MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – Poor management and financial trouble plaguing a nonprofit organization started by actor Brad Pitt have resulted in unpaid bills and budget woes for Montana tribes, according to a lawsuit filed by a modular home installer.
Washington state-based Method Homes sued Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation Missoula County court this past week, on claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and failure to abide by an arbitration agreement. Pitt is not named as a defendant.
Method Homes says it helped Pitt’s nonprofit build 20 energy-efficient modular houses on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. After five years and several missteps and delays, the homes are finally finished, but the New Orleans-based Make It Right Foundation and its subsidiaries have refused to pay Method Homes for a third of the $430,000 project, according to the lawsuit.
After partnering with the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck in 2011, Pitt’s foundation hired Method Homes to provide architectural designs and engineering permits for 10 houses in 2014. Based on a New Orleans project built after Hurricane Katrina, the houses were billed as being inexpensive and sustainable, constructed of recycled materials, well insulated and solar powered.
According to the lawsuit, even though the foundation had yet pay the $7,400 design bill, it then asked Method Homes at the start of 2015 to manufacture pieces for 20 modular homes. Later, Method Homes’ attorney Dana Hupp questioned why defendant Samuel Whitt, an attorney, signed the agreement as manager of “MIR Montana LLC,” because he has been chairman of the Make It Right board since 2008. She also learned that MIR Montana is not registered as a business with any state, let alone Montana.
In 2015, the foundation assigned employee Tim Duggan to deal with Method Homes. After requesting changes to the plans that included redesigning the houses to use natural gas, Duggan approved the final manufacturing cost of more than $37,000, which also wasn’t paid, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, MIR Montana had hired a local company – Integrated Solutions, owned by former tribal councilman Thomas Anketell – to install the homes, the first of which were delivered in June 2015.
Pitt’s foundation was under pressure to complete all 20 houses by December 2016 in order to qualify for a federal low-income housing tax credit. When it became clear that Integrated Solutions probably wouldn’t meet that deadline, Duggan asked Method Homes’ subsidiary Method Contracting to install the rest of the houses, the lawsuit says.
Integrated Solutions spokeswoman Deb Madison did not return calls for comment.
During construction in late 2015 and early 2016, Duggan had several discussions with Method Homes, haggling over payment of the $386,000 total and requesting extended credit, according to the lawsuit. At the start of 2016, the foundation still owed Method Homes more than $138,000.
Then in spring 2016, Pitt’s foundation appeared to be falling apart.
In May 2016, Duggan left the foundation and now works as an architect for Kansas City-based Phronesis. Duggan refuses to comment on the foundation. Around the same time, a majority of the foundation’s board of directors left, along with longtime CEO Tom Darden, according to the Kansas City Star. Darden and Whitt were the ones who approached Pitt about creating the foundation in 2007.
After Duggan left the foundation, its finance executive manager Darrah Caplan was assigned to work on the Fort Peck account but refused to meet with Method Homes. Method Homes finally resorted to arbitration, which the foundation has so far refused to be a part of, according to the lawsuit. This past November, Caplan left the foundation after seven years to work as an accountant for the University of New Orleans.
Duggan might have landed in Kansas City because that’s where the foundation had planned to start a similar housing project in May 2015. But the Manheim Park project had yet to start construction in July 2016, when foundation COO James Mazzuto cancelled an interview with the Kansas City Star about the project. The Kansas City Star reports that Mazzuto still refuses to comment.
Back in Montana, the Fort Peck project ended up costing the tribes a lot more than they expected for low-income housing.
After Anketell was voted off the tribal council in late 2013, he went Washington, leaving Fort Peck in the dark as to what he had agreed to. The tribes were forced to put up $600,000 as a good-faith deposit on the houses. Then they learned they would have to develop the subdivision for the houses, laying foundations and installing water and sewer pipes at a cost of $2.6 million, according to MTN News.
Now that the houses are up, qualifying families receive subsidized loans or rent to own the houses, which cost $283,000 – the going rate for Make It Right homes – in an area where the average home value is $50,000. The 1,400-square-foot homes Pitt’s foundation built in New Orleans between 2008 and 2010 cost about $315,000 each, for which the foundation got a $3.8 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Such homes should be problem-free, but after three years, New Orleans residents started complaining that stairs and decks built with specially treated wood were rotting away. As a result, the foundation sued South Carolina-based Timber Treatment Technologies in 2015, claiming the company intentionally sold a defective product.
Even with all the difficulties, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum awarded the foundation its Directors Award in 2016, for “design as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world,” according to the Cooper Hewitt website.
Make It Right Foundation didn’t return a request for comment by deadline, as it had a former spokeswoman listed on its website. The foundation’s new spokesman, Matthew Hiltzik, is a top New York publicist famous for helping rehabilitate the image of stars in trouble – including U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, NBA star Tony Parker, singer Justin Bieber and actor Alec Baldwin.
Method Homes attorney Dana Hupp declined to comment.