MENOMONEE FALLS -- A seemingly reputable contractor shocked his customers by turning himself in to authorities and admitting he stole their money.
Erich Berger of Menomonee Falls wishes his kitchen looked like the rendering provided by the contractor he hired, but work never started.
"He came out and gave us an estimate. Came out and did all the measuring and everything," Berger recalled. "He just said he got in over his head and he didn't have the money to start the project."
The bad news didn't stop there.
"He went to turn himself in at the sheriff's department. He was going to be charged with theft by contractor and he thought he was going to have to go to jail," Berger said.
It means Berger, who has brain cancer, is out $21,000 and has nothing to show for it.
"We could have gone to other contractors, but we just don't have the money to do it now," Berger said.
The contractor Berger hired once had a showroom in Pewaukee. The storefront served as the showroom for Buendel, LLC, which is owned by Gregory Cash.
According to court documents, Cash sent some clients a text message in Aug. 2017 that read in part:
"I am just now leaving the Waukesha County Sheriff's Office where I have voluntarily given a statement…I underestimated the costs of several large projects that were running simultaneously and got behind financially. As a result I am now guilty of theft by contractor, which is a felony."
Six civil and two small claims cases have since been decided against Cash in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. All told, he's been ordered to pay nearly $800,000.
The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department confirms an active investigation is underway.
In an email to Contact 6, Cash wrote -- in part:
"I will pay back the people I have damaged…There isn't anything I once had that I haven't lost through this experience, but none of the losses can compare to the feeling of knowing what other people have suffered through no fault of their own."
"There's not much you can do," Berger said.
"When he came here, he was very professional," Berger said.
Cash tells Contact 6 his financial problems started when he opened in 2014 when, he says, a bank told him he would get an additional loan for his showroom that never materialized.
The bank denies Cash's claim.
Cash says he worked hard but experienced many setbacks like the injury of his project manager in a motorcycle accident.
In a conversation with Contact 6, Cash admitted fault and emphasized his hope to pay his clients back.
Berger was one of the last clients Cash took on before turning himself in days later.
"He probably needed the money," Berger said.
He wonders whether his health was a deciding factor.
Contact 6 talked to the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office about Cash. They're waiting for this investigation to wrap up and may file all charges together as part of one case with multiple counts.
It's important to note it's extremely rare for someone to actually admit to theft by contractor. In fact, cases like this can be very hard for prosecutors to prove, so the fact that Cash is admitting to it is a big deal.