Crime & Courts

Homebuilders accused of bilking more than $660,000 from York County buyers

Robert Scott Kulkin, left, and Sherry Lynn Kuhlkin in court Tuesday morning.
Robert Scott Kulkin, left, and Sherry Lynn Kuhlkin in court Tuesday morning.

A Charlotte homebuilder couple whose family created the Pilgrims’ Inn charity for the poor in Rock Hill was arrested Tuesday on charges alleging that they kept more than $660,000 three families paid them to build Lake Wylie homes that were never completed.

Robert Scott Kuhlkin, 50, and his wife, Sherry Lynn Kuhlkin, 47, each face seven charges – three counts of breach of trust, three counts of failure to pay subcontractors, and one count of criminal conspiracy.

The Kuhlkin family started Pilgrims’ Inn decades ago, the couple’s lawyer, Chris Wellborn, said in court Tuesday. Other family members are prominent York County businesspeople and restaurateurs.

Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III released the Kuhlkins on their own recognizance because they have no criminal record, are not flight risks and are not a danger to the community.

Still, Hayes described the alleged theft as having had “a horrific impact on the victims.”

The Kuhlkins turned themselves in at the York County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday morning after a months-long investigation of their business, Kuhlkin Builders Inc. It is not uncommon for those accused of so-called “white-collar” crimes to be allowed to turn themselves in.

Police and prosecutors say the Kuhlkins – who declared bankruptcy in 2014 and later were sued by the alleged victims in civil court – bilked money from three families who were building homes that cost as much as half a million dollars. Because of the bankruptcy, prosecutors said, the alleged victims could not get their money back despite having been awarded damages in the civil lawsuit.

The alleged victims had to use credit cards, retirement savings and other means to continue building the houses.

The Kuhlkins accepted $189,000 from one family, $239,000 from another family, and $233,000 from a third family to build houses, 16th Circuit assistant solicitor Matthew Hogge said in court, but instead they “took the money for themselves.”

One of the alleged victims, Kimberly Bridges, told Hayes that the “emotional, physical and mental impacts” on her family – which includes two young children with special medical needs – has been “devastating.” She said that once she learned subcontractors had not been paid by the Kuhlkins, she discovered that Scott Kuhlkin had changed his phone number and moved and could not be found by people and businesses to whom the couple owed money.

Subcontractors wanting payment then started driving by Bridges’ home and “came after my family demanding payment,” Bridges said. Her home was vandalized and she was terrified by “concern for the safety of my kids and family.”

The loss of the $239,000 that the Kuhlkins allegedly kept for themselves led to liens against the property, Bridges said.

“Scott and Sherry stole our money and converted it for their personal use,” Bridges said in court, and they had “no compassion” for the families they ruined.

The homes had defects or were left unfinished, the alleged victims, York County deputies and prosecutors allege.

Wellborn, the lawyer for the Kuhlkins, said in court that the couple now lives in Charleston County. He did not address the charges other than to call them “allegations,” and to say that the Kuhlkins are good people with strong community ties who have no prior criminal record.

Scott Kuhlkin did not address the charges in court but did tell Judge Hayes that he is now a “self-employed consultant” who provides estimates for building construction. Sherry Kuhlkin told Hayes she is now a stay-at-home housewife.

Hayes ruled that neither one could work as a contractor while the criminal case is pending.

“They shouldn’t be handling other people’s money,” Hayes warned.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065