Clinton International Praise Chapel tries to build new home despite contractor trouble

A Clinton, Md., congregation has been trying to build a new home, but troubles with a contractor have thrown the project behind schedule and way over its price point.

"This is supposed to be our main sanctuary," said Pastor Alex Ansah of the International Praise Chapel, pointing to an old crab house in Clinton, Md.

Church officials say in 2009, they paid contractor Richard Hagler more than $42,000 to renovate the dilapidated building. Hagler left several months into the job and never returned.

Hagler “just took our money and ran," Ansah claims.

ABC7 News found that the contractor's license was expired and he had been sued in the past for shoddy work.

Church officials say most of Hagler's work was so inept, they had to hire a new team to fix the poor craftsmanship, costing them more than $50,000.

Hagler disputes that claim. “That's so far fetched and it's a lie," he responds.

He says church officials tried to guilt him into doing extra work, then refused to fully pay him.

“I signed the contract to help them out, but they kept promising me that it was going to be more money coming. ‘Don't stop, just keep in working.’ So I kept working,” Hagler said. “I did over a $100,000 worth of work and didn't get paid for it.”

But Hagler shouldn’t have been doing the work in the first place. According to state and county records, Hagler’s license expired in April 2009. He never called inspectors to check his work, as required. In addition, he never qualified for a building permit.

"All that he did was done without permission from the county," said Crepin Mahop, chairman of the church board.

When confronted about his lack of a work permit, Hagler responded with “ok, ok, now you’re right.”

Pastor Ansah admits he didn't check Hagler's credentials, learning only during ABC7’s investigation that the contractor wasn’t licensed anymore. Public records show Hagler has been sued or fined previously for shoddy work.

When ABC7 began researching, both sides were considering legal action. After ABC7 confronted the contractor, he agreed to meet with church officials and recently said he would donate thousands of dollars worth of his time and building supplies to the church to make amends.

The congregation had hoped to begin worshipping under a new roof by 2010, but is now facing the painful and pricy reality that they may not be able to move into their new sanctuary until mid-2012. Still, Ansah is keeping his faith in God.

"He will see us through. We will possess this land. 10007 Brandywine is our home church, and we will be here," the pastor said.