SUPREME Court judge Justice Robert McDougall is never a man to mince his words.
Ruling on a dispute between Newcastle developer Greenwood Futures and DSD Builders late last year, his assessment of the construction company "principals", Daniel Roberts and Shashanth Shankar Tellakula Gowrishankar, was blunt.
"There is, in my view, very strong evidence that Mr Roberts and Mr Shankar have engaged in structuring their affairs in such a way so as to avoid, wherever possible, paying their liabilities," Justice McDougall said.
His scathing attack on the Newcastle pair went further to accuse them of "misusing, if not abusing" the system that determines payment in the building industry, known as the Security of Payment Act.
The judge said the construction company had "sought to harass" the developer by lodging repeated payment claims to an adjudicator during a dispute over the construction of three townhouses in Jesmond, that includes allegations of a long list of defective work.
"The whole chaotic situation is essentially one of DSD's making," Justice McDougall said.
Unfortunately for Mr Roberts and Mr Shankar, he did not stop there.
"It is open to infer that they have engaged in the well-known but opprobrious practice of utilising phoenix companies: consigning insolvent companies to the fires of liquidation, and creating new companies to arise from the ashes and take their place," he said.
Justice McDougall went even further when it came to Mr Roberts, a BMW driving, former bankrupt, born in the United Kingdom.
"I add, referring to inferences that can be drawn as to Mr Roberts' business practices, that there was some evidence from ... a former employee of DSD or another one of Mr Roberts' related companies, of what purported to be admissions made by Mr Roberts to the effect that he would take the profit and leave creditors lamenting," he said.
Mr Roberts denied the allegation, but Justice McDougall said the former staffer's evidence received "some support" from a history of "financial and corporate transactions".
Despite the judge's scorching assessment of the men, Greenwood Futures is still pursuing DSD Builders, whose sole director is Mr Roberts' wife Angela Roberts - previously known as Angela Edith Sendjirdjian - through the courts over hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly owed.
The project was eventually completed by another builder.
This is not an isolated case.
A Newcastle Herald investigation can reveal that Mr Roberts and Mr Shankar are linked to numerous building companies accused of leaving a string of construction and financial disasters across the Hunter.
Dozens of people - including homeowners, tradies, developers and suppliers - have spoken to the Herald, alleging a host of defective or incomplete work and unpaid bills causing nightmares for unsuspecting homeowners and businesses.
Many have lost money - large amounts of money - after their dealings with companies associated with the pair.
They are ordinary people, many mum-and-dad home and business owners, claiming combined debts into the millions.
A home in Gillieston Heights has been left unfinished for years as the family battles a claim through the legal system against BH Australia Constructions, whose sole director and shareholder is Mr Shankar's wife Aarthi Dhandayutham.
Phillip Kapeller and Rachael Cesnik estimate they are $500,000 out of pocket and are facing bankruptcy due to crippling legal fees after a four-year battle, with no end in sight, to get their home completed. When the builder left the site in early 2017 the house had no water, power, flooring, kitchen, laundry, insulation and defects were found throughout.
"There is no doubt that they understand the legal system very well and know how to use it," Mr Kapeller said.
"The whole experience has been nothing short of a nightmare, it's been going on for years and our house still isn't finished.
"We're on the brink of going under financially."
NSW Fair Trading confirmed it is investigating a number of complaints about building projects linked to Mr Roberts in Newcastle and Sydney, but said it was unable to comment on the cases.
A spokesman said the regulator had received no complaints about Mr Shankar.
He said Fair Trading issued penalty notices in April 2018 to a company associated with Mr Roberts, called Blissful Developments No 1.
"The penalty notices were issued for carrying out unlicensed work," he said.
"The total amount of the penalty notices was $3750."
Fair Trading also placed restrictions on Mr Roberts' builder's supervisor certificate last year, meaning he cannot contract with the public until May 2021.
Bankruptcy proceedings against several companies linked to Mr Roberts and Mr Shankar have been launched by tradies and suppliers, with several cases resulting in counter-claims against the people fighting to be paid.
Newcastle's Southern Star Windows has taken action in the local court trying to recoup $60,000 allegedly unpaid by BH Australia Constructions.
Sydney's Steel Fabrication Services has also taken action against the same company in the Sydney Local Court, in a case where Ms Dhandayutham, Mr Shankar and Mr Roberts are named as defendants, for $45,000 allegedly owed.
Steel Fabrication Services owner Michael Simos said the situation was that bad police had to be called when he attempted to remove steel from a job site due to alleged non-payment.
"The whole thing was a real mess and it's been going on for ages," he said.
"The police allowed us to take the steel, but we still have a legal case going. No-one needs this sort of thing in business."
The Herald can reveal that Mr Roberts has attempted to take out three separate apprehended violence orders against a Newcastle developer and two Hunter-based tradesmen following disputes about jobs.
Then there is the abandoned construction site at Jesmond, with gaping holes and unfinished works as another round of court cases continues, between Newcastle's Goodwin Street Developments and DSD Builders, over a student accommodation project.
The developer said he was unable to comment as the matter was still before the courts.
Dawn Meredith, of EBH Constructions, said in 30 years in the building industry she had never dealt with anyone like Mr Roberts.
After being given a lawyer's quote of $20,000 to chase $12,500 owed by Blissful Developments, EBH wrote the debt off.
"We cut our losses and walked away, we don't trust anyone now," Mrs Meredith said.
"When you go to confront Daniel over not paying he would run and hide."
Michael McFayden, of Insulation Industries, said he was "spending too much time and money" chasing a debt, so he also gave up.
Pod Slab Sales owner Jason Roberts, who estimates he is out of pocket more than $50,000, said Mr Roberts was always driving "flashy cars" and came across as "legitimate".
"There were a couple of different entities and you don't know which one you are actually dealing with, it's such a web," he said.
"In the end I had to write the money off and move on, we're not a big company and it was a huge loss."
Naveen Kumer said when he found out Mr Roberts was a former bankrupt he cancelled the building contract, in what he believed was the "cooling off period", for the construction of his Catherine Hill Bay home.
He is still fighting for the return of the $45,000 deposit he alleges he is owed.
"My best friend used to work with Shasanth and that's how I got introduced to them," he said.
"I work hard and I can't afford to just lose that huge amount of money."
Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) records show Mr Roberts and Mr Shankar, or their wives, are linked through a series of companies, many of them similarly named.
The pair, or their wives, have been directors or shareholders of many of the same companies.
Several people said Mr Roberts was "well versed" in "using" the building industry adjudication process that determines disputes between contractors and clients.
The case between DSD Builders and Greenwood Futures revealed the extreme lengths Mr Roberts went to in an effort to secure a ruling from an adjudicator for payment.
In a move described by the judge as an "outrageous misuse" of authority, Mr Roberts sent information to the adjudicator claiming to be the developer's "appointed agent", authorising payment to the builder of $220,000.
This was at the same time as the developer was arguing the money wasn't owed because the work hadn't been completed and was defective. Developer Matt Greenwood, of Greenwood Futures, lodged a counter-claim alleging he is owed $256,000.
Justice McDougall said DSD Builders disregarded its legal obligations and its conduct "made it almost inevitable that litigation would result". "The fact that the litigation has failed reflects no merit on DSD's part; indeed, in some respects, DSD relied upon its own non-compliance with the Security of Payment Act as a reason why it should succeed," he said.
The court also heard from two tradesmen, caught up in a complicated web of interrelated companies, who were not paid for work done at the Jesmond job.
DSD Builders subcontracted the work out to related company BH Australia Constructions, but the tradesmen were contracted through another related company, Blissful Building Procurements, that was later placed in liquidation which meant the workers did not get paid.
Justice McDougall also pointed out some "curious anomalies" in DSD Builders' financial statements as at December 2017.
"The statements show a profit before tax in the sum of $306,000," he said. "They do not show any provision for tax. It is difficult to understand how a company which, on the face of the statements, had no carried forward losses could have earned that profit without being required to pay tax upon it.
"No income tax return has been produced which could explain this somewhat unusual state of affairs."
In another dispute, that also made it to the Supreme Court, Justice Michael Ball found Blissful Developments No. 1 had entered into a contract to build a set of units at Adamstown with no builder's licence.
At the time of the judgement, Mr Roberts was the director of the company that was attempting to get an extension of a caveat placed on the developer's land so it could not be sold. Blissful Developments No. 1 claimed an interest in the land because it said the developer owed it money.
But Justice Ball dismissed the claim, declaring no money was owed and the contract was void because the builder was unlicensed.
Not long after the decision, Mr Roberts resigned as director of the company and was replaced by Mr Shankar's wife.
Other former clients, tradespeople and suppliers who spoke to the Herald, detailed being caught in a never-ending series of battles that have swirled around the pair, with some disputes dragging out for years.
Allegations of defective work and long delays for jobs to be completed.
Marriages on the brink of collapse because of the strain.
Tradies fearing they will lose their homes if they don't get paid.
Many asked to remain anonymous due to fear of legal action.
"Daniel comes across, on very first impression, as if he has a lot of money and he knows what he's talking about," a tradesman said.
"But when you can't get paid, he simply disappears. Shasanth is the quiet one who is usually in the background, but they spend a lot of time together and are involved in a lot of legal matters."
John Todorovski, who worked as a real estate agent for Blissful Homes, said he left after witnessing a string of unhappy people looking to be paid or lodging complaints.
"People would come and have arguments at the office and I figured it was time to look for another job," he said. "There were a lot of complaints."
Tradies, suppliers and homeowners detailed being ensnared in an intractable problem enveloping the NSW building industry, which is lumbered with a tangled consumer protection system that all too often takes those seeking help on a long journey to a dead end.
Several people said complaints to NSW Fair Trading fell on deaf ears.
Any hopes that a large group of creditors could recoup their money was dealt a grievous blow when two companies were placed in voluntary liquidation in March and April last year.
Blissful Developments and Blissful Building Procurements went belly up with no assets and debts of almost $1.5 million. Mr Roberts resigned as director from Blissful Developments weeks before the company went under owing 25 unsecured creditors $750,372.
Mr Roberts also resigned as a director of Blissful Building Procurements two months before the company failed, owing 30 creditors $604,582. Daniel Roberts and Mr Shankar previously sold their shares in both companies.
Liquidator Steven Gladman, of Hall Chadwick, described his investigation into the companies as a "frustrating exercise".
He said when the companies were placed in liquidation there was no money, meaning there was little chance of a return for creditors.
"Very limited books and records have been provided," he said. "There are payments in there that are concerning."
Amid the chaos, Mr Shankar and Mr Roberts have moved onto a new venture for themselves, a multi-million dollar development under construction at Abel Street, Wallsend. The Herald found both men working there this week.
The 3480-square-metre property was purchased in June 2017 by BH Australia Constructions, which is owned and controlled by Mr Shankar's wife Ms Dhandayutham, for $1.35 million. She sold the site about a year later for $400,000 to another related company called Abel Street Developments.
Mr Shankar is the director of Abel Street Developments and he and Daniel Roberts are listed as the shareholders.
According to a development application approved by Newcastle City Council, there are plans to build 20 attached two-storey dwellings at a cost of more than $2 million.
The property had a strata subdivision approved in June and two three-bedroom townhouses, recently built on the site, were sold in September to another related company called SD Portfolio Holdings for $536,900 each.
In the past few weeks, SD Portfolio Holdings, which has Mr Shankar and Daniel Roberts as directors and shareholders, has listed both townhouses for sale for between $510,000 and $540,000 each.
The Herald made repeated attempts to talk to the men and they declined. Ms Dhandayutham was contacted for comment and she did not respond.
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