It starts with the promise of turning a house into a dream home.
Kim wanted to improve her quiet country house.
Linda and John needed to expand for their growing family.
In each case, the homeowners paid tens of thousands of dollars in advance, and in each case, the dream turned into a nightmare very quickly.
Linda and John Rosano, of Farmington, had a detailed contract and paid $64,000 up front, which was about half the total project cost.
“This is to pre-pay for materials. This is to lock in subcontractors,” Linda said.
When the general contractor’s very first check to a subcontractor to pay for the excavation bounced, Linda called for an explanation.
“He didn't have to say anything. I think, in his mind, he knew the money was always earmarked to go somewhere else,” she said.
Kim Charron, of Brooklyn, Connecticut, wrote a check for about $30,000 to start her project last spring.
“Then, from there, he asked me for more funding … telling me, if I locked in prices for lumber or flooring, then he could guarantee me better prices,” she recalls. “June 27th, I got my first call from a contractor that their check bounced.”
Over the past 18 months, Kim estimates she's paid out nearly $200,000, including double paying some contractors.
What these homeowners have in common: Their general contractor is Dante Boffi and Boffi agreed to meet us at a strip mall in Bloomfield.
Although he refused an on-camera interview, he gave his permission to record the conversation. He said problems started mounting about two years ago when he took a financial hit on an unrelated job.
“There was one job where I was screwed out of $200,000,” he said.
Boffi established his design architecture firm in 2001. In the past few years, he started doing general contracting work as well.
Pantheon Development, LLC, which lists Dante J Boffi as the owner, was licensed for “New Home Construction” from October 2011 through September 2013 until the license lapsed, but Pantheon never held a license for the remodeling and renovation work Boffi has been doing the past few years.
“Admittedly, when I started doing this, I didn't do the research I should have: what licenses covered what insurances, I was green at it,” he said.
We asked him about specifics relating to the three homeowners in our story. He admits the first check on Linda and John's job bounced.
He said Kim's job is slowly moving forward, and he's paying her back.
“I have in dribs and drabs and keep it moving, but at this point, the amount of done out there is very close to matching what she spent,” Boffi said.
The Troubleshooters spoke with six different sub-contractors who worked with Boffi on multiple jobs.
None of them wanted to appear on camera for fear of being pegged as a whistleblower. That said, each one echoed the story of the homeowners: broken promises and mounting debt.
The big question now: where is the money?
Kim said Boffi claimed he couldn't pay his subs and suppliers last June because his father and wife were undergoing major surgeries. Kim believes a photo of his wife and kids at Disney World was taken the very same week.
Additional photos from Boffi’s wife’s Facebook page chronicle the family trip to Disney last year, another one this summer, as well as a spring getaway at a resort in New Hampshire, all paid for by extended family members.
“The vacation we went on last year and the one we went on this year: not one penny came from my family. My family: me, my wife, my kids. We couldn't have gone if it did,” Boffi said.
“Is there some degree of Peter paying Paul? Probably. Is the money being used for completely different purposes for his personal life and maintaining his personal life? Probably,” Linda Rosano said.
Boffi said he's never lied to his customers about his personal issues, but admits that he did use money from one job to pay for others.
“The Peter/Paul situation I was wrapped up in was just a Band-Aid. There was no thought to take the money and run, that was never it,” he said.
The Stamford Police Department opened a larceny investigation last year against Boffi, but detectives told the Troubleshooters the case was suspended a few weeks ago because he's been making restitution to the family that filed the complaint, including paying off a debt using vintage comic books in lieu of cash.
None of the homeowners we interviewed has sued Boffi and only the Rosanos have filed a police report. They said they feel stuck and are still holding out hope that Boffi will finally make things right.
“I'm in a no-win situation. If I tell my story, it helps someone from being in my predicament, but it dries up his funds to finish my home,” Kim Charron said.
“He just keeps you going and all this time stringing you along, thinking that he may do the right thing at some point,” Linda Rosano said.
Boffi said he's out of the general contracting business for good and is committed to paying back what he calls “a handful” of homeowners, including Kim Charron and Linda and John Rosano, who’ve already received more than half of what they paid him.
“I have borrowed from family. I have borrowed from friends and I've worked round the clock at my design work to piece them back,” he said.
The Better Business Bureau says you should be careful to do your homework when hiring a contractor.
Get recent references, get at least two bids for any job, write up a detailed contract, and never pay half the total project cost up front.
The state has several resources available as well. You can do a search on the Secretary of the State's website to learn if a contractor is registered.
On the Consumer Protection website, you can check whether a contractor holds the proper licenses for the work being done.
You can log on to the state's Judicial website to see if there are any lawsuits involving your contractor.