Icon (Close Menu)


Church Friendship Collapses Along With Building Plans

10 min read

Was an ex-con seeking to improve his life taken advantage of by a couple from his church who gained his trust by trying to help him repair his marriage?

Or were the couple just more victims of a man with a history, before and after prison, of taking money for construction work that was never completed?

That’s the fundamental dispute between Kristian Nelson and Mike and Gina Fullerton that is playing out in courts in two counties, and it could be a cautionary tale no matter which version turns out to be true.

The dispute centers on Pinnacle Valley Road west of Little Rock, where Nelson grew up and the Fullertons live now, and where the three hoped to turn a former yoga studio into a restaurant and build an office building next door.

The Fullertons bought the 1.1-acre site at 8501 Pinnacle Valley Road for $500,000 in December 2014 and opened Pinnacle Valley Restaurant there four months later. But the office building never got past the slab.

Since 2014, former customers have filed three separate lawsuits against Nelson and the construction company he worked for, Wilkins Development & Marketing LLC of North Little Rock. Each case alleged that work wasn’t done or properly completed, and two of the cases are still pending in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Unlike in those cases, Nelson struck first in his dispute with the Fullertons. He filed an $815,000 lien on the Pinnacle Valley Road property in January. And attorney Brooks Gill of Dumas filed last month — in Jefferson County, where Nelson claimed an address — a civil suit alleging that the Fullertons used Nelson’s status as a convicted felon to keep him from getting an ownership interest in their joint business venture.

Mike Fullerton told Arkansas Business that he hadn’t been served with the lawsuit, but maintained that he and his wife are the victims in their dealings with Nelson. The Fullertons — through MGK LLC, the entity that bought the land for the project — sued Nelson on Oct. 21 for filing a false lien.

In an interview at their restaurant, the Fullertons ticked off a list of complaints against Nelson, including not getting the office building job completed and poor construction work at the restaurant.

They said Nelson received approximately $40,000 to start work on the office building, but only poured the slab.

The couple tried to have Nelson prosecuted, and the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney’s office filed two felony theft charges against Nelson in January but dropped them in August.

Tonia Acker, a deputy prosecuting attorney, told Arkansas Business that the case was difficult.

“There’s clearly a breach of contract as well,” Acker said. “When we started looking at all the evidence that we had going forward, we just did not feel that we had the evidence to meet our burden of proof at this time. And so we decided to not go forward with it.”

Nelson declined to comment on his business relationship with the Fullertons. But while he knows “it looks bad” to be sued so many times, he insists he’s done nothing wrong.

“I’m not trying to win votes,” Nelson said. “All I’m trying to do is make a living so I can feed my kids and take care of my bills. People are making it very impossible for me to do that. [I’m] trying to move on with my life.”

In September, Nelson acted as his own attorney in seeking to lower his child support payment of $419 a month. His court filing said his salary was lowered to $3,600 a year in March “due to financial crises and bankruptcy of his employer.” The child support order wasn’t lowered.

The Office of Child Support Enforcement also filed court papers in September that said Nelson had paid only $251 between February and September and owed $2,700. It said that Nelson “should be jailed accordingly.”

A hearing on his child support obligation is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Wire Fraud

A 1991 graduate of Joe T. Robinson High School in Pulaski County, Nelson was convicted in Pulaski County Circuit Court in December 2002 of passing hot checks and in February 2003 of filing a false report of a crime.

Those convictions would haunt him when federal prosecutors became interested in promises he was making to investors in his companies, Pinnacle Valley Consulting and Pinnacle Valley Sports. From late 2004 through late 2006, Nelson told investors across the country that he could help them make money from residential real estate.

“Nelson misrepresented to the investors that they had actually purchased houses or lots and constructed houses, and further misrepresented that he had actually developed a subdivision,” according to the 20-count indictment for wire fraud filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock in April 2007.

The indictment said he persuaded 17 investors to give him $800,000.

While he was on bond on those charges, the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock also indicted Nelson in May 2008 for being a felon in possession of seven firearms, including shotguns and a semiautomatic assault rifle.

In June 2008, Nelson pleaded guilty to 10 counts of wire fraud and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced in February 2009 to 71 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $760,000 in restitution.

He was released from prison in September 2012 and went to work for Wilkins Development & Marketing, owned by his uncle and aunt, Darryl and Deborah Wilkins of Maumelle. The Arkansas secretary of state’s office lists the status of the company as not current.

Meet the Fullertons

The saga of the Fullertons and Nelson began in the summer of 2014.

Mike Fullerton said a Wilkins Development employee drove by their house on Pinnacle Valley Road in Pulaski County in search of potential driveway resurfacing jobs.

Mike Fullerton agreed to have the work done, but he also requested other projects that included walkways. The employee said that his boss, Nelson, could handle that request.

“We didn’t know anything about him, but we figured, heck, why not?” Mike Fullerton said. He hired Wilkins Development for the $20,000 job.

While on the job, Nelson told the Fullertons that he grew up on Pinnacle Valley Road. And they discovered another connection: They all attend New Life Church. Nelson said in his lawsuit that he attended the church “as part of the process of rebuilding his life.”

A friendship and business relationship quickly blossomed.

The Fullertons also said they learned that Nelson and his wife at the time, Ashley, were having marital troubles. The Fullertons had taken marriage classes at church and offered to help the troubled couple, who had married a couple of weeks before Nelson was indicted in 2007. They divorced in 2015.

In talking with the Fullertons, Nelson mentioned that the building at 8501 Pinnacle Valley Road was for sale. Gina Fullerton said she was interested in the space to use as a dance studio.

Nelson, in his lawsuit, said that he wanted to use it as a restaurant, event center and convenience store. Nelson wouldn’t operate the restaurant, but he would handle building and marketing it.

Gina Fullerton had experience in the hospitality industry, so they kept talking.

“So one thing led to another, and we discussed — with his assistance as the construction and marketing professional — pursuing this,” she said.

She said that she and Mike Fullerton would buy the property. “And we could consider a business partnership with him if certain standards were met,” Gina Fullerton said. “He also was supposed to build an office building that would be on the property.”

Mike Fullerton, who is an engineer and has an ownership interest in Bernhard TME of Little Rock, said he wanted the office building so that tenant income could help offset any dips in revenue at the restaurant.

Nelson would not be an owner initially, but if he did what he was supposed to do and put money into the project, he “could buy into the business,” Mike Fullerton said. “But first you’ve got to complete the construction and everything else.”

At that point, it appeared everything was going smoothly. The Fullertons knew about Nelson’s criminal record, but Mike Fullerton said Nelson seemed to have put that behind him.

“It was like he was trying to live a reformed life and trying to make something of himself,” he said.

Public filings indicate that there were already signs of trouble in Nelson’s business.

Lawsuits Start Coming

In March 2014, Christie Stadther sued Nelson, Darryl Wilkins and Wilkins Development over the construction work they did at her North Little Rock home earlier that year.

She had paid them $31,000 for a project that included building a deck, but then she had to spend another $17,200 to redo the work, according to the lawsuit filed by her attorney, Robert Newcomb of Little Rock.

“The Defendants intentionally with malice took [Stadther’s] money with no intention of properly doing the work therefore committing fraud,” Newcomb wrote in the complaint.

In a September 2014 deposition taken in connection with the case, Wilkins said that he was aware that the deck his company built was dangerous and had to be torn down. Wilkins also acknowledged that Nelson had failed to get a building permit or obtain the necessary employment paperwork from the workers on the job at Stadther’s house.

Still, Wilkins defended Nelson’s work as an executive. Wilkins said he considered his nephew to be a competent, trustworthy employee.

Wilkins also defended the counterclaim that he and Nelson filed alleging Stadther owed them $10,800. In that filing, Nelson said Stadther ordered him off the property “in the middle of construction; thus requiring Defendant to leave the site in a hazardous condition.”

In December 2014, about the time the Fullertons were buying the yoga studio property, Wilkins and his company agreed to pay Stadther $70,000 to settle the case. Nelson and the counterclaim were dismissed from the case.

Stadther, though, still hadn’t been paid as of last week.

In May of this year, Myron and Lanetta Richards of Little Rock sued Nelson and Wilkins Development for breach of contract for not completing a home construction project in 2015.

The couple also alleged in their lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, that Nelson failed to pay a plumbing subcontractor $14,000 they gave for that purpose.

Nelson, acting as his own attorney, has denied the Richardses’ allegations. The case is pending.

Earlier this month, Jamie Thompson of Sherwood sued Nelson and Wilkins Development for failing to complete a pool project and home remodel. She also alleged that subcontractors “were either left unpaid or were given bad checks” by Nelson.

In January, Nelson filed a $3,500 lien on Thompson’s property. “I have supplied labor to this project and Im [sic] owed money for my work,” he wrote.

In her suit, Thompson says the lien is fraudulent and should be removed. Nelson had not responded as of Thursday.

On Pinnacle Valley Road, other problems soon came to light.

In January 2015, construction on the office building stalled. Nelson “just completely disappeared on us,” Mike Fullerton said.

He said Nelson received about $40,000 to start construction work on the office building, which was supposed to be completed at the end of January.

Blaming the Weather

“And this whole time, from January until March, I was constantly asking, ‘When are you going to get out there?’” Mike Fullerton said.

Nelson, he said, blamed the delay on bad weather and other construction projects he had committed to do.

Fullerton said he pushed Nelson to build the office building, “but to no avail.” No work was done after the slab was poured.

On Feb. 4, 2015, Darryl Wilkins, the owner of the construction company, filed for personal Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization. He listed $133,000 in debts, about half of which was owed to Stadther, and just $68,000 in assets. The case was eventually dismissed because Wilkins failed to make plan payments, and Wilkins refiled for bankruptcy in January of this year.

With some glitches, the build-out of Pinnacle Valley Restaurant was completed on schedule. Nelson attended the grand opening in March 2015, but then distanced himself from the Fullertons, Gina Fullerton said.

Nelson “started backing away when we started asking him for the money he said he was going to help contribute month to month,” she said.

Nelson, in his court filings, denied all accusations of wrongdoing.

“The real truth is that once the restaurant opened in 2015, the Fullertons implemented a plan or scheme to force Nelson out of the project by making false accusations of criminal theft by Nelson,” Nelson said in his lawsuit. “This was done to force Nelson out of the project and thereby receive the benefit of all of Nelson’s vision, time, expertise, financial contributions, work and labor while retaining 100 percent ownership of” the restaurant and MGK, the entity that bought the property.

Gina Fullerton said Nelson’s version of events is wrong.

“The reason why we were associating with him is for the construction and marketing, and if he abided by what was requested … then we could talk further” about an actual partnership, she said.

Mike Fullerton said the relationship ended completely in May 2015 when Nelson demanded that the Fullertons sign half of MGK over to Wilkins Development & Marketing, “which we never even remotely talked about giving it over to his company.”

At that point, Mike Fullerton said, Nelson refused to do any other work. Fullerton said he got his attorney involved in the dispute and told Nelson not to come back onto the property.

In January 2016, Nelson filed the lien against the Fullertons, the restaurant and MGK. He said he was owed $815,000 for material, labor and services.

Mike Fullerton said the restaurant is operating and he’s hoping to get money to complete the office building. But, he said, the experience with Nelson has changed him.

“I don’t trust anyone anymore,” Fullerton said. “We’ve been burned so bad from this one instance that I just can’t trust people like that anymore.”

Nelson said he is looking forward to having his day in court. “I just want fairness to prevail,” Nelson said.

Send this to a friend