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Dekalb Junction contractor files defamation suit

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CANTON — A Dekalb Juntion construction firm filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court on Friday alleging disgruntled customers are hurting its reputation and credibility.

James O’Neill and C.W. Augustine Inc. works with the Ogdensburg and Potsdam municipalities on construction projects. The lawsuit alleges Frederick and Pat Biggs and Mark A. Jones are trying to interfere with a construction project in Ogdensburg.

During an Ogdensburg City Council meeting March 12, the Biggses gave council members a packet critical of Mr. O’Neill’s company. They have also regularly attended City Council meetings to criticize the company.

The couple has led a 14-year effort to inform communities around the region of their experience with Mr. O’Neill, president of C. W. Augustine.

Mr. Biggs once worked for Mr. O’Neill as an accountant, and the couple lived with him for a time.

The trouble began in 1998, when the couple entered into an agreement with the Mr. O’Neill’s company to have a custom home built on their property at 206 County Route 29 for a total of $79,995. It called for Mr. O’Neill’s workers to frame the home, hook up its water, sewage and heating systems and hang drywall in its basement. Other rooms were to be completed by the couple.

The Biggs said they were not satisfied with the quality of work performed by Mr. O’Neill’s employees and refused to pay the remaining portion of his contract. That, they said, was when they learned Mr. O’Neill had not paid for materials used in the project.

In 1999, the couple filed a $526,607 lawsuit against Mr. O’Neill, claiming shoddy workmanship and deviation from architect’s plans. In 2002, a State Supreme Court jury awarded the couple just $7,100 of their claim, despite an engineer’s estimate that the home required $93,000 in repairs.

During the ordeal, Mr. O’Neill counter sued the Biggs, claiming that their efforts irreparably harmed his reputation and that the couple still owed him money from the construction of their house.

The couple claims that the workmanship on their home has led to over a decade of headaches and thousands of dollars in costs, including both legal fees and maintenance.

They then accused Mr. O’Neill of altering documents and intimidating witnesses in their civil cases.

Mr. O’Neill has responded by suggesting that case has been settled, the couple is simply unhappy with the outcome.

“It is without question defamation and I have about had it,” he said in February. “What can they possibly know about what we have done in Ogdensburg?”

Now, the couple has continued to take their message criticizing Mr. O’Neill on the road to communities like Ogdensburg, while maintaining a website, www.constructionmismanagement.org, which documents the trials, both literal and figurative, they have dealt with since entering their agreement with Mr. O’Neill.

According to the lawsuit filed Friday, the Biggses have engaged in defamatory comments on the website about Mr. O’Neill’s business.

On their website, the Biggses say they are continuing their campaign against the company because they want people to see how Mr. O’Neill does business.

“The main focus and message of this site has always been to try to ensure that no one else falls into the trap that we discovered the hard way,” the website says.

Because of the website and other alleged threats from the Biggses and Mr. Jones, Mr. O’Neill is asking for a judgment of $1 million for emotional distress, interfering with contract, defamation and hurting his company’s reputation.

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