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Complaints of unpaid wages persist at Carolina Trail golf courses

Employees, suppliers and neighbors are still complaining about unpaid wages and bills from some of the Carolina Trail golf courses, two weeks after Birkdale Golf Club was closed for two days over unpaid state taxes.

Four employees have contacted the Observer to complain that they’re not getting paid regularly. And an attorney for the Birkdale Homeowners Association said issues with the golf club’s property and unpaid assessments haven’t been resolved. He said the HOA could move to foreclose on the property.

“The guys around here feel like they’re being held hostage,” Mike Ekleberry, assistant superintendent at Charlotte Golf Links, another Carolina Trial course, said. “Every day they show up thinking they might get paid.”

The Carolina Trail golf courses are owned or operated by Jeff Silverstein, who has managed golf courses in Arizona, Texas and the Carolinas through his company IRI Golf Management.

In addition to Birkdale and Charlotte Golf Links, his local courses include Skybrook Golf Club, Highland Creek Golf Club, The Divide Golf Club, The Tradition Golf Club, and Waterford Golf Club in South Carolina.

Silverstein didn’t return phone messages seeking comment for this story. He told the Observer two weeks ago that his golf courses were up to date on their payrolls.

The federal government has already investigated pay practices at the Carolina Trail courses. In January, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Carolina Trail Golf Partners had paid $758,465 worth of back wages to employees after an investigation at Charlotte-area golf clubs last year.

The DOL has confirmed that it has an open investigation into pay practices at the Carolina Trail golf courses, but declined to give details.

The N.C. Department of Labor said Birkdale had three complaints about unpaid wages and hour complaints in 2012, The Divide had five, Highland Creek had eight, and Charlotte Golf Links and The Tradition had one each. The Divide and Charlotte Golf Links have open wage cases this year with the N.C. DOL.

Employees say wages unpaid

At Charlotte Golf Links on Providence Road, employees have grown accustomed to waiting at least an extra two weeks to receive their checks, said Ekleberry, who supervises five greens crew employees. He said one quit Tuesday because he hadn’t been paid since he’d been hired almost six weeks ago.

Ekleberry said employees at the course were paid this week, two weeks late again.

Chuck Gilley started at Charlotte Golf Links last December. He, like two other employees who spoke to the Observer, was asked to wait a month for his first check, and warned by management that pay might be late during the winter months. He was told paychecks would be more regular when the weather improved, he said.

“That didn’t happen,” Gilley said. “I basically do volunteer work at a golf course.”

Gilley said he was advised by management not to cash his checks right away but to deposit them in his bank account.

A few months ago, one of the checks that Gilley deposited bounced and cost him $150 in overdraft fees, he said. Gilley filed a complaint with the state labor department on April 3 and threatened to go to the magistrate. He was promptly paid, he said.

“I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease around here,” he said.

This past pay period, Gilley was paid eight days late, and in cash directly from the pro shop register, he said.

An employee at the Birkdale club who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation said the club is a month behind paying some workers.

Employees aren’t the only ones complaining about not getting paid. New Life Turf filed a lawsuit against Carolina Trail Golf in March. The turf company said it installed $140,000 worth of Diamond Zoysia grass at Charlotte Golf Links, but that Carolina Trail only paid $40,000.

The company gave New Life Turf three checks for $36,083 to pay for the rest of the turf, with instructions to deposit one check a month, according to the lawsuit. But the first check bounced, New Life Turf said, and the company is still owed $108,249.

Alexandre MacClenahan, an attorney representing New Life Turf, said that as of Thursday, the company still hasn’t been paid. He said New Life Turf is seeking a default judgment and triple damages for unfair and deceptive trade practices.

HOA complaints

Around the Birkdale Golf Club, neighbors are also unhappy with the property’s condition.

The Birkdale HOA filed a legal action in Mecklenburg County court in Charlotte against the golf club last month for allegedly letting the property fall into disrepair. The HOA says the golf club hasn’t maintained the siding and roof on the clubhouse and pavilion, and that a retaining wall and paint on the property aren’t being kept up.

Tim Sellers, representing the HOA, said Silverstein and his company have been difficult to reach.

“We have asked golf course representatives to get in touch with us,” he said. “Regrettably, they haven’t done so.”

Although Silverstein told the Observer two weeks ago that the issues with the HOA have been resolved, Sellers said that’s not true.

“All of those issues are still outstanding,” he said. “We’re going to be pursuing the statutory process.” That could include foreclosure, Sellers said. The HOA has a $14,487 lien against the golf club, Mecklenburg court records show.

Some of the property issues have been outstanding for years. Neighbors whose yards back up to the 11th hole say a rotting wooden retaining wall poses an ongoing hazard. The club hasn’t fixed it, even though it’s on Birkdale Golf Club’s property.

An engineer recommended in early 2011 that the wall be repaired or replaced, according to an engineer’s report prepared for the HOA and obtained by the Observer. Small sinkholes were already forming in neighbors’ yards, the report said. Cost for the repairs were estimated to be $30,000 to $80,000. More than two years later, neighbor Sue Pollack said the sinkholes have deepened and the wood is visibly rotted out in many locations along the five-foot wall. Researcher Maria David contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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