Pool company owner sentenced to 18 years for defrauding nearly 100 Florida homeowners

Nearly 100 Floridians dropped thousands of dollars to have the pool of their dreams only to end up with a hole in their backyard, resulting in a Palm Springs pool company owner being sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday.

Building a backyard pool is expensive, but Diana Decker of Westlake had saved up for it. In 2020, she thought she gave her investment to a reputable company, Villa Pavers and Pools.

"It makes you not want to trust anybody anymore," said Decker in 2021.

Pictured: Ricardo Villarroel Duerto

A state investigation found that the company and its owner, Ricardo Villarroel Duerto, were not licensed and he was charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Villarroel is responsible for defrauding Decker and nearly 100 homeowners for pool work that was never done over the years across Florida, totaling more than $1 million in losses. The Florida Attorney General’s office prosecuted the case.

"The gentleman who’s responsible for taking your money is being sentenced to prison. It’s highly unlikely he’s going to be repaying you or be able to get a job to be able to repay you anytime soon," said Chris Castillo, a plaintiff’s attorney at Apex Law Firm in Tampa.

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Villaroel defrauded three Tampa Bay area homeowners in Temple Terrace, Clearwater and Wesley Chapel. Castillo works on consumer cases, and he is not representing victims against Villarroel. He shared what you can watch for if you’re looking for contractor work.

"Research them online. Check out their Google reviews, check out their Better Business Bureau reviews. They have complaints on the Better Business Bureau and check out the official court records in your local county clerk’s office," said Castillo.

He recommends you always check for their license online, take your time looking over any contracts and get several estimates for the work. But if you think you’re not getting what you paid for, Castillo suggests taking action.

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"I definitely recommend filing a complaint with the attorney general’s office. They have a consumer fraud protection wing," said Castillo.

Court documents show victims paid tens of thousands in down payments or toward the pool they never received, and it can be a journey to try to get that money returned. Villarroel targeted victims in Broward, Collier, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lake, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas and Seminole counties.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the investigation uncovered that Villarroel teamed with licensed general contractor Luis Alvarez of Conquer Builders, who aided and abetted Villa Pavers and Pools to defraud homeowners throughout the state. The office said Alvarez sold the use of his general contractor license to Villa Pavers and Pools, an unlicensed contractor company, to present a contractor license to homeowners and obtain building permits.

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Villarroel used the license repeatedly and hired two salespeople, Michael Borrego Fernandez and Laura Ballester Alpizar, to make deals, according to AG Ashley Moody. Alvarez, Borrego and Ballester are all in custody facing the same charges as Villarroel.

The Attorney General’s Office said Alvarez pled guilty to both charges with a sentence pending, and Borrego and Ballester are out on bond.

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