A growing number of pool builder scams are popping up from coast to coast. This comes after a recent increase in pool construction over the last two years. More and more consumers are complaining of mismanaged pool installation projects. A list of builders under investigation continues to grow by the day.
Pool Builders Facing Serious Jail Time For Allegedly Defrauding Homeowners
District Attorney Terry Houck is accusing 58-year-old Roger Kornfeind of scamming 76 people in Northampton County out of $1,378,146 in down payments for pools he never installed. Houck alleges Kornfeind had been collecting deposits but failing to install pools and hot tubs he had been contracted for.
Deputy District Attorney Jim Augustine suggested that a growing number of consumers looking to have a pool installed during the pandemic created an easy crime of opportunity.
“I think it certainly helped that Mr. Kornfeind was able to have a steady stream of people looking for swimming pools because public pools were closed. There were limited activities in the public, in the community during the quarantine,” said Augustine.
The allegations are that Kornfeind’s company Hydro Dynamic Pools was undercutting the market with zero intention to complete any of the projects he was selling, telling customers: “‘I don’t care what anyone else is telling you, I’ll get you swimming in 90 days or 60 days,’ and that led to a lot of this,” said Augustine.
A Systemic Problem Of Pool Builder Fraud Is On The Rise
It’s a problem that isn’t isolated to one particular market and has been popping up anywhere and everywhere that there is a white-hot demand for pools. Consumer confidence and low-interest rates on pool financing have caused a spike in consumer interest.
One company Amore Pools out of Indian River County in Florida is facing serious allegations that include 16 crimes. Charges include seven counts of identity fraud, four counts of money laundering, insurance fraud, contracting without a license. In addition, they’re charged with making false statements of compliance and participating in a scheme to defraud.
Owners Chrystal and Brian Washburn of Treasure Coast are accused of taking large deposits to build inground pools, but never completing the projects. One alleged victim, Alice Patterson, claims after paying Amore Pools $21,000 in deposits she was left with a stagnant and dangerous hole in her backyard – and nothing else. She claims the couple was charismatic and had a believable sales pitch which she bought into. However, after months went by with excuse after excuse without any work being performed. Patterson says she discovered a Facebook group where other alleged victims were sharing similar stories.
Officials claim the Washburns were accepting large deposits to begin pool projects. Prosecutors allege the work that was performed hurt the structure of buildings. There are accusations that work also passed property lines, and remained untouched for months at a time.
The now-defunct company faces a litany of charges stemming from over 150 homeowners in six counties. At least a 25% deposit was collected on the majority of them, FDLE agents said; with the overwhelming majority of those projects left uncompleted by Amore’.
Homeowners Getting Taken By Pool Builder Scammers
The pervasive problem of pool builders taking advantage of unwitting customers is an issue that recently arose in South Carolina. There is a long list of unsatisfied customers who want their day in court with Travis Taylor. Officials have since revoked his ability to obtain a permit and construct pools in Aiken County. Court documents go so far as to accuse Taylor of a “scheme to defraud”. Records cite “multiple incidents” where he took deposits for inground pool projects and failed to complete the job.
Taylor is by no means a licensed pool contractor. In the state of South Carolina, he actually doesn’t have to be. Right now the official laws on the books in that state only require a license if you’re going to be building commercial pools in places like hotels and water parks. State legislators tried to change that earlier this year but the bill failed to pass.
Scammers Taking Advantage of Increase in Demand for Swimming Pools
The enthusiasm to capitalize on the momentum of the pool industry has drawn many inexperienced and unscrupulous pool companies who are eager to start installing pools. The state contractors board began fining ex-Cabot firefighter turned pool builder – Austin Logan $400 each day after leaving 14 pool projects abandoned in various stages.
The Cabot fire department to which Logan was employed fired him. Citing conduct that brought into question the integrity of the fire department and mayor’s administration, Logan was terminated.
Jamie Wilhite, an investigator for the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board, has been investigating Logan. “We’ve had around six pools at $126,000 that nothing has been done and we’ve got a little over half a million dollars of about eight pools that the projects are not finished,” said Wilhite.
Builder Accused of Skipping Town With Money
The situation isn’t much better for homeowners down in Miami who have been dealing with pool builders who have allegedly taken deposits and skipped town altogether.
Angel Lacasse said he contracted with Ricardo Villarroel’s company, Villa Pavers and Pools. Lacasse says he paid a deposit of $21,000 to have a pool built in his backyard. Villarroel has been arrested by authorities and is charged with defrauding homeowners for over a million dollars.
Luis Alvarez Daboin of Conquer Pools, and Villa Pavers and Pools salespersons Michael Borrego and Laura Ballester Alpizar in addition to Villarroel himself, are now facing additional racketeering charges associated with the investigation. Over 100 homeowners across the state of Florida are claimed to be affected in this case.
Subcontractor Allegedly Operating Another Businesses License
The problem is symptomatic of the frenetic pace of which pools are being built across the country. Quite often state licensing departments simply can’t keep up with the volume of complaints they are receiving from homeowners. The amount of open investigations into allegations of fraud and negligence has been increasing exponentially in sync with the increase in consumer interest.
*A&S Pools and Pavers is a pool builder who allegedly provided misleading information to the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. They’ve been accused of dropping the ball and allowing A&S to operate. The company claims that it is licensed on its website but investigators couldn’t find any license that is attached to the owner or the business. A search of permits uncovered a completely different company name listed on them.
*(not affiliated with Anthony & Sylvan Pools)
A company called Gabbidon Construction or Gabbidon Builders, both owned by Leonard Gabbidon was listed on 10 of the pool permits. The North Carolina Licensing Board filed a complaint stating Gabbidon failed to disclose a bankruptcy in 2020 and instead claim he misled them on his application.
Meanwhile, A&S customer Janet Hadjar’s backyard still looks like an abandoned construction zone. After paying owner Mario Salmeron $33,000, Hadjar claims construction came to a halt when A&S complained of delays and began making excuses. Hadjar says she has no idea who Leonard Gabbidon is and wants answers on why Salmeron was allowed to use Gabbidon’s license. “I am a little surprised that it has gone this far,” said Hadjar. “So when I found out he was using another contractor’s license, I was shocked.”
What to Look Out For When Building a Swimming Pool
Ryan Baird, owner of Beyond Blue Pools said consumers should be on the lookout for “can’t miss deals” that are too good to be true. “Homeowners need to get quotes from at least a dozen pool builders and evaluate prices,” said Baird.
“Watch out if the builder is coming in ten to twenty thousand dollars under the lowest bid you are getting,” said Southern Poolscapes co-owner Aaron Rogers, “If they don’t know how to price a pool to begin with, that is definitely a big red flag.”
Emile Stinchcombe, owner of Aquaguard Pools said, “We’ve definitely seen more of this since the pandemic started. Homeowners need to really research and do their homework before hiring just anyone to work in their backyard. The consequences can be absolutely devastating.”
“Some of the things you want to look for are open litigations. Complaints on review sites or on social media are also an indication that things may be going south,” said Stinchcombe.
Jason DeBosky a Virginia-based inground pool builder and owner of Crystal Blue Aquatics said, “There are numerous things consumers can do to make sure the process goes smoothly. Research pool builder reviews. Also ask to go on a “pool tour” of past completed jobs and ask for references from past customers. Any pool company worth their salt will jump at the chance to provide solid references.”
“How you pay your contractor is extremely important,” said Brandt Gibert, owner of Windgate Custom Pools a pool construction company in New Orleans. “Avoid paying a huge down payment upfront. That gives the pool contractor incentive to continue to drive the construction process forward. Make sure payments are chained to major milestones of work being performed. Work with a lender that puts cash in your hands. Don’t sign off on work that hasn’t been completed to your satisfaction.”