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State investigators home in on renovator

"Eddie" Donofrio says he is trying to satisfy clients who complained of incomplete and incompetent work.

Published April 18, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Frank Edmund Donofrio, the man homeowners say broke his word about renovating their houses and set them up with high interest loans to pay for the work, is being investigated by the State of Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

In addition, a representative from the state attorney's office recently visited the St. Petersburg housing and community development office to gather material about Donofrio, his work and related companies.

Also, several homeowners have retained a law firm to handle bankruptcies and foreclosures due in part, the firm says, to mortgages either solicited or executed by Donofrio for repair work.

Meanwhile, the man homeowners came to know as Eddie says he is attempting to set things right and is satisfying a court-ordered agreement with an elderly homeowner who sued him. However, he failed to meet the Jan. 15 deadline to complete the work on her home and is pushing up against a newly negotiated date of April 30.

Press secretary Kristen Ploska would give no details about the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's investigation of Donofrio.

Donofrio's case involves more than operating without a license, Ms. Ploska said, adding that the investigation is "linked to other elements that are not public."

Donofrio, 38, who is not a contractor, blames his troubles on the certified general contractor and subcontractors hired by his company.

As is a legal and common practice, he used a contractor's name and license to "qualify" as a builder.

"My family did thousands of jobs in St. Petersburg, and the common denominator is that crew. My family and this company were taken advantage of by subcontractors. It's very bad what happened," Donofrio said in a telephone interview last week.

He says he will make amends to anyone with a legitimate complaint.

But those with complaints say once work crews left their homes, it became impossible to reach Donofrio. They say he would seldom return their calls.

Donofrio operated under at least two companies, Five Star Remodeling Consultants Inc. and Five Star Building Consultants, both based at his home in Park Place Estates, a deed-restricted community in Seminole.

Donofrio says Five Star Remodeling Consultants is no longer in business. It was owned by his parents, Frank Edmund and Rose "Pauline" Donofrio, both of whom died within the past three years. His role, he added, was simply as a sales representative.

In St. Petersburg, Five Star Remodeling Consultants hung colorful fliers on doorknobs telling homeowners their neighborhood had been approved for "Operation Redevelopment," a program that could make them eligible for assistance with remodeling projects. Some who say they were convinced that the offer had come from the city of St. Petersburg add that Donofrio did nothing to dissuade them of the notion.

Donofrio arranged for Viola Bell-Gayton, 46, and her husband Harold, 61, to get a loan to install a new roof and heating and air conditioning system for their Childs Park home. But, she said, the roof leaks.

In Historic Kenwood, Dorothea and Obey Freeman said they paid Donofrio for work that included getting their house rewired. Mrs. Freeman said an elderly electrician simply changed the outlets and installed three fans. Other work around the house, she said, was incomplete or shoddily done.

Late last month both the Gaytons and Freemans received certified letters from Donofrio saying he had hired a Clearwater firm, Homemakers Remodeling and Construction Inc., to correct and complete the work on their homes. It was the second time in a week that Donofrio had written offering to make amends.

Homemakers Remodeling, which is owned by Jeffrey Gaston, is using the same certified general contractor, Belleair Beach resident Frank A. Bailey, who qualified Donofrio's Five Star Remodeling Consultants until September 2002.

Tom de Yampert, manager of the city of St. Petersburg's housing and community development office, said a representative from State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office recently visited his department to gather information related to Donofrio, his work and related companies.

[Last modified April 18, 2004, 01:35:47]

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