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Deadbeat contractor leaves Coventry couple in limbo

A Coventry couple who put down a $21,000 deposit for an addition to their house — only to have the contractor take the money and not begin the job — say they are caught in a bureaucratic maze trying to get their money back and have the contractor punished.

Linda and Bob Walton needed a first-floor addition to their colonial off Read Schoolhouse Road because Bob has inoperable lung cancer and finds it increasingly difficult to climb the stairs. Last spring they hired Raymond Oliver, who owns T & R Construction, after the contractor they had lined up died unexpectedly.


The couple signed a contract on April 10 for the $63,000 addition, writing a check for a third of the total. Oliver told them he could begin in May. When he still hadn’t shown up in June — after multiple phone calls — they turned to the state and the police.

This week, The Department of Business Regulation, which oversees the Rhode Island Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board, issued an emergency order suspending Oliver’s registration. It comes nearly five months after the Waltons filed a complaint and several weeks after the Hummel Report began to make inquiries about Oliver with the state.

The order charges Oliver with scamming two other homeowners, one as recently as mid-September. The Rhode Island attorney general’s office will say only that it is still deciding whether to prosecute Oliver, 47, of Foster, on a felony criminal count of obtaining money under false pretenses that Coventry police charged him with in July, based on the Waltons’ complaint. A spokeswoman would not say how long that review will take.

“Look, I really don’t care whose job it is, but somebody’s got to get this guy before he screws another older couple,” said Linda Walton, noting that her husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer a year ago and lung cancer earlier this year. The treatments have left him weak, and he often has to sleep on the first floor.


Her words were prophetic, as the emergency order says that Oliver took money — but failed to deliver — on a total of three jobs, one as recently as late August. 

“There’s a lot going on in the background that unfortunately we can’t call up the homeowner and let them know what’s going on,” said Julietta Georgakis, deputy director of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, in an interview with The Hummel Report before the department issued its emergency order.

“We sympathize with what they’re going through," she said. "We do whatever we can, bound by [the law], to get these unprofessional contractors off the street.”

Over the past month the board’s website has listed Oliver’s registration as invalid, then valid, and now invalid again this week, for anyone wanting to check to see his status with the state. The website also says Oliver has three complaints and one violation, but no details are available. When the Hummel Report contacted Oliver, he referred all questions to his attorney, Albert E. Medici Jr.

“This could take years. We tried to resolve this up front,” Medici said. “[The Waltons] wanted every pound of flesh they could get. Now they’re going to the [media] and trying to embarrass my client.” 

Contractor database provides oversight and a resource for homeowners


The General Assembly created the Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board in 1989 to give the state a central database and oversight of contractors working in Rhode Island. It also gives anyone seeking to hire one of Rhode Island’s now-10,500 contractors the assurance that the person has liability insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance if the company has employees, and a record of any complaints or violations.

Failure to register carries a $1,000 fine. “Our intent is to get as many people working in the contracting industry registered,” Georgakis said.

The pandemic put a strain on the building industry, with contractors hard to find. And it has resulted in a significant increase in the number of complaints. Georgakis said that over the last decade the contractors’ board handled an average of 282 complaints a year. So far this year, it has received 410 complaints.

Georgakis encourages homeowners to do their homework before hiring someone.

“A better informed public is where you nip the whole problem in the industry in the bud,” she said. “You have a lot of homeowners, unfortunately, who are hiring unregistered people, who are not legally contractors, not legally allowed to work in the state of Rhode Island. They don’t sign contracts, they pay them in cash and then they come to us and say, ‘Help me out.’

“Contractors are tough to get, so people are willing to go with the guy who is cheapest, pay him in cash — he’s not registered, he’s not insured, and that creates problems.”

Georgakis said that more than 60% of complaints are settled by one of the board’s investigators. The rest go to a settlement conference, with a trained hearing officer. The majority of those result in a settlement. The board tracks the order and makes sure a contractor returns money or performs additional work, as ordered.

The state also metes out progressive discipline. The first set of violations are aimed at deterring future bad behavior. The ultimate punishment is pulling the registration and referring the case to the attorney general’s office if corrective work or reimbursement is not carried out.

She added that the board works closely with the attorney general and the Department of Revenue to try to make complainants whole.

“Suspending or revoking a registration is not something we do lightly,” Georgakis said. “We think twice about it, because you’re taking the livelihood from someone. You’re closing down a business.”

Georgakis said that over the last two years the board has suspended the registrations of 250 contractors. She added: “It behooves the consumer to give us a call and say ‘What’s going on with this person?’”

'He says just what you want to hear'


After the contractor the Waltons had originally lined up died in a fire, they decided it might be better to move to a one-story house. They looked at a development being built in another part of town, ultimately deciding that it wasn’t a good fit. But they ran into Oliver, who was working for the developer. It seemed that he might be the solution to the Waltons’ problems.

Oliver told them he owned a furniture store at the Centre of New England in West Greenwich, but he had a construction business as well.

“He said this was on the side for him, and he really likes to help people out,” Linda Walton recalled.

And the couple did what Georgakis had suggested: they signed a contract and paid him with a check. At the time, Oliver’s registration with the state was valid.

“We were kind of desperate at that point, because I was getting worse and worse,” Bob Walton said. “And I knew it was not going to be long before I couldn’t go upstairs.”

According to the contract, the 25-foot-by-25-foot addition would include a master bedroom and bathroom with a 10-foot-by-10-foot tile shower, a closet and hardwood floors with a connection to the heating and air conditioning in the main house. The exterior would have matching vinyl siding and brick. The original estimate by the first contractor was $80,000, so $63,000 didn’t seem that far off to the Waltons.


Oliver also said he could install a fence around their property that the couple needed for their dogs, for an additional $8,000. Linda wrote him a $2,500 down payment check for that work.

“He said he would also cut the price for us on furniture,” Bob said. “He’s got that con attitude. He says just what you want to hear.”

In retrospect, Bob said he should have seen through Oliver, but was weakened and preoccupied with cancer treatments.

When Oliver didn’t show up, Bob called him. “When are you going to start? Why aren’t you starting?” he recalled asking him.


“Oh, my wife and me are having a little bit of problems, but I’ll get it squared away. I’ll be fast, you watch,” he said Oliver told him.

Linda checked with Town Hall and found that Oliver had not pulled any permits or delivered any materials to their home. Finally, he brought some posts for the fence and dug three post holes. Then he disappeared again.

Several more weeks passed before the Waltons decided to pull the plug on the deal. “Your word’s no good. I want my money back,” Bob told him. “He said, ‘Can I give you $7,000? And I’ll pay the rest off later,’” Walton recalled Oliver telling him. “I said: ‘Ray, where’s the money?’ He said he spent it.”

He wouldn’t answer when the Waltons asked what he did with the money. “He had a brand new GMC truck, so I said, give it to me as collateral,” Bob said. “He said he didn’t own the truck.”

They wound up hiring someone else to finish the fence, which cordons off the backyard, allowing their dogs to play outside.

More complaints and criminal charges 


The Waltons were furious. At the suggestion of John Assalone, a longtime developer and former state representative, they filed a complaint with the contractors’ board, demanding they receive their full deposit back. They also sought criminal charges and to have Oliver's registration suspended.

Assalone had had his own trouble with Oliver. He'd hired him as a subcontractor on a condominium project, but said Oliver wasn’t paying his employees, so Assalone was slapped with a lien on his property.

“He’s a good talker,” Assalone said. “He’s got a nice smile. He’ll come around with his wife and kids.  Always wants to do things over his head. He just takes the money, doesn’t do the job.”

The Waltons told state officials if they didn’t act quickly, he might do the same thing to another customer.

Their concerns came true two months later. Coventry police arrested Oliver on Aug. 24, charging him again with obtaining money under false pretenses after a Coventry woman said that her husband wrote Oliver an $8,000 check on April 29 to repair a shed. He cashed it the same day.

The husband died in early July, with no work done on the shed.

Oliver and his lawyer promised to repay the money. In return, the widow withdrew her complaint with the police.

But that wasn’t all. The emergency order suspending his license lists a third complaint. The homeowner told a contractors’ board investigator that he'd hired Oliver for a home renovation. However, there was no contract, and he paid Oliver a total of $55,000 in cash and check as partial payment for the work.

According to the order, the homeowner stated: “[Oliver] probably hasn't actually done any work on my house since last June and I took over as ‘general contractor’ since early July. … I assumed the role of finding construction help, roofers, gutters, etc ... as well as the purchase of all materials needed for each step of the job.”

The homeowner eventually reached an agreement with Oliver and withdrew his efforts to have the board mediate a monetary settlement. But even that was problematic. Oliver agreed to repay the $50,000 in monthly installments of at least $2,000, but missed his first payment, due Oct. 15.

Meanwhile, the Waltons and Oliver’s lawyer, Medici, met via Zoom with a mediator from the contractors’ board in July to try to reach a settlement. The couple said the first offer was $10,000 up front, with $500 a month until the balance was paid off.

Bob said he took off his ball cap to show the effects chemotherapy had had on his head and replied: “Do you think I have that kind of time? And I’m not a bank.”

A subsequent mediation resulted in an offer of $15,000 with installments over the next six months to pay them back in full. By then, Oliver had been charged criminally, which his lawyer said complicated the case.

“Our position — as it always is — if there’s a criminal charge pending, the client can’t say anything or pay restitution back, because I can’t have anything that could be construed as an admission in a criminal case pending,” Medici said.

“In my experience, given the circumstances, it was a reasonable resolution, but the position of the Waltons, they wanted everything: all the money, suspension of license and criminal charges,” he added.

Why did it take five months for contractor's registration to be suspended?


Asked why Oliver couldn’t pay back the $23,500 down payment for the addition and fence all at once, he responded: “It’s not that simple,” but would not elaborate.

“If these people are in place to protect the consumers, why are they still giving this moron a [registration],” Linda Walton said before the emergency order was issued — five months after their complaint. “If he has a perpetual history of screwing people, why do you keep reinstating him?”

So why has it taken five months since the Waltons' complaint to suspend Oliver's registration?

Brian Hodge, a spokesman for the Department of Business Regulation, said in an email on Tuesday: "Although the DBR cannot comment on matters still pending, carefully reading the Emergency Order will give a better understanding of the timeline of events. The Order was issued in a timely manner considering that it was not the outcome of just one complaint filed against the contractor but rather several, over a period of months, which upon investigation, revealed a pattern of behavior detrimental to the health, welfare, and safety of the general public."

Meanwhile, the state has ordered Oliver to appear at a Zoom hearing on Nov. 18 to explain why his registration should not be revoked or why the state shouldn’t fine him.

With no resolution in sight, the Waltons have been trying to sell their two-story home and buy a ranch. But the couple said with Oliver holding more than $20,000 of their money, they can’t make it work financially.

The Hummel Report is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to Reach Jim at

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