, it’s been three years. It’s not coming and I’m getting fed up with it.”
“It’s ruined my business,” Sorce said.
“I can’t do jobs and now the coronavirus isn’t helping things any because guys are not going to want to come to work. It’s put us in a position, I can’t hire people, I can’t grow like we want to. We could double our business but because I don’t have any cash I’m just surviving week to week.”