TAMPA, Fla. - Hillsborough County's building board came down hard on the owner of a Brandon pool company accused of collecting upward of $1 million from customers but never finishing their projects.
Members of the county's Building Board of Adjustment, Appeals and Examiners voted to strip Exclusive Pools owner Patrick Reardon of his ability to pull pool permits in Hillsborough, effectively putting a halt on his two contractor licenses in the county.
Legal troubles have been mounting for Reardon since August when customers reached out to FOX 13 to complain about his business practices. A FOX 13 investigations revealed he was collecting between $30,000 and $60,000 from customers, which is about 80 percent of the contracted amount. Exclusive Pools is accused of digging holes for the pools, pouring the concrete base and then abandoning the projects.
The majority of the projects were started in the spring and summer.
"I've been a practicing building official for 40 years now," said Hillsborough Building Official John Berrios. "This is by far the most egregious case, widespread, affecting not only our specific county but the region itself."
Reardon did not attend his hearing, choosing instead to send an attorney. Dozens of his former customers packed the building board's conference room, some seething with anger.
"For this individual, my goal right now is to make sure that he goes to prison," said Antonio Vargas, a customer who identified himself as a federal law enforcement agent. "The anguish that these people have gone through; I've lost sleep because of this piece of [expletive]."
Others told heart-breaking stories about the money they lost. Bobby and Leslie Espinola said the funds they used to pay for the pool included $50,000 they received in a settlement following a car crash that killed their daughter.
"We wanted that space to be able to go out and find the peace that we search for and so we were looking forward to it," Leslie Espinola told FOX 13. "We want him to know that he's hurt us greatly."
Reardon owns licenses, one being used by Exclusive Pools. The other was used to qualify Cox Pools in Gibsonton. The board put stops on Reardon's ability to use either license to pull pool permits.
Reardon's attorney, Kenneth Curtin, apologized to the customers for his client's actions.
"There is no excuse for what has happened here. To put it in context, Mr. Reardon was taking care of his wife over eight, nine months to deal with a debilitating illness where she eventually passed away. And he let his business slip. There's no question about that," Curtin said. "That's no excuse. It doesn't cure what these ladies and gentlemen have suffered here so I want to apologize on behalf of Mr. Reardon again and Exclusive Pools for that."
Curtin also echoed a statement Reardon has previously made to FOX 13, saying, "Mr. Reardon has been trying to cooperate as best as he can with any homeowner."
His former customers, many of whom have now had to pay and additional tens of thousands of dollars to another pool contractor to finish the job, had trouble buying Reardon's apologies.
"First of all, I would like to say I do not accept the apology of Pat Reardon. He's a coward," Vargas said.
"It's like a nightmare that doesn't go away," added Donna Lawler, who has been one of Reardon's most vocal former customers. "Not sure we can see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet, but maybe when we're completed, we'll get there."
Two Hillsborough County detectives attended the hearing. They spoke at length with a group of customers following the hearing but declined to reveal to FOX 13 where their investigation stands.
According to legal experts, law enforcement could be looking into whether Reardon misappropriated construction funds or committed fraud.