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Complaints mount against developer Sathuan Sa. Why East Greenwich halted work on new condos

An embattled Rhode Island developer, who has been sanctioned multiple times by the Rhode Island contractors’ registration board, had construction of his 38-unit condominium development in East Greenwich halted after the town’s building official said he had “grave concerns” about the work being done there.

As a result, at least one prospective buyer has pulled out of their purchase at The Imperial on Greenwich, after reading details of the travails of Sathuan Sa in a Hummel Report investigation published in the March 24 Providence Sunday Journal. Sa also owes the state $283,000 in back taxes but continues to operate in

Rhode Island.

Brad R. Ward, who became the full-time East Greenwich building official last fall, said he first visited Sa’s project on Greenwich Boulevard just south of downtown in early February. Ward was under the impression that Sa had engaged authorized third-party inspectors, so no one from the town had been onsite.

Construction was halted at The Imperial at Greenwich, a 38-unit condominium development in East Greenwich, because of "grave concerns" about the project by the town's building official.


“When I walked through, I saw a lot of issues I thought were very concerning,” Ward said in an interview this week. “I went back and looked at the plan(s) and it verified my concerns.”

Among them: Workers were making changes to the original design without approval or inspection.


Ward issued a stop-work order for the entire project, dated Feb. 29, that remains in effect today. In his letter, Ward told Sa that his inspection “revealed there are numerous deviations from the approved plans.”

Buyers back out of purchase after learning of Sa's history


Lauren Sharpe and her husband, who have a young son and wanted to get into the East Greenwich school district, had put down a $25,000 deposit for a two-bedroom unit at the Imperial. Sharpe said the completion date kept getting pushed back, a common theme with Sa’s projects.

At the same time, Sharpe’s husband was periodically searching online to learn more about Sa’s track record. He didn’t see much, until a Google search brought up last month’s Hummel Report investigation outlining substandard work at two of Sa’s condominium projects in Providence that left owners on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars of remedial work.

“I remember asking the realtor what else [Sa] had done, and she said [a project in] Boston, but didn’t mention any of the work he’d done in Rhode Island,” Sharpe said. “We’re just really grateful that you came out with that article and the work you’re doing on this.”

Construction equipment sits idle at the site of the Imperial on Greenwich condominiums in East Greenwich, which is under a stop-work order by the town.


The real estate agent for the project sent Sharpe and other buyers an email last week that said, in part: ”We have run into recent delays with the town relative to the current inspections. As a result of the inability to coordinate some of these inspections with the town we are looking at mid-June as a more realistic timeline for obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy. We realize this may negatively [affect] your plans, if you need to back out due to timing please let us know within 10 days.”


There was no mention that the town had issued a stop-work order that is still in effect. Sharpe and her husband jumped at the opportunity to get their money back and have found another condominium in East Greenwich.

“My husband and I have been talking about it, and he said, ‘Do you really want to be in an elevator installed by [Sa]?’”


Multiple problems at two Providence condo developments


Last month’s Hummel Report investigation focused on two troubled projects Sa developed in Providence five years apart: the 23-unit Chapel Hill East Condominiums on the East Side, which Sa converted from a former parochial school in 2019; and, more recently, a 23-unit conversion of the former National Casket Company into condominiums at 50 Ashburton on the city’s north side.

Residents moved into 50 Ashburton on a temporary certificate of occupancy last fall after being assured their units would be ready last spring/early summer. They later found that the full certificate of occupancy was not issued until January, long after the temporary certificate had expired, and that Sa did work without permits after the CO was issued.

The City of Providence is investigating that, as well as repeated flooding that has happened on the first floor. The first flood, in January, left several inches of water on the ground floor, and a subsequent geyser erupted out of a pipe in the floor on the evening of Saturday, March 23, forcing residents to call the Providence Fire Department. They have incurred more than $12,000 in cleanup costs, and one resident has been displaced from her unit while flood damage is remediated. They say Sa blames the city.

The bathroom of a ground-floor unit at 50 Ashburton St. shows solid waste that backed up from the shower drain and toilet during the March 23 rainstorm. The City of Providence is investigating repeated flooding at the condo complex.


At Chapel Hill East, residents were able to obtain an arbitration award of more than $800,000 for the defective work and expense, but Sa is appealing it in Superior Court.

Should tax delinquency be among reasons to suspend a contractor's registration?


Many owners we spoke with wanted to know how Sa – who is well-known in city and town halls across the state, and at the Rhode Island Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board – can still be working, especially when he is 30th on the Division of Taxation’s top 100 tax delinquent list, at $283,000.

The contractors’ board has a list of 19 reasons, spelled out in state law, that would allow it to suspend someone’s registration, but back taxes are not one of them.

Hummel Report:Providence condo owners say developer's shoddy work cost them thousands. They want answers.

The Hummel Report asked House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi if that law needs to be amended. His spokesman responded: “Speaker Shekarchi said if the Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board would like to propose adding chronic tax delinquency to the list of reasons in state law allowing it to suspend a registration, he would be open to having such legislation be introduced and considered.”

So we asked The Department of Business Regulation, which oversees the contractors’ board, about Shekarchi’s comments. Matt Touchette, a DBR spokesman, wrote in an email: “DBR, alongside our partner agencies and policymakers in the General Assembly, remains willing to consider and discuss a range of policy responses to this complicated case – including improvements to requirements related to tax standing and real estate disclosures.”

Complaints filed against real estate agent who markets Sa's properties


The owners at Chapel Hill East and 50 Ashburton also took issue with the real estate agent marketing their units, Debbie Gold of Coldwell Banker. Several have filed written complaints with the Department of Business Regulation, which licenses real estate agents in Rhode Island.

Judith Glynn sued Gold and Sa because delays in closing on her unit in 2019 cost her more than $60,000 in capital gains taxes. Glynn said she is also Sending a letter to the head of Coldwell Banker in New England outlining her dealings with Gold.

Judith Glynn is suing developer Sathuan Sa and Debbie Gold, the Coldwell Banker agent who marketed her unit at Chapel Hill East, because of delays in closing that cost her $60,000 in capital gains taxes.
Gold, who has marketed Sa’s properties for 15 years, said she did not know about complaints about his shoddy work, suspensions of his contractor’s license, or tax delinquency. “I’m not aware of those things. It’s not my business,” she said in an interview.

Glynn says she has emails that say otherwise.

Touchette said once DBR receives a written complaint about a real estate agent, if it believes that the person has violated the law or regulations, the department “may pursue enforcement action including license discipline and/or administrative fines.”


It posts details of the actions it has taken against agents.

East Providence homeowner asks state: 'Why aren't you shutting him down?'


Debbie DeCarlo, of Riverside, contacted The Hummel Report after our investigation ran last month, saying she bought a single-family home Sa had renovated in 2018. He had not hooked up the gas when she moved in and had installed French doors that blew wide open in gusty wind.

“I had water pouring through my electrical fixtures, and I had a roof that was leaking, even though it was brand new,” DeCarlo said. “He never sealed or insulated the crawlspace where he placed a bathroom above it, so my pipes froze the first time of cold weather.”

DeCarlo said Sa initially came back and made an attempt to repair some of the things that were not done correctly, but then he disappeared. DeCarlo spent nearly $30,000 on remedial work but was awarded only $7,500 when she complained to the state contractors’ board.


Housing:RI sued a landlord over unsafe housing. Months later, the problems haven't been fixed.

“There are all sorts of people who have been hoodwinked by him,” DeCarlo said. “When I went into [East Providence] City Hall, everybody knew his name. I walked into the Department of Administration, and they said they’d received a lot of complaints about him.”

She said her biggest frustration was with the government agencies charged with overseeing and regulating his work. DeCarlo said a senior state building code official came to her house in an effort to mediate. “You better take something, because you could get nothing out of this,’” she recalled him saying. DeCarlo said she responded: “With all these claims, why aren’t you shutting him down?’”

DeCarlo said she was not surprised reading our story.

“I hope he’s held accountable for the work he’s doing and that the state would step in and review his [registration]. I wanted to see it pulled. If you don’t have a [registration], you can’t get a permit, and if you can’t get a permit, you can’t build. We can go backward, or forward – they control this.” 


In East Greenwich, Ward said he is still waiting for corrections to the architectural plans at The Imperial. He has allowed a limited amount of work to go forward under strict supervision, including installation of sprinklers and plumbing in the basement.

“I don’t want to shut down any contractor, but I do want to make sure that everything is done in East Greenwich correctly, properly and according to plan, according to code. I had grave concerns on this project.”

Lauren Sharpe said she was relieved to be moving on from The Imperial. “I think we got lucky with the timing of all this.”

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

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