Steel company took nearly $175K to expand North Austin food pantry, but didn't finish work: pastor

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Monday, November 6, 2023
Company took thousands to expand food pantry, but didn't finish work
American Steel Fabricators' work remains unfinished after Grace and Peace Church paid thousands for a food pantry expansion, Pastor John Zayas said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A food pantry expansion has been a dream for a local church.

But, efforts to help those in need have been delayed. The pastor says a local steel company took the money, nearly $157,000, but never finished the work.

Pastor John Zayas of Grace and Peace Church in the North Austin neighborhood has dreamed of a pantry expansion for the church's Gap Community Center. However, there is no food in the space, only frustration.

"I'm just disappointed in the fact that we're not finished," Zayas said. "We find ourselves in this situation just waiting. Because of this one contractor, the steel is holding up everyone else."

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Zayas shared his contract and checks to American Steel Fabricators in Melrose Park with the ABC7 I-Team. The two checks written in January and one in March total almost $157,000. The bill was paid in full, but months later, there are still problems.

Zayas says the general contractor is not to blame, and that the project held is being up only by American Steel Fabricators' unfinished installation of steel. Zayas showed the I-Team some steel beams up. He says only about 20% of the work is complete, which a far cry from their blueprints.

"It's holding up the project and for us, it's important that American Steel, if they don't finish the job, if they can't finish the job, return the resources back to us so that we can bring someone else to finish the job," Zayas said. "It's money that we raised. It was money that we worked hard to get."

The church was hoping to expand its popular food pantry as community members could be seen lined up around the block. Pedro Robles was looking forward to the expansion.

"I'm out of a job. I'm on disability. I got bad legs, and I need all the help I can get," Robles said. "These people here from the church, they help people a lot."

It wasn't in the contract, but Zayas says American Steel Fabricators told him the job would take a few months. He says some of the columns started going up in May. That was four months after the contact was signed.

Then, Zayas received an email from the chief operating officer of American Steel on May 14, saying, "We anticipate installation of the columns prior to this week's end."

Then, days later, he got another email from the director of project management, saying that the chief operating officer had passed away.

"We waited about a month, month and a half, and then, we started getting pushback. Our calls weren't answered. We did speak to someone who was running the project, and she mentioned to us that she was going to get back to us in a few weeks," Zayas said.

Zayas said after several more months of no updates and no work, he reached out to the I-Team.

Consumer Investigator Jason Knowles called and emailed American Steel Fabricators. When he didn't hear back, he stopped by the business and spoke with a worker.

"We talked to some folks from a church who are expanding a pantry. They're waiting on steel. They paid almost $157,000?" Knowles said.

"I don't know anything about that, I'm just a laborer," the worker said.

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The worker said the managers and owners had already left for the day. Knowles left his business card and emailed and called again, but never hard back.

"Don't just walk away from this. Make it right. Because if you don't make it right here, you stole from the most marginalized folks. You stole from the community that's in need," Zayas said.

The pastor says he is no longer waiting, and he is getting steel from another company. He still wants his money back.

Experts say to avoid a situation like this, always pay for your job in thirds at the beginning, middle and end of the project. Use a credit card so you can dispute or reverse charges.