A 20-year Florida pool contractor faces a possible prison term after police say he intentionally left customers drowning in collapsed concrete, broken pool jets, ruined irrigation, bad excuses or liens on their homes from unpaid subcontractors.
But Winter Haven’s John Lee Johnson got paid. Though notified the pools didn’t pass inspection, the 59-year-old still collected $258,259 from the seven customers while bouncing two checks worth $52,862 to subcontractor Jimenez’s Quality Pools, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
That’s why Johnson, the head of Tropic Pools of Central Florida, faces charges of grand theft over $100,000, scheme to defraud over $50,000 and misappropriation of construction funds over $100,000.
Each is a first-degree felony worth up to 30 years in prison. Johnson posted $15,000 bond Friday.
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The excuses the sheriff’s office says Johnson gave customers for not finishing or fixing their jobs sound like an adult version of the-dog-ate-my-homework: He was very busy; his subcontractors weren’t answering calls; he was using bad supervisors; septic tank problems at his own house; he’s sick; cellphone battery died; truck died; uncle died.
According to the arrest affidavit, Johnson told customer Arthur Fulmer Jr. that his pool passed inspection even before Johnson put on the child locks. Fulmer told Polk sheriff’s investigators he had no issues with Tropic Pools. The investigator told Fulmer to double check with the county Building Division. Fulmer called the investigator back after finding his pool hadn’t passed inspection. He also found that his deck is sinking, there’s a malfunctioning water feature and the electrical breaker keeps tripping.
The arrest report also says the six-foot, 300-pound Johnson took the money and tried to hide from Tammy and Kevin Knoth, whose in-ground pool and decking wasn’t done by July 2017 despite work beginning in April 2016. The Knoths found themselves paying the subcontractors who hadn’t already placed a lien on their home. When a Polk County Building Division supervisor contacted Johnson about the Knoth pool, Johnson sent a letter claiming he had been sick and a since-fired supervisor hadn’t handled the project properly. He would be “restructuring to gain control of this project and move forward.”
The pool remains unfinished.
Another customer, Thang Nguyen, said that Tropic Pools pressured him to pay in cash to remove the current pool in preparation for a new pool and new French doors. Half-done work left a hole soon filled by the new patio — “because the new pool was never installed, the new concrete slab patio area collapsed into the ground below where the new pool would’ve been.” And the concrete company won’t fix it until Johnson pays the $2,810 he owes them.
Four customers have liens on their homes from unpaid subcontractors. After eight months, Johnson stopped answering calls and texts from Ruth and Reese Kimmons. The pool hadn’t passed inspection. Investigators saw a damaged fence and tiles coming out of the ground. Worse, there are two liens on the Kimmons’ house worth $10,053 from subcontractors and a third lien in the process of being filed.