July 19, 2024


Elegant home interior

Builder accused of fraud after remodel money vanishes

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Homeowner Mark Stratton said he paid $28,000 upfront to “get the ball rolling” on a kitchen remodel in his home near Gowen in northern Kent County. But weeks went by and then months with no materials delivered and no crew at work.

“Just a lot of excuses,” Stratton said.

Finally, he decided something was wrong.

“We’re being taken advantage of here and it’s not right,” Stratton said.

He sued the company he paid, Lifetime Home Products, which operated from an office in Caledonia, and was ultimately awarded a judgment for the money. So far this year, he said, he has gotten two out of four payments that were due. He says he needs the money to hire another contractor to actually do the job.

“It was a horrible situation,” he said.

The same situation played out some 90 miles away near Gobles, where a widow paid Lifetime $160,000 upfront to put an addition on her son’s house so she could move in. Her cash also vanished. Another suit. Another judgment.

Lifetime is now out of business. The company was run by Gun Lake businessman Trace Antcliff.

He admits the money is gone.

“It got spent,” he told Target 8 investigators.

Trace Antcliff speaks with Target 8 investigator Henry Erb.
Trace Antcliff speaks with Target 8 investigator Henry Erb.

Antcliff said he doesn’t know where it went but that it might have been spent trying unsuccessfully to keep Lifetime afloat during the pandemic.

But that’s a crime. Under the Michigan Builder’s Trust Fund Act, money clients pay a builder upfront can only be spent on their job.

Even though he was the boss, Antcliff said somebody else paid the bills and he is not responsible for what became of the cash.

“I am not a criminal,” he said.

The Van Buren County prosecutor disagrees. Her office has charged Antcliff with violating the trust fund law and with taking the $160,000 for the Gobles job under false pretenses, a fraud charge carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. She also charged Antcliff with failing to have a builder’s license. He does have a contractor sales license.

Public records show Antcliff has been in trouble before. He was convicted of embezzlement in Kent County in the mid-1990s, a case Antcliff says he doesn’t remember. He had a bad check conviction in 2006.

Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to failing to pay employees. At that time, he wrote 22 checks totaling $36,000 on a closed account. He said he has since made good on those checks.

Antcliff has been named in more than 30 lawsuits in five counties dating back two decades.

“He belongs in jail,” said Jeff Steffens, another homeowner who hired Lifetime to build an addition to his family home near Fremont in Newaygo County.

The money he paid to buy lumber for the project disappeared, too. Jeff and Sheryl Steffens later found that the lumber supplier put a lien on their house and was coming after them for the cash.

Their relationship with Antcliff went bad after they gave him another $40,000 payment.

“He says, ‘Next week we’re going to start on the floor,’ and I was excited about that and then, phfft — last time we saw anybody,” Jeff Steffens said.

Antcliff said he didn’t abandon the job and that the Steffens family fired him.

But they, too, sued and got a judgment for triple damages. They ended up finishing the work themselves with the help of friends, family and at least one of the crew members who used to work for Antcliff.

“It’s been tough,” said Jeff Steffens — especially the liens for bills they thought they had paid. “That was a kick in the teeth.”

Antcliff said he has a plan to pay everybody back over the next six months.

The criminal charges against him were filed in Van Buren County District Court last week. Antcliff went before a judge for the first time on May 13, the day after this report originally aired.