Cook County Circuit Court Judge Susan Zwick ordered Pasquinelli Inc. and its affiliate, Classic Homes Construction Inc., to pay five families who purchased new homes in Lake in the Hills, Ill., a total of $1.1 million, having found them to be in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by failing to inform the buyers that their homes were located atop a high water table.

"Defendants were aware that the area had subsurface water that interfered with the building of the homes," Zwick stated in her ruling published Jan. 5--seven years after plaintiffs filed the suit against the builder. "Plaintiffs were not advised of this before they bought their homes, and failure to disclose these facts constitutes a material misrepresentation on the part of the defendant."

The judge also found that the workmanship of the families' homes did not live up to the representations of the model homes. Plaintiffs reported cracked walls, missing countertops, improper paint jobs and broken window seals, as well as drainage issues, which in turn caused mosquito infestations, accumulation of live and dead frogs on windowsills, musty odors in the basement, and water damage to walls.

"What Pasquinelli did to [my clients] is outrageous," said Karen Conti, plaintiff attorney with Adamski and Conti Law Firm. "At every juncture we tried to settle, and Pasquinelli refused to acknowledge these obvious defects. I hope the judge and jury have sent a message to Pasquinelli to treat its customers fairly in the future."

Calls to Pasquinelli and its lawyer, Mark Karasik, were not returned.

While the plaintiffs won the consumer fraud charge, the judge and jury did not rule in their favor on other charges: breach of contract, common law fraud, and breach of implied warranty of habitability and merchantability.

Each plaintiff received compensation for actual damages as well as $50,000 for punitive damages and attorneys fees, which after a seven-year suit totaled $550,000.

"[My clients] would have liked a larger sum," said Conti, adding that her clients were hoping to get an amount close to what they paid for the homes.

Conti also said she would not be surprised if Pasquinelli appeals the ruling. "It is one thing to get the judgment. It is another to get the payment," she said.

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