A growing number of pool builder scams are popping up from coast to coast. This comes after a recent increase in swimming pool construction over the past two years. More and more consumers are complaining about poorly managed pool installation projects. A list of builders under investigation continues to grow day by day.
Pool builders face serious jail time for allegedly defrauding owners
District Attorney Terry Houck accuses Roger Kornfeind, 58, of defrauding 76 people in Northampton County out of $1,378,146 in deposits for swimming pools he never installed. Houck alleges Kornfeind collected deposits but failed to install the pools and hot tubs he was hired to do.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Augustine suggested that a growing number of consumers seeking to have a swimming pool installed during the pandemic has created a crime of easy opportunity.
“I think it certainly helped Mr. Kornfeind to have a steady stream of people looking for pools because the public pools were closed. There has been limited activity in the public, in the community during quarantine,” Augustine said.
The allegations are that Kornfeind’s company, Hydro Dynamic Pools, was undermining the market with no intention of completing any of the projects he was selling, telling customers, “I don’t care what anyone else tells you, I’m going to swim you in 90 days or 60 days, “and that led to a lot of things,” Augustine said.
A systemic pool builder fraud problem is on the rise
It’s a problem that isn’t isolated to any particular market and pops up wherever and wherever there’s a burning demand for swimming pools. Consumer confidence and low interest rates on bundled financing have led to renewed consumer interest.
Florida’s Indian River County Amore Pools business faces serious allegations that include 16 crimes. The charges include seven counts of impersonation, four counts of money laundering, insurance fraud, unlicensed contracts. Additionally, they are accused of making false claims of compliance and participating in a fraud scheme.
Treasure Coast owners Chrystal and Brian Washburn are accused of taking large deposits to build in-ground pools but never completing the projects. An alleged victim, Alice Patterson, claims that after paying Amore Pools $21,000 in deposits, she was left with a stagnant and dangerous hole in her garden – and nothing else. She claims the pair were charismatic and had a believable sales pitch that she bought into. However, after months have passed, excuse after excuse, with no work being done. Patterson says he discovered a Facebook group where other alleged victims were sharing similar stories.
Officials say the Washburns were accepting large deposits to start pool projects. Prosecutors allege that the work that was carried out damaged the structure of the buildings. There are accusations that the work also crossed property lines and remained untouched for months at a time.
The now-defunct company faces a litany of accusations from more than 150 owners in six counties. At least a 25% deposit was collected on the majority of them, FDLE agents said; with the overwhelming majority of these projects left unfinished by Amore’.
Homeowners get caught by pool builder scammers
The pervasive problem of pool builders taking advantage of unwitting customers is an issue that has recently arisen in South Carolina. There’s a long list of dissatisfied clients who want their day in court with Travis Taylor. Authorities have since revoked his ability to obtain permits and build swimming pools in Aiken County. The court documents go so far as to accuse Taylor of a “scheme to defraud”. The filings cite “multiple incidents” where he took deposits for in-ground pool projects and failed to complete the job.
Taylor is in no way a licensed pool contractor. In the state of South Carolina, it actually doesn’t need to be. Currently, official laws in this state only require a license if you plan to build commercial pools in places like hotels and water parks. State lawmakers attempted to change that earlier this year, but the bill did not pass.
Scammers are taking advantage of the increase in demand for swimming pools
The enthusiasm to capitalize on the momentum of the pool industry has attracted many inexperienced and unscrupulous pool companies who are eager to start installing pools. The state’s Board of Contractors has begun fining former Cabot firefighter turned pool builder – Austin Logan $400 a day after he left 14 pool projects abandoned at various stages.
The Cabot Fire Department where Logan was employed fired him. Citing conduct that called into question the integrity of the fire department and the mayor’s administration, Logan was fired.
Jamie Wilhite, an investigator with the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board, investigated Logan. “We’ve had about six pools at $126,000 that nothing has been done and we have a little over half a million dollars on about eight pools that have projects not completed,” Wilhite said.
Builder accused of leaving town with cash
The situation isn’t much better for Miami homeowners who have dealt with pool builders who allegedly took deposits and left town altogether.
Angel Lacasse says he has signed a contract with Ricardo Villarroel’s company, Villa Pavés et Piscines. Lacasse says he paid a down payment of $21,000 to have a swimming pool built in his backyard. Villarroel has been arrested by authorities and is accused of defrauding landlords out of over $1 million.
Luis Alvarez Daboin of Conquer Pools, and Villa Pavers and Pools salesmen Michael Borrego and Laura Ballester Alpizar, in addition to Villarroel himself, now face additional racketeering charges associated with the investigation. More than 100 homeowners across the state of Florida are said to be affected by this case.
Contractor allegedly operating another business license
The problem is symptomatic of the frenetic pace at which swimming pools are being built across the country. Very often, state licensing departments simply cannot keep up with the volume of complaints they receive from owners. The number of investigations opened into allegations of fraud and negligence has grown exponentially in step with increased consumer interest.
*A&S Pools and Pavers is a pool builder that allegedly provided misleading information to the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. They were accused of dropping the ball and allowing A&S to operate. The company claims it is licensed on its website, but investigators found no license attached to the owner or company. A permit search revealed a completely different company name listed there.
*(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 lawsuit saying Gabbidon failed to disclose a 2020 bankruptcy and instead claimed he misled them in his application.
Meanwhile, A&S client Janet Hadjar’s backyard still looks like an abandoned construction area. After paying $33,000 to owner Mario Salmeron, Hadjar says construction stalled when A&S complained about delays and started making excuses. Hadjar says she has no idea who Leonard Gabbidon is and wants answers about why Salmeron was allowed to use Gabbidon’s license. “I’m a little surprised it’s gone this far,” Hadjar said. “So when I found out he was using another contractor’s license, I was shocked.”
What to pay attention to 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 should get quotes from at least a dozen pool builders and evaluate prices,” Baird said.
“Be careful if the builder doesn’t price ten to twenty thousand dollars below the lowest offer you get,” said Southern Poolscapes co-owner Aaron Rogers, “If they don’t know how to price of a pool to begin with, that’s definitely a big red flag.
Emile Stinchcombe, owner of Aquaguard Pools, said: “We have certainly seen more since the start of the pandemic. Homeowners really need to research and do their homework before hiring anyone to work in their garden. The consequences can be absolutely devastating.
“Some of the things you want to research are open litigation. Complaints on review sites or on social media are also an indication that things may go south,” Stinchcombe said.
Jason DeBosky, Virginia-based in-ground pool builder and owner of Crystal Blue Aquatics, said, “Consumers can do many things to make sure the process goes smoothly. Research pool builder reviews. Also ask to take a “pool tour” of completed work and ask for references from past clients. Any pool company worth its 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 swimming pool construction company in New Orleans. “Avoid paying a huge deposit up front. This incentivizes the pool contractor to keep the construction process moving forward. puts money in your hands Do not approve work that has not been completed to your satisfaction.