A disturbing pattern of fraudulent pool contractors preying on potential pool owners during the pandemicdriven pool boom continues.
Accused of fraud in January, pool and hot tub contractor Roger Kornfeind, 58, owner of Hydro Dynamic Pools in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, is now in more trouble yet, after news got out that he was charged with cheating 26 people out of $500,000. In January, when the contractor was charged with theft and fraud, authorities had suspected that he had swindled far more people out of their money.
Now, that number has grown to 76. On March 9, Northampton County District Attorney Terry Houck announced the new total, accusing the man of taking a combined $1,378,146 in down payments.
“Kornfeind promised 76 victims and their families he would deliver their pool and hot tub but instead delivered excuses,” Houck said at a news conference at the courthouse in Easton. “These victims are now out thousands of their hard-earned dollars with no finished project to show from it.”
Houck said that after announcing the charges against Kornfeind in January, the DA’s office was inundated with calls from others reporting that Kornfiend had victimized them as well. And he suspects they will get more.
“In essence, [Kornfeind] was using his victims as human ATMs. When one ran out of money or refused to pay any more, on to the next one he would go,” Houck said.
According to Houck, Kornfiend took advantage of the pandemic, which closed public pools and kept people at home, desperate for outdoor entertainment. With an increasing number of people wanting swimming pools and hot tubs, he told customers he was the area’s largest contractor, according to a 43-page criminal complaint on the new charges.
He may not have been the area’s largest contractor, but it sure seems that he was the area’s largest fraudster.
And as Service Industry News has reported in recent months, Kornfiend is one among many pool and spa contractors preying on unsuspecting potential pool owners during the pandemic-propelled pool boom.
In Miami, Florida, Joseph and Raul Valdez, and Sunshine Pool and Contracting Group, are the subjects of numerous complaints lodged with Miami-Dade County and the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
The agencies said they have referred the complaints to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR. DBPR is the state agency that licenses pool contractors, and Joseph Valdez is a licensed contractor in the state.
With more than 20 complaints against them on Google Reviews, and 20 complaints against them on Better Business Bureau, the BBB revoked the business’s accreditation in February and has given them an F rating.
Complaints against them all say much of the same thing: signed contracts and payments on the order of about $35,000 and then failure to show up; unanswered phone calls and texts; delayed work at every step; excavation and then abandoned projects.
“Joseph and Raul Valdés, the owners and operators of this sorry excuse for a company, are nothing more than a pair of deceitful scoundrels that initially portray to genuinely care about your project and then after they bait you into trusting them, they ask for the majority of the money after excavation, and that is the last time you ever hear from them again,” says one typical review.
Two of his customers, Victor Contreras and Sofia Valentini, gave interviews to NBC Miami, and each described having been left with massive holes in their back yards, which are now filled with dirty, mosquito-infested rainwater.
“This is the worst nightmare I ever had,” Contreras told the news channel.
Both Kornfeind and the Valdez’s have offered similar responses to their disgruntled customers, citing supply chain issues and difficulty getting permits due to pandemicrelated short staffing.
In January, Kornfeind’s attorney, Phil Lauer, said there were “legitimate explanations” that could explain the apparently unfilled promises of a backyard pool or hot tub.
“I would just say that given the difficulties that anyone in any part of the construction industry has experienced during the pandemic with regard to shipping and supplies and so forth, I would imagine that those difficulties played some part in this…” Lauer said.
District Attorney Houck says it is essential to conduct thorough research to avoid falling victim to fraudulent pool contractors.
Other tips include getting protections in a contract, like deadline dates, and limiting how much of a down payment they are willing to pay.
“These places are demanding money up front, and it’s unfortunate that there’s so much money involved here. It’s unrealistic to think that these people will ever … be made whole and get their money back,” Houck said.