A Pennsylvania pool builder currently is behind bars.
Thomas Hodak was found guilty July 31 of deceptive business practices, theft by deception and receiving advance payment for services he failed to perform, according to Chuck Washburn, the Westmoreland County assistant district attorney. All three convictions are third-degree felonies.
Hodak is scheduled to be sentenced within 90 days of his conviction. At press time, he was being held in lieu of $25,000 bond.
Homeowner Laura Bendtsen filed charges when Hodak took a deposit of approximately $2,000 to build her pool, but then abandoned the project and it became hard for Bendtsen to reach him. “He did do some work, but we didn’t believe he did nearly the work a person would charge that much money for,” Washburn said.
This isn’t the first time Westmoreland County, Pa., has prosecuted a contractor for not doing what was promised. “We’ve taken a pretty tough stance on contractors who take money and don’t perform their duties,” Washburn said.
Other members of Hodak’s family have been successfully building pools in that part of the state for years, according to Tom Esser, sales manager of Allison Park, Pa.-based builder Alpine Pools Inc. “People like Hodak put a sour taste in people’s mouths,” Esser said. “This kind of stuff isn’t good for anyone in the industry.
“The bad part of it is that he’s a fantastic builder; he has a lot of innovative ideas,” Esser added.
The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals urges pool builders to not only follow the law, but also be licensed and certified in their specialties. “It’s in the industry’s best interest to promote certification and licensing so that consumers choose to build relationships with individuals who value continuing education and commit to best practices,” said Lisa Grepps, APSP marketing and communications director.
Even before Hodak faced criminal charges, he had a history of legal problems and dissatisfied customers.
A consent decree was entered in 1998 that required Hodak, among other things, to accept only payment for services completed, or a deposit of no more than 50 percent of the services he contracted to provide.
Then, in 2009, a judge prohibited Hodak from entering into any new contracts related to home improvements, pool construction or sale of pool equipment. He was also found in contempt of court and ordered to pay civil penalties totaling $20,000 in four cases that came before the court at that time. Three plaintiffs were awarded a total of $28,969 in restitution.
In 2011, a judge awarded $43,800 for restitution to four more customers of Hodak, and fined him $20,000. He was also jailed late last year in connection with contempt charges related to previous complaints about his contracting practices.
“Obviously, with Mr. Hodak’s history, that helped us in deciding to file charges in this case,” Washburn said.
But for one of Hodak’s customers, legal action wasn’t enough. Andy Spero of Wexford, Pa., decided to do what he could to keep others from being victimized by Hodak.
In 2004, Spero contracted Hodak to build a vinyl-liner pool for his home. According to Spero, Hodak used the wrong liner, built the pool steps at different heights and incorrectly stained the concrete. Spero lost the money he had paid to Hodak, about 50 percent of the pool’s total cost.
“The work wasn’t done to the right quality and it wasn’t completed,” Spero said.
He started a Website (tomhodak.com) to discourage other potential customers. The site is subtitled “Welcome to Our Nightmarish Pool Experience!”
“I don’t want other people to suffer through this. I wanted to warn other people,” Spero said.