Florida’s fraudulent pool builders
Florida is cracking down on fraudulent swimming pool contractors. This October, the state’s Attorney General’s Office reported that several unrelated pool building companies were under investigation for accepting payment for new pool construction but failing to deliver.
On October 28, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced the arrest of a Florida swimming pool contractor who was charged with racketeering after several homeowners said he took money to build backyard pools but didn’t finish the job.
Ricardo Villarroel, owner of Villa Pavers and Pools, operating out of Palm Springs, near Miami, is accused of defrauding nearly 100 homeowners across the state to the tune of $1 million.
Two salepersons, Michael Borego Fernandez and Laura Ballester Alpizar, were also arrested in connection with the investigation.
General Contractor Luis Alvarez Daboin of Conquer Pools is accused of aiding and abetting Villarroel, who is not licensed. Daboin allegedly sold Villarroel the use of his license to present a contractor’s license to homeowners and obtain building permits.
Ricardo Villarroel Duerto, Michael Borrego Fernandez, Laura Ballester Alpizar, and Luis Alvarez Daboin are charged with racketeering, scheme to defraud, and grand theft. If convicted, the defendants could face up to 30 years in prison.
Additional arrests related to Villa Pavers and Pools are expected, according to investigators.
The case is being prosecuted by the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
A statement from the Attorney General’s office said that the investigation of Villarroel began when their Division of Investigative & Forensic Services received a complaint that the company “collected 80% of the contracted price for the installation of a pool and never completed the job. The investigation revealed that the alleged business model for Villa Pavers and Pools aimed to collect 40% of the initial contracted price to install a pool, with no intent of doing the job, and/or leaving an unusable backyard with a giant hole.”
“These defendants intentionally ripped off Florida families trying to obtain pools and better their homes — causing more than a million dollars in fraud,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody in the statement.
Some homeowners said they paid up to $40,000 to be left with a hole in their yards.
Diana Decker, of Westlake, said she signed a contract with Villarroel for $35,000 in May 2020, but by the end of the year, the pool was only partially built, and then work stopped.
“It makes you not want to trust anyone anymore,” Decker said. “We saved for this; it was a dream. All we wanted to do was get this done, and that was it. For him to take the money and just walk away, it’s a disgrace.”
The Florida Attorney General’s office is currently investigating at least two other pool contractor companies for similar allegedly fraudulent business practices.
In an October 6 statement, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced the arrests of pool contractors Brian and Chrystal Washburn, of Amore’ Pools Inc., after uncovering a scheme to defraud homeowners by taking large deposits to build inground residential swimming pools but never completing the projects.
FDLE agents say the Amore’ Pools scheme resulted in losses of more than $2 million from hundreds of victims. Investigators say that upon receiving deposit checks from homeowners, the Washburns used a third-party check
Unfinished pools by Olympus Pools.
Image credit: Wfla.com. cashing store to convert the checks into cash in an attempt to conceal the illicit funds.
The investigation began in July, and investigators say the couple provided numerous fraudulent documents and at least one forged signature in their credentialing application packet in 2017.
Using this fraudulent information, Amore’ Pools became a registered pool/ spa contractor.
Brian and Chrystal Washburn are charged with false information on an application for contractor’s license, working as an unlicensed contractor, organized scheme to defraud, identity theft, money laundering, concealing information to avoid workers compensation premiums, and insurance application fraud.
And on October 13, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office announced it is taking legal action against Olympus Pools, Inc. and owner James I. Staten, Jr. for allegedly accepting payments from hundreds of consumers in exchange for contracted pool services but then failing to perform the services as promised—sometimes leaving consumers with giant holes on their property.
The civil action seeks to permanently ban the defendants from engaging in certain activities related to the pool construction business.
The action also aims to require Olympus and its owners to provide restitution or reimbursement to affected consumers.
In addition, the defendants could be liable for more than $2 million in civil penalties and enhanced civil penalties for violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
In addition to the civil action, Attorney General Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution is assisting local law enforcement with a criminal investigation of Olympus Pools.