Mary "Marie" Medina was unsurprised when she found out William "Bill" Stoecker in connection to allegedly scamming a homeowner out of money that should have gone to repairs.
Medina, 48, says she, too, was a victim of Stoecker's scam—to the tune of $191,000 that she paid to his construction firm in 2006 and 2007 to remodel her Lockport home.
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Stoecker, 54, appeared in a Bridgeview courtroom Wednesday, Nov. 14, for a brief hearing before Judge John J. Hynes. His business manager, Susan Olszak, 46, of Florida, also has been charged.
The case was continued because Hynes is currently in a jury trial. The pair is scheduled to appear back in court on Dec. 11.
Stoecker's current case doesn't involve Medina, though. It centers around Stoecker's alleged use of a client's credit card to pay his debts instead of buying supplies for the New Lenox homeowner he was working for, according to court records.
And Medina doesn't know if she will ever get to share her story in court.
Dream Home Remodeling Lead to 4-Year Nightmare
It has always been Medina's dream to open up the home that the single mom shared with her three children to foster children. And not just any children but siblings who would have enough to room to be able to stay together.
"Many times, children get split from their siblings," she said. "I wanted to be able to take them all."
In August of 2006, she figured it would be a start to build an addition to her Lockport home. After being in touch with several contractors, she had seen Stoecker's work on a home in the neighborhood and was charmed by the style.
Not long after, Medina contacted the project manager on that home and was introduced to Stoecker, whom she said was also a charmer. She was unaware of his past as a convicted bank fraudster.
"He was really all talk," she said. "Really laid on the cream."
By summer of 2007, Medina was in a contract with Atherton Industries, Stoecker's high-end, home-remodeling firm based in Tinley Park that does custom renovations, and work on the house was in full swing. Though she had initially negotiated a $150,000 price for the renovations, she says Stoecker persuaded her to take on an additional $229,000 contract.
In August of 2007, Medina returned from a family vacation in Mexico and was stunned by the sight of the home. Work was progressing, but it was very different from what she had in mind, she says. It was much bigger and more extravagant.
"You know, you look at the drawings, and it doesn't look anything like how it actually comes out," she said.
But the unexpected size of the house wouldn't be her only worry. In September of that year, one of the contractors told Medina he hadn't been paid.
"I said, '[Stoecker] should have been paying you," Medina said.
Medina—copies of canceled checks from a blue bin of paperwork related to the incident in tow—showed payments to Atherton from November 2006 to late September of 2007, six checks totaling just less than $191,000.
She said she also eventually learned that other contractors weren't paid. To top it off, Atherton employees were calling her asking for more money.
By Thanksgiving of 2007, the contractors had vacated the project, and Atherton had canceled Medina's contract, claiming nonpayment. Medina and her three children moved into a property she owns in Chicago.
Atherton: Medina Didn't Pay Up, Broke Contract
After communication was cut off completely with Atherton in early 2008, Medina filed complaints with anyone she could think of, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Sen. Dick Durbin. She contacted media outlets and even met with a reporter, to no avail.
"It was so frustrating," Medina said. "How can you put so much money into something that isn't done and nothing. Nobody cared."
Madigan's office did investigate the issue, eliciting a written response in June 2008 from Mark T. Hickey, Stoecker's attorney.
Hickey claimed Medina violated her contract by lack of payment and living in the house while it was under construction.
"Ms. Medina's breach of the contract and failure to pay the contractual amount has resulted in two [HVAC and plumbing] subcontractors not being paid," Hickey wrote. "Ms. Medina has assured [Stoecker] that she had funds readily available in a bank account to pay the contracted amount, yet it appears that she misled my client, in that, she never had the funds in which to complete the project at the time the contract was signed.
"I find it interesting that Ms. Medina would file a Complaint with your offices when she has admittedly not complied with the terms of the contract with my client," Hickey continued.
However, Medina said she had the money but stopped paying after she realized what was going on. She says the memo line of her checks have the notes she made, showing a copy of a $13,083.75 check labeled "septic."
"Every one of my checks was made out to Atherton," she said. "They had no problem cashing them. They told me how much money they needed and when they needed me to pay it.
"I was supposed to be paying them all that money and paying the contractors myself?" Medina asked, incredulously. She said Atherton employees never asked her if contractors were getting paid by her personally.
She also says that initially, she and her children were staying at a hotel, but later she asked Stoecker if they could live in the part of the home that wasn't being renovated.
"He said, 'Sure, we'll work around you'," Medina said.
Ultimately, Madigan's office closed the file on Medina's case in October of 2008, noting that attempts at "informal" mediation had failed to resolve the issue. In a letter to Medina, a citizen's protection advocate wrote: "Since formal enforcement action by this office is not warranted, we are closing your file at this time," and suggested Medina retain a private attorney or go to small claims court if she wanted to pursue the matter further.
But Medina says attorneys she has spoken with have suggested pursuing the matter in civil court wouldn't be worth it. She says they have suggested she just forget about the matter.
Contractors, Atherton Put Liens on the House
Forgetting about the matter, however, was easier said than done. While Medina had been corresponding with Madigan's office, she also had been trying to contact the bank, because in April of 2008, the first of several liens had been placed on the home by contractors.
Eventually, the plumbers put a lien on the house, as well as the construction firm that installed the furnace, Medina said.
"And I thought, 'How can all these people not have been paid?' "
In all, there were about $55,000 in liens on the house, including a $33,000 lien from Atherton.
"I was a single mom raising three kids," Medina said. "What do I do?"
To add insult to injury, the house still wasn't finished. So Medina and her children actually lived in the house during the warm weather months and rented homes elsewhere when it got too cold to stay, she said. She was leery of staying in her Chicago property because it meant the unit wouldn't provide rental income, she said.
"That was our home, it was where we wanted to be," Medina said. "It was our decision to be there."
The precarious situation dragged on until 2010, when the house went up for sheriff's sale. On Nov. 1 of that year—nearly three years to the day that Atherton canceled Medina's contract—she moved out of the home with her family for good.
"I had to file bankruptcy," she said. "My family wasn't rich, but we always had money. This wiped me out completely … just to lose it all because somebody can be so greedy."
Medina and her children moved back to their property in the city, living in a five-flat that she still owns. Still recovering financially, Medina said it's even more frustrating that she has nothing to show for the entire situation.
"We've moved eight times in the four years," Medina said. "I tell everybody our story."
She said she never called the police about the issue because she didn't believe it was a criminal matter. But as she observes Stoecker's current case in court, she hasn't ruled out talking to prosecutors.
As for her dream house to house foster children, though the house in Lockport is gone, the dream isn't.
"I hope to still do it," Medina said. "It's still in my plans."