A Florida pool builder faces charges of grand theft and schemes to defraud after allegedly leaving pools unfinished.
Eric Clift, owner of Clift & Co. Pools & Spas Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., was arrested May 19 and charged in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. His charges stem from a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigation that allegedly revealed at least 17 potential victims who paid for pools that Clift reportedly didn’t complete.
Some of Clift’s alleged victims reside in St. Johns County, outside the Fourth Circuit jurisdiction. That means the case could be reviewed by the state prosecutor, whose office could open a case.
The total losses suffered by the homeowners is estimated to exceed $200,000, according to the sheriff’s office report. One victim had a lien placed on his home by the subcontractor and took out a loan to pay the amount and have the lien removed, the arrest warrant affidavit stated.
Clift was scheduled to appear for an arraignment June 30. The public defender appointed to represent him has not returned requests for comment.
The sheriff’s office opened the investigation in June 2014. According to the investigation report, each incident followed a similar pattern: Contracts were signed with a four-payment schedule. Sometime after the second payment, Clift allegedly would stop returning calls from the homeowners.
The complaint against him alleges he told homeowners his business went under in September 2014.
Certain actions can result in economically motivated crimes being elevated to criminal charges.
“At first blush, they might appear to be civil or contract disputes,” said Angela Corey, state attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. “And then once further investigation is done or you find out that there is a repeat pattern of behavior, it becomes more evident that there is a theft or scheme to defraud. The appearance of a pattern of alleged fraud is what led the state attorney’s office to file charges against Clift.”
But this case doesn’t just rely on the overall pattern as it occurred to multiple homeowners, Corey said, but also how the builder acted in each transaction when looked at separately.
“And that would be based on a number of things,” Corey said. “What were the services contracted, or how was the money delivered? When were the services expected in relation to the money? And what changes it from a civil case, I believe, to a criminal case, is whether money is taken upfront and then nothing is done after that.”
In addition to the criminal charges, Clift is the defendant in civil litigation. Wayne A. Wetherington of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., filed a lawsuit April 30, requesting a judgment of $9,400 and court costs. The lawsuit states Clift cashed a check from Wetherington, and that the plaintiff found out less than two weeks later that the builder had gone out of business.
Clift entered a response to the civil suit, stating only, “We deny all accusations.” No attorney information was included in the civil suit for Clift.
Calls to phone numbers listed in the sheriff’s office investigation for Clift went unanswered and unreturned. Wetherington did not return a request for comment.