I-Team: RI developer sues Freetown official
Woodland Estates sits on the south west corner of Freetown. It's a subdivision frozen in time. High brush and weeds grow on the edge of the road. There's room for twelve house lots, but only one has been built.
"The vision was really simple: we provide family housing for people, we're not in the business of building mansions and multi-million dollar homes. We provide median income homes for the average family," said Michael Kent, a Rhode Island developer, who bought the land in 2006.
Early on, Kent says, he met resistance from town hall.
"It was as soon as we attempted to deal with Paul Bourgeois, the building official there, it was very clear that he did not want that project, stated he would never give permits for that project," he said.
Earlier this week, the I-Team tried questioning Bourgeois about other taxpayer complaints in town.
"He threatened me over the phone," said 76-year-old Lois Huntress.
"It was the most horrible experience working with someone who was such a bully toward me," said resident and business owner, Rosemarie Walsh.
Bourgeois didn't want to talk to the I-Team when approached on two different occasions.
Public records show Bourgeois has bought and sold real estate, dozens of properties, in town and nearby. In one case, Bourgeois made a $160,000 profit with his partner after flipping a piece of land with a Freetown builder. Records show he continued to issue that builder permits on other projects.
"It is as dirty a town as I've ever seen, politically," Kent said.
Unlike the Freetown builder, Kent said his permits got a different reaction at town hall.
"Bourgeois threw away all the applications. We can prove he threw away the applications. We have numerous people in town that were aware of and will testify to the fact that Bourgeois is not telling the truth," he said.
Kent told the I-Team his own copies were destroyed during the floods of 2010.
He's filed lawsuits against the town, all three were dismissed; two, on what he calls technicalities. But one remains active, on appeal. Kent said Freetown has spent $45,000 of taxpayer money fighting his subdivision that would provide tax revenue to the town.
Kent hired private investigators too, who interviewed up to 30 people in town.
"We got a lot of insight into the favoritism Bourgeois shows. If it's his buddies or if he owns property with them, things get done," Kent said.
Selectman Jean Fox, Chair of the Board, told the I-Team the most recent allegations against Bourgeois, from earlier in the week, will be looked at.
"Again, we take it very seriously. We're not going to sweep it under the rug. I can guarantee it," Fox said.
Kent has a different take.
"Jean Fox is clearly aware of what's going on and sweeping it under the rug," he said.
The I-Team reached Fox for comment by phone. She said she is limited to what she can discuss because of Kent's pending appeal.
"We take these allegations very seriously," Fox said.
She told the I-Team the issue would be addressed during Monday's Selectmen meeting. Meanwhile, Woodland Estates is $1.6 million in the hole.
The weeds continue to grow. Kent wants his day in court.
"It's a nice community. They deserve better than what they have representing them," he said.