As Chateau Pensmore rose like an Ozark mountain crescendo, its owner said the grand mansion would stand for 2,000 years.
Steven T. Huff has reassessed that prediction.
In fact, he wants to tear it down.
According to a federal court lawsuit, a whistleblower came forward to say that a contractor shorted the amount of steel being mixed into concrete used for the 72,000-square-foot house going up between Springfield and Branson in southern Missouri.
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If true, that pretty much blows a hole in Huff’s earlier claim that the all-concrete Pensmore could stand up to a tornado, earthquake or even a bomb blast. He’s an astrophysicist who wanted Pensmore’s environmental sustainability to serve as a model on how to build schools, hospitals and homes.
“A business vision with altruistic aims has been hijacked by defendants’ deliberate misconduct,” Huff, 64, claims in his suit.
The suit says core testing of the concrete confirms the whistleblower’s account.
“We did everything we could trying to prove it was untrue,” Gabriel Berg, a New York attorney for Huff, said Thursday.
“Now we need to rip it down and built it back right.”
The lawsuit asks for $63 million in damages from defendants Monarch Cement Co. and City Wide Construction Products Co.
The companies deny all accusations. Michael E. Callahan, attorney for the defendants, said there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.
“The Monarch Cement Company and City Wide Construction Products are known for their high-quality products and longtime commitment to customer service,” Callahan said. “They will defend their hard-earned reputations against the plaintiff's allegations all the way through trial, if necessary.”
On Tuesday, Monarch filed for a subpoena asking that Huff Construction Co., a Huff family business, be required to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to the Pensmore construction.
The Huff lawsuit claims that not only did contractors use less of the tiny, thin, twisted strands of high-tensile wire called helix in the concrete, but it accuses the defendants of selling what they didn’t use.
Helix makes concrete less vulnerable to wind and explosive blasts. Walls would bend rather than break, then flex back into place.
According to the lawsuit filed in 2015, the shortages occurred between October 2009 and November 2012.
“Instead, defendants put enormous quantities of helix, paid for by plaintiff, on their trucks and drove them to a storage area hidden from Pensmore’s representatives,” the suit says.
The whistleblower came forward in October 2014, the suit says. It says he became emotional telling his story. He said he had been proud to work on the project that awed the Ozark area. But then he felt only shame.
“The whistleblower, for his part, has never asked for anything in return for disclosing the facts to Pensmore,” according to the suit.
From the beginning in 2009, Pensmore, one of the largest homes in America, caused a stir in the area near Highlandville, Mo., in Christian County. With turrets and 32-foot ceilings, it looked like a cross between a French chateau and university building.
The house has five floors, several elevators, 14 baths and 13 bedrooms, including five suites with kitchens. The main kitchen measures 40 by 60 feet.
Then there was Huff himself. Word got around that he had served in Army intelligence, joined the CIA, developed software to analyze satellite imagery, become an inventor and sold a company for a lot of money.
Soon there were rumors about secret tunnels leading to Pensmore. One tale had Pensmore being used as the new seat of government after a takeover by the illuminati.
A herd of exotic Ossabaw Island hogs roaming the surrounding woods didn’t quell the mystery.
Another mystery, somewhat, is that construction is ongoing at Pensmore. Berg said the work had to continue, although it has slowed.
A November trial is set in Kansas City.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182