The thought of a $2 an hour boost in pay appealed to Richard Villegas. But now he and two other painters say they haven't been paid by JP'Z Painting, a firm hired to paint the interior of Eagle Point's new Wal-Mart Supercenter.

(See correction below)
The thought of a $2 an hour boost in pay appealed to Richard Villegas.

So the 47-year-old Umatilla father of five left the company he'd been with for six years, took his 19-year-old son with him and signed on with JP'Z Painting, a firm hired to paint the interior of Eagle Point's new Wal-Mart Supercenter.

It made perfectly good sense to Villegas, who had been tipped off about the opportunity by his friend Jesus Cervantes, 41, who was already painting for the Milton-Freewater firm. The three were part of a crew spraying Dryfall, an acrylic paint, on the ceilings, first in Redmond and then in Eagle Point.

Villegas, 41, said the first few weeks in Redmond went according to form. But when they arrived in the Upper Rogue region, things changed.

"We'd been given the impression we'd get paid every 15 days," he said. "I knew I'd get paid Aug. 10."

However, the date came and went without a paycheck.

"I asked and (JP'Z) said the pay period was changed," Villegas said. "Right on the time cards it says when the time period begins and ends."

When the checks did arrive they bounced, Villegas said. "The check cashing company was getting ready to put Jesus (who doesn't speak English) in jail."

The temporary housing in Shady Cove JP'Z arranged for its crew also went unpaid, Villegas said.

After the checks began bouncing, two co-workers left to pursue paying jobs. Villegas, along with his son, Richard Jr., and Cervantes stayed on the job a few more weeks before they tossed in the towel.

"There were only three of us and we couldn't do it all by ourselves," Villegas said.

The men said they worked for Labor Ready between Labor Day and Sept. 14 to make ends meet, while waiting to get paid.

"I've been with MASCO Corp. for six years doing insulation in Tucson, Phoenix and Tri-Cities (Wash.), and I've never had this happen before," Villegas said. "I have no clue what they're up to."

Telephone calls to JP'Z Painting owner Jeremie Prock and foreman Rick Phillips went unreturned. A message on Prock's cell phone said he wouldn't be back from vacation until Sept. 26, while Phillips' voice mail was full.

JP'Z was a subcontractor for general contractor CSI Oregon, which built the 184,718-square-foot Wal-Mart that opened Wednesday.

CSI Oregon, a Portland outpost for the CSI Group, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been in operation since 1992 and has built more than 100 major commercial buildings in the past 15 years.

Gabe Godwin, vice president and manager of the Portland office, said the painters aren't the only people wondering where their money went.

"We're going to pursue the matter with the sub-contractor," Godwin said Wednesday. "Whether we try to settle, I don't know. We want to make sure he pays all his guys and suppliers."

Between the Redmond Wal-Mart and the Eagle Point project, Godwin said CSI Oregon has had to pay suppliers $70,000 that should have been paid by JP'Z.

"It happens occasionally in this industry," Godwin said. "You check out guys, but it can still happen."

He said the construction firm asks for between three and 10 bids and goes with the low bidder "almost every time."

"When you find the low bidder you want to make sure they can do the deal, you don't want some guy who doesn't know what he's bidding," Godwin said. "You want to make sure they've got experience."

He said the painting company had done similar projects for other contractors, but it was the first time working with CSI.

Godwin said CSI is doing 15 projects between $3 million and $20 million in the Northwest this year.

"It was a tough project and a big project for us," he said. "But we've had a lot of good feedback from the city."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at business@mailtribune.com

Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect reference to drywall in a headline. This version has been corrected.