A Montessori school in Langley, B.C., says the contractor who offered to help sell its extra portables kept the money and left the non-profit in danger of falling into bankruptcy.
Two years ago, Roots & Wings Montessori school downsized and had 20 portables it needed to sell. Contractor Ken Lambert approached the school and offered to sell the units through his company Coast Modular, taking a cut of the profits for himself and giving the school $115,000.
Lambert sold the portables to a B.C. First Nation, but Roots & Wings says it has yet to receive the money it was promised.
"I would never even have suspected that somebody would think that they could steal from a school," said Roots & Wings principal Kristin Cassie.
"To me, he's unfeeling. To be able to do something like this means he's unfeeling."
Now the school is on the edge of bankruptcy. Cassie says her teachers are on reduced pay and she is not collecting a salary.
When reached by phone, Lambert said Coast Modular had fallen on hard times, and therefore he could not pay Roots & Wings Montessori school for its portables.
"We lost a lot of money on a job and we had to shut her down. It happens," said Lambert.
History of not paying clients
Roots & Wings Montessori is not alone.
A CBC News investigation has learned 30 lawsuits have been filed against Lambert and Coast Modular over the past three years, mostly by subcontractors and suppliers alleging they were not paid for building materials or their work.
Businesses and former employees — from Langley to Chilliwack to Hope — say they feel they have been cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One of those clients, Norm McGladdery, claims Lambert owes his electrical company more than $150,000.
"He kept promising that, 'We'll get through this. We'll pay you. You're going to get paid. Trust me. Trust me.' That was one of his favourite expressions: 'Trust me,'" said McGladdery.
Coast Modular fell on hard times, says Lambert
Lambert told CBC News it is not his fault he failed to pay his clients.
"I only left maybe five, six hundred thousands dollars of debt on the table. You know, people take advantage of you. There's nothing you can do about it," he said.
Lambert shut down Coast Modular in late 2012, failing to pay his employees right before Christmas. However, he continued to do business under the name Optimum Modular — with his daughter as the director — and landing contracts, including one to build a new Christian school in Mission.
'Let's stop him from doing it anymore'
Cassie says Roots & Wings Montessori school has still not been paid for its portables. She said she decided to speak to CBC News in hopes that others would not fall into similar financial stress.
"I don't know whether putting the story out is going to make a difference, but at the very least, let's stop him from doing it anymore," she said.
"I don't want anyone else going through this."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the age of Ken Lambert's daughter.Apr 17, 2014 5:31 PM PT