A Georgia couple who entered what is known as the “Alford Plea” to 27 counts of “theft by taking” was sentenced to 40 years each with 15 total years in prison, the rest on probation.
The couple is Bruce and Heather Alford, who, from 2016 to 2018, owned and operated Georgialina Pools, and who, during that time period, took money to build swimming pools and left 27 customers with incomplete pools, and in some cases only muddy holes in the ground.
The plea and sentencing took place on September 21 in front of many of the Alfords’ customers.
Prosecuting attorney Natalie Paine laid out the details of the Alfords’ offences, explaining that the Alfords generally became friends with their clients to gain their trust. She said that some of the Alfords’ customers could barely afford their pools and were building them for disabled family members for medical reasons.
After telling the court that some were out $60,000 to $100,000 each, to a sum total of more than $600,000, she said, “I understand that they are pleading Alford, ironically enough.”
Coincidentally, the Alford Plea is a guilty plea, in which the defendant maintains their innocence and admits the prosecution’s evidence would probably result in a guilty verdict. The Alford Plea dates back to the 1970 United States Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford.
So even though the Alfords’ plea was technically “guilty,” they don’t really admit any guilt.
“We are decent God-fearing people who never intended to hurt anyone,” Heather Alford said.
Bruce & Heather Alford with unfinished pools. Photo credit: www.wrdw.com Defense attorney Robert Homlar said that this is about as civil a criminal case as he’d ever dealt with. He said after sitting down with the Alfords and getting to understand the details of the case, he told them, “Y’all are terrible business people.” He said they absolutely agreed. Furthermore, he offered that Bruce Alford started his construction business after only one year of training under a master pool builder and lacked sufficient experience to operate his own business.
After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, Judge James Blanchard said, “The court sees a trail of destruction as a result of your conduct. Rather than stop once you’d finish a job and maybe have money for others to go back and complete the jobs, you continued to leave that trail of destruction, and you ruined many people’s lives.”
Immediately following their sentencing, the Alfords were handcuffed and sent to prison.
While it is justice for the victims, none were actually happy about the outcome.
“It definitely needed to be jail time, which is hard on my heart for her children,” said Missy Bonsack, one of the victims of the case. “But it definitely needed jail time.”
The Alfords leave behind a 9 and 10-year-old.
“Nobody won in this,” said Kelly Sherrill, another victim. “I mean everybody’s lives are forever impacted by these two people.”