Mon. Sep 27th, 2021

BARRE, Vt. — A Woodstock man has been placed on probation for not finishing a job and taking thousands of dollars from a woman looking to remove lead paint from her building.

Vincent E. Arbuiso, 45, pleaded no contest Wednesday in Washington County criminal court in Barre to a misdemeanor count of home improvement fraud. Arbuiso was given a sentence of 6 months to 2 years, all suspended, and placed on probation for two years. The charge had originally been a felony, but it was amended by the state per the plea agreement.

James Pontbriand, who had been working as a detective with the Barre City police at the time, said in his affidavit a woman called police in June 2020 to report she may have been the victim of home improvement fraud. Pontbriand is now the police chief in Berlin.

He said the woman, Catherine Owen, had reached out to the state attorney general’s office and was told to contact local police. The Times Argus typically does not identify crime victims, but Owen gave the newspaper permission to publish her identity.

He said Owen gave police a written statement about her dealings with Arbuiso, owner of Vermont’s Finest Painters. She told police she had entered into a contract with Arbuiso in 2017 to remove lead paint from one of her properties on Bridgeman Street, according to court records.

Pontbriand said Owen reported she agreed to pay Arbuiso $8,500 for the project and had had given him $4,250 as a deposit. She gave him another $1,500 because he told her some carpentry work needed to be done before he could paint, according to court records.

In May 2018, Owen reported Arbuiso had worked on the home for three days, but he was not following regulations for lead paint removal, such as erecting barriers or notifying other residents in the building about the work, tasks he agreed to complete in the contract. She told police Arbuiso never had the paint tested for lead and he left a pile of debris in the backyard.

Owen told police Arbuiso kept filing extensions with the state Department of Health to remove the lead paint and repeatedly told her bad weather was the reason why he couldn’t complete the job, according to court records. Pontbriand said she told Arbuiso in August 2019 to give her the deposit back so she could pay someone else for the work. Owen told police Arbuiso never returned to the building and eventually stopped responding to her requests for her money back.

As part of his sentence, Arbuiso has been ordered to pay Owen back the $5,750 he owes her.

She said in a Friday interview she has since sold the building with lead paint in a short sale and moved to Texas with her family. She said removing the lead paint had been part of her process to get the building ready for sale.

Owen said she found out about Arbuiso’s plea agreement and his sentence after calling the court Friday morning.

She said she kept detailed notes of conversations and exchanges she had with Arbuiso, which she credits with helping secure the conviction.

“In the end it really helped me out to be able to prove the whole thing happened,” she said.

Owen said she was glad she reached out to law enforcement because she doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to anyone else. She said what Arbuiso was doing was a health issue.

“You’ve got somebody out there telling people who need to have lead paint replaced that he’s going to do it and it doesn’t get done or it’s done in a way that makes it even more dangerous. People need to know,” she said.

She said she found Arbuiso on the state’s list of companies certified to deal with lead paint so she thought she could trust him.

Owen said her advice to others looking for a home improvement contractor is to see what other work that contractor has done before hiring them.

“To not be so trusting, to be cautious and to keep diligent records. Every receipt. Every email. Every text,” she said.

Owen expressed gratitude towards law enforcement, especially Pontbriand, for their work on the case.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com