The future of the Dogwood Plaza development in Pacific is unclear now that the developer has been charged with defrauding subcontractors.
Chester “Chad” L. Neal Jr., 43, Fresno, Calif., was charged in federal court in January with two counts of mail fraud. He was arrested in St. Louis and has since been released on bail.
Neal, former construction manager of Orchid Development Group LLC, was heading up the development of a three-tier hotel, retail and residential project on the hillside north of West Osage Street that is touted on the group’s website as what will become the region’s “leading lodging for pet owners.”
Only months into the project off Hogan Road, Neal has been charged in a multimillion dollar fraud scheme that the U.S. Justice Department says defrauded at least 35 subcontractors.
Neal allegedly carried out a $2.6 million scheme to defraud subcontractors across the United States.
According to the indictment, Neal established and controlled numerous companies and through those companies won at least 105 government contracts, including contracts with the Department of Interior, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.
Those contracts were to provide goods and services to federal agencies. He allegedly made several misrepresentations while convincing the subcontractors to perform the required work.
The indictment also alleges that Neal didn’t pay his subcontractors, even though he was paid by the government for their work. He allegedly kept the money for personal use.
In total, between July 2008 and December 2018, he allegedly defrauded those subcontractors out of at least $2.6 million.
The Missourian spoke with Neal over the phone Thursday about the case against him and the development. He said he left Orchid Development Group after he was indicted and wasn’t privy to where the project currently stands.
Neal said it’s unlikely that he would return to the company. He said he believes the trial will go in his favor.
According to court documents, Neal has used seven different names in the past, including Chad Neal, which was used for the Dogwood development.
Dogwood Plaza was to be developed on a 25-acre parcel. The project occupies a portion of an 80-acre parcel owned by Lamar Investments LLC. Lamar Investments did not return a request for comment by press time.
Grading work stopped on the Pacific development in March after the Department of Natural Resources halted the operation, citing lack of protection of an adjoining road, creek and properties.
In March, Neal told The Missourian he hoped to make plans for the project available to the public within the next two weeks.
Orchid Development’s website features some renditions of the planned development, but no project plans. The only contact information for the group refers back to Neal himself. The group is headquartered in Sullivan.
Plans that had been proposed for the site included a 170-room hotel that will be professionally managed by Maverick restaurant group from Chicago; two stand-alone family restaurants with recognizable national names; approximately 30,000 square feet of commercial retail space; and a mix of single-family homes and multifamily units, that will have lakes and walking trails.
Before the operation was shut down, Neal had asked the city of Pacific to create a commercial improvement district (CID) to rebate a one-cent special sales tax collected by retailers within the new plaza to help pay for infrastructure.
If a CID had been enacted, a consultant and spokesman for Orchid Development said, over a 25-year period, the CID tax could have generated $2 to $3 million to aid the development, which would have accompanied $5 to $6 million in new taxes for Pacific.
Pacific Mayor Steve Myers said he had been told — weeks before finding out about the indictment — the development was continuing.
Myers said he thinks the seller of the land, Lamar Investments, should try to find a new developer for the project.
“He (Neal) had told me that everything is moving forward and that they’re just putting the finishing touches on financing,” Myers said. “Then, of course, we found out he is indicted from something else he had done in California.
“I’ve been told the (charges) are unrelated (to the Pacific project) and that it might still move ahead,” he said. “I have my doubts. I think the seller needs to go to plan B and find someone else to do the development.”