I-Team: Seller deceives buyer for home sale

The house on Paige Drive in Coventry seemed perfect for first-time home buyer Michelle Thomson and her fianc, Mike Formiglio.

"We were excited, we were really excited. I've looked at many houses. I was gun shy. I was willing to wait and this one looked like it was going to be a really good fit," Thomson said.

They made an offer. It was accepted. And then the all-important home inspection.

The inspector said the roof needed repairs, noting the ridge vent was not properly installed.

"A seller is required to disclose in writing any known problems or known defects about the property," said Monica Staaf, legal counsel for the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.

There was no mention of any roofing problems on the disclosure forms. The sellers said the roof was two years old when the home inspector noticed a stain on the ceiling.

"We asked about that and they said it rained the week they were changing the roof and that's why there was water there. It doesn't have anything to do with a leak," Thomson said.

Both the seller and Thomson agreed to have the problems fixed.

A signed agreement said a licensed and insured contractor would do the work. Invoices from those contractors showed everything was corrected. Thomson closed in July and began moving in.

"It smells funny. I said, 'Mike do you remember if they smoked? What is this smell in this closet?" Thomson said.

It was mold, pervasive throughout the house. Heavy rains came in next.

"There was water pouring in, pooling on the floor, dripping down the walls" Thomson said.

Formiglio called the contractor who had done the roof work.

"I gave him the address and he began to tell me that he never done any work at the address that I've given him," he said.

Contrary to what the contractor said, the invoice for the repairs had his company's letterhead, registration number and the signature of owner, Manuel Vital, of Vital Home Improvement.

"He said, 'I do remember that now. My next door neighbor is a friend of mine and his parents were in a jam and needed me to sign off on a roof construction and I did that for them, but I didn't do any of the work,'" Formiglio said.

Vital admitted to the NBC 10 I-Team that the seller's son was the one who got up on the roof.

And the I-Team learned that he's an auto glass technician and part-time tattoo artist.

"I called the seller and said, 'What's the deal here?' I literally asked her, 'What else did you lie to me about? What else?' And she said that's the only thing," Thomson said.

The sellers were Vincent and Nancy DeSanto.

The I-Team called the sellers and knocked on the door to their new house.{} We called again and stopped by for a second time. A young woman who answered the door said the couple was sleeping. It was 5:30 p.m.

NBC 10 asked the Rhode Island Association of Realtors to find out how a buyer can protect themselves from a seller lying on disclosure forms.

"Sometimes the difficulty is figuring out, did a seller just not know or did the seller actually cover something up intentionally or purposely not disclose something," Staaf said.

Thomson was at a loss. She called attorneys, who wanted excessive retainer fees. The state Department of Business Regulation also turned her away.

Thomson hit roadblock after roadblock until finally being referred to the Rhode Island Contractors Registration and Licensing Board. She filed a complaint against Vital Home Improvement for the phony invoice, but it was dismissed.

"Unless a homeowner has a direct contractual relationship with the contractor, we are not able to hear their case," said George Whalen, the agency's executive director.

Thomson did not have a relationship with the contractor, the previous owners did, or falsified it on their paperwork.

But Whalen said the contractor could still be on the hook for the fraud, face fines up to $5,000 and potentially have action taken against his registration if Thomson is willing to go forward and testify at a hearing.

"Anytime anyone puts a name on something that's not true, it is fraud and absolutely it is wrong," Whalen said.

Thomson's bills have piled up, having paid more than $10,000 in repairs so far and leaving her with virtually no money for an attorney.

A tough lesson that if a seller lies to a buyer, even on those disclosure statements, they'll get away with it unless that buyer has deep pockets to fight back through litigation.

"You can't be too careful and don't trust people," Thomson said.

Realtors have a code of ethics and can be sanctioned if fraud is proven. Both Thomson's real estate agent and the DeSanto's real estate agent were contacted for this story and both denied any knowledge of fraud prior to closing.