POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - Keith Stuart, the owner of the now defunct Nationwide Pools, faces criminal charges after being accused by customers of stealing their money. He faces felony grand theft charges in Martin County in two separate cases.
Although he wouldn't talk about his wrongdoings, his customers and former employees were willing to do so.
"He took the money knowing he wasn't going to finish the pool," said Lisa Sarkar, a Nationwide Pools customer.
Over the past six months, Local 10 reporters have met dozens of homeowners who accused Stuart of scamming them.
Starker said she gave Stuart nearly $80,000 to build her family's dream pool.
"They came, they dug the hole, and then a couple of weeks later, the guys came and picked up their equipment. They didn't say a word," she said.
Starker learned Nationwide Pools went out of business when a vendor knocked on her door to collect money.
The problem: she had already paid the company the full fee.
Nationwide Pools shutdown in May, leaving several other unfinished pools across South Florida.
The Florida attorney general's lawsuit described Stuart's practice of deceiving customers as "deliberate and systematic," accusing him of threatening his customers, double charging them, and promising bogus warranties without ever having the intention of finishing their pools.
A former Nationwide employee said Stuart and his CFO and wife, Felicia Mallia, bullied their customers into paying ahead of the construction schedule. She described it as blackmail.
"Basically saying to them, if we don't get your money, we aren't finishing," said the former employee, who asked not to be identified.
According to authorities, Stuart took nearly $700,00 from his customers and then intentionally bankrupted his company to avoid having to finish the pools.
Although his state license to build pools was revoked last month, that didn't stop him from becoming a silent partner in a company called the National Construction Group, according to the attorney general. The front man of the company was Terry Edwards, a good friend of Stuart's.
Authorities say Stuart continued to cheat customers under the new company name. Mallia and Edwards are also named in the attorney general's lawsuit.
Those affected said they want him to pay the consequences for his alleged crimes.
"If somebody takes some money from a bank, don't you go to jail? They took money from us, know they weren't going to finish the job. Isn't that thieving," said a customer.
The state is seeking full reimbursement for the victims, but is aware that the remaining assets of Nationwide Pools are insufficient to cover the cost.
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