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Steamrolled: Customers Say Paver Took Money, Disappeared

As part of our ongoing “To Catch a Contractor” series, homeowners contacted the NBC10 Boston Investigators and asked us to put a spotlight on the owner of a local paving business. We found people all over the Boston area who claimed the paver took thousands of dollars in deposits and never returned to do the job. We also discovered he already served prison time for the same scheme

Homeowners say the owner of a local paving business took thousands of dollars in deposits, then disappeared without doing the job.

After saving money for years, Maria Riefstahl decided she was ready to move forward with a project to pave her driveway in Watertown.

Riefstahl got several quotes and decided to hire William Pusateri of Priority 1 Paving.

After handing over the $2,000 deposit, the single mother said she never saw her money or the paver again.

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Maria Riefstahl hired William Pusateri of Priority 1 Paving to hire her Watertown driveway, but she says she never saw him after handing over the deposit.

"He vanished," Riefstahl recalled. "My next thought was, ‘That’s it. I’m screwed. I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I don’t want other people ripped off like that."

Lesley Hatch knows the feeling.

Lesley Hatch says her mother wrote a wrote a ,900 check to William Pusateri of Priority 1 Paving for work that was never completed.

She also hired Pusateri to replace the driveway at the Roslindale home she shared with her elderly mother, Betty.

The first part of the project to remove a section of the old driveway went as planned.

But after Betty wrote a $4,900 check for the second phase of the work, the paver never returned.

"You’re taking money from an elder," Lesley said. "This is money she saved her whole life and she needs a driveway. Now, we can’t remotely afford it."

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Lesley Hatch says her Roslindale driveway was left in this unfinished condition.

Lesley said the condition of the ripped-up driveway leaves a muddy mess in the winter and is something she has to mow and weed-whack during the summer months.

"It doesn’t feel good,” Betty said. "You feel resentful and wonder if you’re really stupid. And then you feel angry at the so-and-so who took advantage of you."

You feel resentful and wonder if you’re really stupid. And then you feel angry at the so-and-so who took advantage of you.

Kevin Tavares had just bought his first house in Dedham. Because of a water drainage issue causing flooding in the basement, fixing the driveway was at the top of his list.

Tavares also hired Pusateri and described the business owner as a very smooth talker.

"You know, he could talk his way probably out of anything and talk his way right out of taking your money, too," Tavares said.

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Kevin Tavares says he ran into trouble with Pusateri during a project at his Dedham home.

After handing over a $1,500 deposit, Tavares said there were a series of delays and excuses. He eventually asked for a refund, but has been unsuccessful.

The experience added stress for the frontline healthcare worker amid a pandemic.

"It was a lot, especially being a new homeowner," Tavares said. "It took me a while to save that money and working extra shifts at the hospital."

There are many other customers we spoke with who accuse Pusateri of accepting deposits and taking off with the money. People reached out to us after seeing our “To Catch a Contractor” series about a pool contractor who left a path of destruction across New England.

Court records, consumer complaints, and online reviews show a pattern of alleged theft all over the Boston area, including communities like Medford, Somerville, Canton, Quincy and Braintree.

In Dedham alone, five different customers told us they’re out a combined $15,000. 

With an $800 deposit gone, Brian Bergeron told us he feels like one of the lucky ones.  The firefighter and married father of two kids also eventually had to hire another company to pave his Dedham driveway after giving up hope that Pusateri would ever return.

"He says he’s a paver, but his real job is stealing money from people," Bergeron said.

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Brian Bergeron said he's out 0 after trying to hire Pusateri for a job.

The Massachusetts Attorney Generals’ Office said it has received 16 consumer complaints since the beginning of 2021.

Customers reported a theme of getting long, difficult-to-decipher text messages filled with excuses from Pusateri before eventually being blocked from communication.

When Konstantin Amitan constructed his Newton home, he couldn’t get a certificate of occupancy from the city until his sidewalk was repaved. Amitan joked that he spent longer dealing with Pusateri and the sidewalk project than he did with other contractors while rebuilding the entire home.

"If we printed out all of his text messages of excuses, it’s about 36 pages," Amitan said. "It was a disaster."

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Konstantin Amitan said he has pages of texts filled with excuses from Pusateri.

The paver had a crew tear out the old sidewalk, but no one ever returned to finish the job. Amitan roped off the area with yellow caution tape to prevent someone from tripping and injuring themselves.

Even though he already paid Pusateri $3,500, he had to hire another company just so his family could finally move in.

"He’s still on the street collecting money from people like me," Amitan said.

If it all sounds familiar to people in Worcester, there’s a reason: roughly a decade ago, Pusateri was convicted of stealing from more than a dozen customers. He served three years in prison for the thefts and was ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.

A large chunk of that restitution went to Andrew Minasian, who’d hired Pusateri as a salesman for his paving business and he started stealing from customers.

When we contacted Minasian, we asked what words come to mind when he heard the name William Pusateri.

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Andrew Minasian received restitution after a criminal case against Pusateri in Worcester.

"Thievery, dishonesty… nothing nice," Minasian replied. "I lost everything because of him."

Minasian told us he made good on all the jobs gone bad, completing projects out of his own pocket. He said the business did not survive the hit to its finances and reputation.

"He said, 'I’m going to ruin you.' And he did," Minasian said. "They’ve got to stop him. I’m disgusted he’s out doing this again."

During our research, we even found a slew of larceny cases dating back to 2004 at the Worcester Superior Courthouse. Those convictions earned him more than two years behind bars.

So what did the paver have to say about all this?

Online reviews suggest Pusateri was doing the projects and getting positive feedback for several years after opening Priority 1 Paving. But over the past year, the company received one-star ratings from a growing list of angry customers.

Some consumers told us Pusateri previously did work on their homes, showed up unsolicited over the past winter, took money for new projects, and never returned.

Kate Merritt-O’Toole hired Pusateri last fall to repave her Framingham driveway, which is littered with cracks and holes, long in need of repair. She paid a $2,000 deposit.

"He was supposed to start the job in two weeks," Merritt-O’Toole said. "And then there were excuses after excuses after excuses."

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Kate Merritt-O’Toole also said she got excuse after excuse when she tried to have Pusateri complete a job.

Merritt-O’Toole eventually received her deposit back months later—the only customer we’ve spoken to who is not still chasing their money.

She believes it is only because she was a relentless "squeaky wheel" who pursued every option available: a small claims case, a consumer demand letter, a negative Yelp review, a Better Business Bureau complaint, and even a call to the Framingham mayor to generate police interest in her case.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," Merritt-O’Toole said. "It eats at your soul because you think you’ve made a bad decision, but you’ve been taken by a crook."

We tried to find Pusateri last month in Framingham District Court for a case that involved driving without a license and having an unregistered, uninsured vehicle—the reason we spotted his company dump truck sitting in a Southborough tow lot.

Pusateri did not show up in court and the judge issued a warrant.

We never saw the paver at the Framingham apartment complex listed on recent court documents. And when we reached him on the apartment intercom system, he told us to speak with his attorney.

The attorney he gave us never responded to us, either.

We’ll keep looking for opportunities to question Pusateri about the allegations of theft.

Several larceny cases have started popping up in district courts with arraignment dates on the horizon.

Police documents we obtained indicate coinciding investigations by the Middlesex District Attorney and Norfolk District Attorney, with plans to present the evidence to a grand jury for indictments.

Meantime, customers hope that sharing their stories will prevent someone else from being financially steamrolled.

Paving businesses do not have to register with the state as home improvement contractors. This means that consumers can’t access a state fund meant to help them recoup up to $10,000 if they get ripped off.

“I want everyone to know his name,” Riefstahl, the Watertown homeowner, told us. “He should be done. He should not be in this business.”

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@nbcuni.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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