I-Team: Taxpayers question actions of Freetown official
He stands over the glass counter at his shop, Smith and Wesson in hand.
Roger Choquette knows a thing or two about defending himself, but the owner of Flint Armament didn't expect he'd have a fight on his hands like the one he had trying to open a new business in Freetown.
"There would be no gun shop in his town. He would not allow it," said Choquette.
"He" is building inspector Paul Bourgeois. He's been on the job nearly 20 years.
"The building department is here to make sure we do the right things, not to hinder our business, not to hinder us from being able to open," Choquette said.
Choquette said the building official did just that, telling him he didn't need a permit for some remodeling, only to come back later and say he did. The shop couldn't open. Hunting season was missed -- Black Friday and Christmas, too -- along with a lot of money.
"Nothing less than $300,000 in direct revenue," said the gun shop owner. "We've had so many people come forward, sharing their stories and it's amazing what this individual has gotten away with. He's a bully is what he truly is."
Richard Padelford owns one of the largest shopping plazas in town.
"We feel we're always at the point of retribution if you do something to wrong him in any way. It's gone on for years and years," said Padelford.
The I-Team dug further after taxpayers questioned why a $75,000-a-year building inspector/health agent would be so busy buying and selling real estate himself, in Freetown and in other communities.
The I-Team searched town records and real estate deals recorded at the Plymouth County and Fall River registries of deeds. Seventy-five transactions span page to page, including more than two dozen properties and at least eight real estate trusts.
All of them are connected to Freetown building inspector Paul Bourgeois. And one deal in particular raised even more questions.
Records show on May 17, 2001, the building inspector and his partner bought a piece of land in neighboring Lakeville on Lakeside Avenue for $140,000, purchased from the wife of Freetown builder, Robert Viana, of Viana Homes Inc.
On that same day, Plymouth County records show Bourgeois and his partner flipped the land to another builder, Debbie Blais, for $300,000 -- well over the assessed value -- pocketing $160,000.
"I think that speaks for itself," Padelford said.
Also in the Freetown building records, the I-Team found the building inspector signing off on permits for that Freetown builder after the land flip. Documents show Bourgeois's signature on official town permits on the dates of July 20, 2001; Feb. 20, 2002; and Feb. 27, 2002. The permits were for Viana Homes Construction Inc. The deal with Viana's wife occurred in May 2001.
"I don't think it could be more unethical," said Padelford.
The NBC 10 I-Team approached the building inspector in Town Hall last week.
Bourgeois said his real estate deals are a matter of public record and declined an offer to talk on camera. The next day, he was on a plane headed for a Florida vacation.
"The department has become dysfunctional. It's run for the enrichment of a few, and the town residents and town taxpayers are no longer the function of that department. It's just a totally out of control dysfunctional department," Padelford said.
Since Bourgeois has been on vacation, the I-Team also tried unsuccessfully to reach him through the town manager and Board of Selectmen.