The NBC10 Investigators are continuing to uncover problems with the system meant to protect consumers.
We learned some homeowners tried to warn a state agency about the subject of our "To Catch a Contractor" series, which detailed a trail of destruction across Massachusetts.
However, because of a loophole in the state law, those complaints were rejected because of where the property owners live.
'I was beyond frustrated -- it doesn’t make any sense'
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Beth Ferraro walked around the backyard of her Orleans home and recalled what transpired after she hired Steve Docchio to install a patio and pool in 2019.
"'You’ll be swimming by the 4th of July.' I think that’s the famous line he uses with everybody," Ferraro said.
After the project began, Ferraro said there was pressure to keep the checks coming. When she had already paid Docchio more than $80,000, Ferraro said she wanted to see more progress before handing over more money.
But the Orleans homeowner said Docchio stopped showing up.
"He had a million excuses," Ferraro said.
There was a giant hole and some rebar in the backyard, but still plenty of work to do. With part of the home’s foundation exposed and winter rapidly approaching, Ferraro decided to hire a new company to clean up the mess and start the project from scratch.
"It was such an awful feeling for me to have my kids look at me and say, 'Mom, how could you have been scammed like this?' I didn’t want that to happen to anybody else," Ferraro said.
Ferraro reported the situation to the Orleans Police Department. After Detective Andrew Mclaughlin researched the case, he told us that he believed it was part of a pattern and that Docchio had no intention of ever finishing the project. So he pressed forward with criminal charges against the contractor.
Meantime, Ferraro also assembled a thick stack of documents and submitted a complaint against Docchio’s Home Improvement Contractor registration.
Weeks later, Ferraro received a rejection letter in the mail from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR), which stated her complaint would not be investigated.
The reason? Homeowners can only file HIC complaints against contractors if the work took place at their primary residences.
Ferraro, a Massachusetts native who now owns a home in New York, doesn’t live at the Orleans property year-round.
"I was beyond frustrated," she told us. "It just doesn’t make sense. Why are you allowed to be scammed and ripped off because it’s your second home?"
To Catch a Contractor Series
Sandwich Homeowner’s Complaint Dismissed
A homeowner in Sandwich knows the feeling.
Anatoli, who asked not to include his last name in our report, hired Docchio to lay some pavers and install an automatic pool cover.
According to the $45,000 contract, Anatoli told us the work was supposed to commence in October and be finished by November 1.
But then there were delays. Nothing had happened with the project when Anatoli saw our investigative series about people left with giant holes in their yards and broken promises.
"Your story was basically identical to our experience," Anatoli said.
Anatoli, who lives in Newton with his family, figured he would never see the pool cover he’d paid $15,000 for so it could be ordered. He reported the situation to the Sandwich police and then received a refund from Docchio.
However, his complaint to OCABR also went nowhere because the Sandwich property is not his primary residence.
"It sends a message to consumers that they don’t care about people with a second home and that contractors can do whatever they want," Anatoli said.
Contractor Responds to Growing List of Complaints
When we caught up to Docchio outside a Rhode Island courthouse, he denied wrongdoing when we asked about his history of consumer complaints and civil judgments.
As we continued to hear from more angry customers after publishing our investigation, we reached out to Docchio again to see if he wanted to respond.
The contractor agreed to meet with us and sit down for an interview.
"I’m here for the fight," Docchio said. "I’m not going anywhere, so I’m going to fight every allegation right to the end."
During our exchange, Docchio remained defiant and said customers shared the blame for projects gone wrong.
We noted that disputes between contractors and homeowners are not uncommon, but asked how Docchio can explain the extensive list of complaints.
"I explain it because nobody’s honest," Docchio responded. "All their storytelling is beyond the truth. Don’t get me wrong, there might be a couple of things they said that are truthful. But this ain’t a pattern. A pattern is when you do it all the time. I never did anything intentionally to harm anybody."
Docchio brought a printed stack of papers in a manila envelope that he wanted us to review. He left without showing them to us. The contractor said he would send an email attachment with the info by Tuesday, but has yet to share those with NBC10.
Docchio also said we only focused on customers with complaints. We offered to have him put us in touch with a homeowner who has a finished project and is happy with the job he did.
‘That’s a clear example the system is broken’
As we previously reported, Docchio has a criminal record dating back to the mid-90s, a long list of civil lawsuits, and he’s banned from working as a contractor in neighboring states Connecticut and Rhode Island.
But despite that track record, Docchio still has an active Home Improvement Contractor registration in Massachusetts.
"That’s a clear example the system is broken," said Deirdre Cummings with the consumer protection organization MASSPIRG.
Cummings said our "To Catch a Contractor" series has raised a number of state oversight issues that need to be fixed.
"Your story has uncovered that the statutory language they’re operating under is inadequate," Cummings said. "Whether it’s their primary home or secondary residence, no one deserves to be ripped off by a shoddy contractor."
The issue is on the radar of state lawmakers who chair the legislature’s consumer protection committee. We’ve learned they are slated to meet with OCABR officials to see what changes can be made to better protect consumers.
In Orleans, Ferraro received a partial refund from Docchio in exchange for having the criminal charges dismissed.
Even though a state agency did not take action from her complaint, she is relieved so many people have shared their horror stories publicly.
"I’m forever grateful because he needed to be exposed and he needs to not be able to do it to anybody else," Ferraro said.
Ryan Kath can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.