Knowing he was going out of business, a Florida pool builder obtained permits and dug holes in order to receive payments on projects he had no intention of finishing, according to a lawsuit filed by the Florida attorney general.
The 19-page claim is against Nationwide Pools and also accuses the company of providing fraudulent financing, nonexistent rebates and worthless warranties.
The Pompano Beach-based company has been in business since 2005, with multiple branches in Florida. The firm ceased operations in recent weeks in the wake of an investigation that alleges deception on nearly every stage of the sales and construction process. Weeks before closing, Nationwide Pools demanded progress payments from customers, with the promise that work would begin “in the next few days,” according to the lawsuit filed in Broward County Circuit Court.
Maria Liburdi considers herself lucky that Nationwide Pools never showed up to pour concrete. The 62-year-old said even what little work the company completed was insufficient and that she had to remove the rebar that Nationwide Pools had installed because it wasn’t up to par. “By the time this is done, it’ll cost us $50,000 when it should have cost $32,000,” the Port Saint Lucie resident said.
According to the lawsuit, Nationwide Pools falsely advertised “quality construction” specifications such as 8-inch-thick concrete walls and steel rebar placed every 9 inches. The company allegedly withheld from customers the second page of engineering plans, which outlined the true specifications.
In addition, Nationwide Pools also allegedly offered a $2,500 manufacturer’s rebate when no such rebate existed, falsifying serial numbers and advertising limited rebate quantities to create a sense of urgency. Salespeople then included the value of the rebate in the total price charged to customers.
Nationwide Pools also allegedly charged customers for “deductibles” or “service calls” on equipment repairs already covered under manufacturers’ warranties. These charges were not disclosed at the time of purchase, the lawsuit stated.
Eric Arnum, editor of Warranty Week, said he’s heard of similar scams in the auto industry. But in many of those cases, the vehicle owners didn’t know they were already covered under warranties. “In cases like this, it’s worse because the poor [manufacturer’s] reputation is being dragged through the mud when they have nothing to do with it.”
Nationwide Pools also is accused of offering in-house financing, though it was not licensed to do so. The company allegedly sent pre-approval letters to customers, regardless of their incomes or credit scores.
Many customers complained that Nationwide Pools refused to rescind contracts or refund deposits if they were denied loans by any of its third-party lenders, even though they had specifically negotiated financing contingencies in their contracts, according to lawsuit.
The Office of the Attorney General began investigating Nationwide Pools in May after receiving dozens of complaints from customers who are out thousands of dollars for incomplete pools. In a deposition last month, owner Keith Stuart pleaded his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions concerning certain business practices.