It’s a good time to get into swimming pool construction fraud – at least until you get caught. With pandemic pools being built at an unprecedented rate, reputable pool builders have more work than they can handle, making it easy for undiscerning homeowners to fall victim to fraudsters all too happy to take their money and run.
Swimming pool contractors in multiple states have been accused of, and, in some cases, charged with theft and fraud after taking money to build pools and leaving the jobs unfinished and dangerous.
This January, Roger Kornfeind, 58, owner of Hydro Dynamic Pools, in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, was charged with two dozen counts each of theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and home improvement fraud.
The pool builder is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from more than two dozen Lehigh Valley residents who paid for backyard pools but were left with holes in the ground.
Kornfeind turned himself in on Jan. 25 at the office of District Judge Alicia Zito, where he was arraigned and held under $250,000 bail, according to court records. The alleged crimes, all felonies, each carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Northampton County District Attorney Terry Houck said Kornfeind allegedly scammed homeowners across eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey by entering contracts to build swimming pools or install hot tubs, taking between $2,000 and $41,000 from each.
Allegations from 2018 to October 2021 cite dozens of examples of Kornfeind taking down payments of thousands of dollars and later telling customers they needed to make even larger payments for work to begin.
Customers complained that they received the wrong size or type of pool as well as damaged parts and that workers showed up sporadically to work on pools and in many cases left parts partially assembled and unpacked in their yards.
When clients demanded refunds, they said that Kornfeind told them he would issue a refund or that the check was in the mail, but he never returned the money, Houck said.
A private Facebook group exists for people who believe they are victims of fraud by Kornfeind. The Facebook group was started by a Saylorsburg resident who paid $20,000 to Hydro Dynamic Pools for a pool that was never finished.
Houck said it is likely there are other victims and expected his office would receive additional complaints now that the charges against Kornfeind are public. Federal bankruptcy court records show Kornfeind has filed bankruptcy twice, in 2015 and 2019.
In Woodstock, Georgia, customers of Jimmy Acosta, owner of Pool Craft Company, say that they have been left with dangerous holes in their backyard.
Shannon Crowe is among those accusing the company of theft. After hiring Pool Craft to put in a pool and redesign her backyard to the tune of $123,000, nine months later, the pool was half completed and the backyard left a mess.
Toney and Randi Langley, a retired police officer and first grade teacher, tell a similar tale. Like Crowe, they decided to put in a pool after the pandemic started, but with pool contractors so busy, they had a difficult time getting estimates. Pool Craft was one of few to make time for them. Although the company completed most of the work, records show that the job failed the mandatory electrical inspection, and now the family is afraid to get into their pool.
Both Crowe and the Langley’s regret not doing more research on Acosta because if they had, they might have found out that this is not the first time such accusations have been leveled at him.
His first company, Artizan Pools, was sued over similar problems. Then, Acosta went by a different name – Jimmy Cerna – which is actually his middle name.
Now, he’s back to using this name again and has begun running a new company: Georgia Peach Pools.
Fortunately, Cobb County has ordered a hold on all 13 open permits issued to both Pool Craft and Georgia Peach Pools because he’s skipped or failed so many inspections.
Meanwhile, at least two subcontractors say Acosta owes them money and said they think he’s working now in Tennessee.
And in Canterbury, Connecticut, nearly 40 customers of Roy’s Pools have accused its owner, Brian Roy, of taking money and leaving them high and dry.
Now, he’s filed bankruptcy, and his customers are out more than half a million dollars total.
According to the bankruptcy filing, Roy owes $545,000 to 40 creditors, mostly customers and pool supply companies, but has only $270,000 in assets to cover his bills.
Attorney Brian Marks, a professor at the University of New Haven who is not associated with the case, said, “Those who put deposits on pools and never had construction completed are unfortunately on standby waiting to see what they will receive in this instance, which in all likelihood appears to be very little.”
Marks said that filing for bankruptcy will put a stay on the claims against Roy but will not shield him from potential criminal charges.
“You hope someone acted in good faith to the extent they may not have, if they’ve committed fraud or engaged in criminal activity we go from the civil arena to the criminal arena,” Marks said. “Unfortunately, it is the consumer who is put in a very difficult situation who may never ever receive those funds back.”
Some of his victims said that they’ve applied to Guaranty Fund through the Department of Consumer Protection, which repays consumers who’ve been financially damaged as a result these types of transactions. Though they may not ever be made financially whole, homeowners may be eligible for up to $15,000 from the fund if they had hired a registered home improvement contractor and the resulting problem meets certain criteria.