IT began as a typical developer's dream.
A residential boarding house at Jesmond, within walking distance to the University of Newcastle.
The project by Goodwin Street Developments, made up of five mum-and-dad Hunter investors, was to house up to 35 students at a cost of about $2.4 million.
Instead the project has been sitting derelict for more than four years after notorious Newcastle shonk Daniel Roberts, who was tasked with overseeing the building project, methodically took to destroying it.
Jeff Stokes, one of the developers, said the group estimated it was out of pocket about $4 million.
Now in a legal first, a Supreme Court judge has found the fast-talking, BMW-driving Roberts personally liable for defects, damage and theft at the development site estimated to be worth almost $900,000.
Under new laws introduced last year, described by the NSW government as the 'biggest shake-up in building laws in our state's history' following Sydney's Opal Tower fiasco, any person who carries out construction work has a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid economic loss caused by defects and negligence.
Justice James Stevenson found Roberts, who is not a licensed builder, was the construction manager for DSD Builders, a company controlled by his then fiance Angela Sendjirdjian that is now in liquidation, which was engaged to construct the boarding house development.
But following a dispute about defects, which included the internal walls being lined before a frame inspection was carried out by a certifier, a dispute broke out about payment.
A meeting was called on site and developer Jeff Stokes said he arrived at the Jesmond property to find three men dressed in "bikie t-shirts", one brandishing "brass knuckles", demanding Roberts be paid $100,000.
Mr Stokes said the men told him Roberts owed them money and was making repayments from the proceeds of the Jesmond job. Because payment had been withheld by the developers due to the defects dispute, the men hadn't been paid.
"Roberts was building defects into the building and building on top of defects so they became impossible to fix," Mr Stokes said. "Three guys threatened us to pay up or there would be consequences and they were refusing to let us out of the house. When they left they made it very clear that they knew where we lived."
The court heard the development was riddled with defects, estimated to cost $586,000 to fix, including an exposed unsupported pier footing, frame built on sewer pipes, brick retaining wall not waterproofed, non-existent termite protection system and black mould on timber frames.
Justice Stevenson also found that after the contract was terminated with DSD Builders, Roberts took to deliberately trashing the property and stealing building materials, the bill estimated at $300,000.
Sewer pipes were blocked with concrete, a circular saw used to cut through structural beams, holes drilled through walls, plumbing, external cladding and the roof and the bathroom waterproofing was deliberately damaged.
Roberts also stole the internal stairs, skylights and almost every window and door from the property.
A Newcastle Herald investigation revealed in November 2020 that Roberts and his business partner Shashanth Shankar Tellakula Gowrishankar were 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 - spoke 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 - claiming combined debts into the millions - after their dealings with companies associated with the pair.
In the latest case, Newcastle scaffolder Stevo Konjarski gave evidence about how he witnessed Roberts, and two other men loading goods into a ute and taking them away.
Mr Konjarski said he saw Roberts fill up plumbing pipes with cement or glue and put holes in the external cladding.
The Newcastle Herald reported in July last year how Konjarski pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Roberts and assaulted him over a $64,000 debt he claimed his scaffolding company was owed.
Konjarski, 57, of New Lambton, pleaded guilty to intimidating and assaulting Roberts in February at a Wallsend development site owned by Roberts and Shankar.
Roberts' legal counsel described Konjarski as an unreliable witness, pointing out there was bad blood between the men.
"Mr Konjarski gave this evidence without hesitation, and appeared to me to be very confident as to the accuracy of his recollection," Justice Stevenson said.
He went further to point out that Roberts chose not give evidence, which indicated it would not have assisted his case.
"Having observed Mr Konjarski in the witness box, and having regard to all the other circumstances I have set out above, I do have an actual persuasion of the mind that Mr Konjarski was telling me the truth as to what he observed on the day in question," he said.
"I feel more readily able to come to that conclusion, in circumstances where Mr Roberts did not give evidence to dispute Mr Konjarski's account."
Mr Stokes said the developers were now being forced to go back to court in an effort to get a further judgement on costs. He said the developers were close to $4 million out of pocket, including $700,000 in legal fees.
Roberts and Shankar are now developing 20 units at 38 Abel Street, Wallsend. The 3480-square-metre property was purchased in June 2017 by BH Australia Constructions for $1.35 million.
"I know of about five developments in the local area where Roberts has ripped people off," Mr Stokes said. "Our thoughts are we might be able to recoup money from the Wallsend development he's building. As bad as he is, he's also quite clever and we believe he has assets."
Victims of Roberts describe him as "well versed" in "using" legal loopholes and the building industry adjudication process that determines disputes between contractors and clients to squeeze money from clients.
In late 2018, the Supreme Court's Justice Robert MacDougall - ruling in a dispute involving Roberts and Shankar against another Hunter developer - accused the pair of using phoenix companies to avoid paying building industry debts.
"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.
The case between DSD Builders and Greenwood Futures revealed the extreme lengths 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, 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 was owed $256,000.
The Newcastle Herald has reported extensively on a Gillieston Heights couple's battle with BH Australia Constructions, previously known as Blissful Constructions, that left their home unfinished and full of defects.
Last year Phillip Kapeller and Rachael Cesnik won a court judgement that the company - fronted by Roberts and Shankar - owes them $191,366 and legal fees, but they have not received a cent.
Despite sounding the alarm to every regulatory body they can think of, Mr Kapeller said complaints about the pair have "fallen on deaf ears".
The Newcastle Herald also reported in November that Roberts and Shankar had launched Future Tooth, Australia's "first dental stem cell storage company".
The company's website claims children's teeth stem cells can "be used for" cancer, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and a host of other serious illnesses.
The company claims that "dentists around the country have recommended Future Tooth dental stem cell services to their patients".
But the Australian Dental Association has warned against storing teeth, describing dental stem cell banking as unnecessary and unregulated.
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