EAST MANATEE -- The developer of the mold- and water-plagued Willowbrook condiminiums alleges in a lawsuit that a handful of former and current residents conspired to hack emails and to create a website slamming the company in an effort to get it to buy back their homes.
KB Home officials claim, in a suit filed Oct. 11 in federal court in Tampa, that Willowbrook residents Andrew Smith and Daniel Koehler "have improperly used and trafficked in KB Home Marks in the domain name 'thekbhome.com' to divert traffic from KB Home, to disparage it, damage its reputation, and otherwise cause harm to KB Home."
Smith's site, thekbhome.com, contains news stories about the severe construction issues at Willowbrook, including a link to a Channel 10 story titled "Moldy Home Could Lead To Deadly Infection."
On the site, there are also links to photos, videos and a live camera.
"Our goal is to uncover the truth about KB Homes and prove that there is a nationwide problem with construction quality," the site says.
"Smith and Koehler employed 'thekbhome.com' domain name to operate a website devoted to disparaging KB Home's business reputation, criticizing the quality of KB Home construction, discouraging prospective buyers from purchasing homes developed by KB Home, and attempting to drive down the value of KB Home stock," the suit charges.
The suit also accuses Smith and Koehler of trying to coerce KB Home into either buying back their units or buying the website at a "valuable" cost.
It says Smith violated a federal law against "cybersquatting" by registering several "confusingly similar" domain names, including "kbhomeforeclosures.com" and "kbhsucks.com" in an attempt to profit.
Furthermore, the suit alleges William Crismon, Patrick McGettigan and Armando Oyola-Delgado of conspiring to intercept emails between KB Home and Dueall Construction, the contractor hired to repair Willowbrook, by accessing Dueall's WiFi hotspot located in a construction trailer on Willowbrook property, in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Willowbrook, a 270-condo complex, contains 51 buildings just outside the boundaries of Lakewood Ranch. The complex has severe construction deficiencies including water intrusion and sinking floors on the second- and third-floor balconies and interior floors, along with mold.
Construction and repairs were begun in 2012 after dozens were ruled unsafe by Manatee County building inspectors. There is no timetable for completion of the work.
KB Home attorney, Thomas Dye of West Palm Beach, did not return calls or emails Wednesday and Thursday.
"KB Home has brought this suit to defend itself against computer hacking and improper infringement of its trademark," the Delaware company said in a statement. "We have been working diligently and at great expense to address warranty requests of our homeowners in the Bradenton Area. In this process we have accepted fair criticism and we will continue to do so. The hacking and other conduct described in this suit is illegal and we intend to hold the responsible individuals accountable for their behavior to the fullest extent of the law."
Dueall Construction previously accused Smith and Oyola-Delgado of initiating "a campaign to smear and defame Dueall and its owners" in a suit filed May 12 in 12th Circuit Court in Manatee County.
Smith said he would not comment on the most recent suit until he retained an attorney. McGettigan and Koehler had not returned messages left Thursday afternoon by the Herald.
Oyola-Delgado said the allegations against him are "ridiculous."
"These houses are defective. And now you're going to sue homeowners ... because you don't like the scrutiny or to be the subject of somebody's opinion?" he said Thursday. "Are they lost? What world are they living in?"
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@sabrinarocco.