WESTLAKE, Fla. — Diana Decker paid thousands for a backyard pool last spring, but the job is incomplete, and she blames contractor Ricardo Villarroel.
"For him to take the money and just walk away, it's a disgrace," she said of Villarroel, the owner of Palm Springs-based Villa Pools and Paving.
Villarroel is now charged with racketeering, and the Florida Attorney General’s Offices said he owes 97 customers more than a million dollars for pools he contracted to build but never finished.
"As soon as he got his check, he was a happy guy, and 'I'm out of here,'" Decker said.
On the Treasure Coast, the owners of Amore Pools face money laundering and fraud charges.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement claims Chrystal Washburn and Brian Washburn cheated 150 customers out of two million dollars for pools that were not built to completion.
The Florida Attorney General's Office is suing the owner of Olympus Pools near Tampa, claiming it owes more than 200 customers and contractors about eight million dollars.
"I'm frustrated," Olympus Pools customer Diana Moody told our sister station WFTS in Tampa. "Every time I look out the window, I see this backyard."
How could those left with backyard eyesores have avoided all this?
Consumer lawyer Paul Herman of Boca Raton said the first mistake that many people make is to rely on online reviews.
"Get references, specific references of somebody, not just an online review where there might not be any accuracy to the statements," Herman said.
He also recommends looking at Better Business Bureau ratings.
All three companies we looked at had "F" ratings.
Herman adds that homeowners should shop around and be wary of the lowest bid.
Finally, Herman said when customers feel cheated, they should call their state attorney’s office.
"The more people that do, the more they're going to give attention to it," Herman said.