Once-prominent builder Gerhard Boerner, who built Spring Hill's first bowling alley and its only movie theater, was arrested Friday on charges of grand theft and misappropriation of funds. Boerner's various construction-related businesses, at least 17 of them in all, were some of the most successful in Hernando County during the 1980s. During the companies heydays they did about $10-million in commercial projects annually and built more than 2,000 single-family homes.
Despite the immensity of the builder's enterprises, he was charged with the theft of a relatively small $9,172 involving one single-family house he built in 1989.
"I was shocked...I was just really surprised," said Hal Robinson, executive director of the Greater West Hernando Chamber of Commerce, of Boerner's arrest.
"The Gerhard Boerner I knew and remembered was a very quiet, conservative businessman during the 1980s who was the catalyst for a lot of good projects we have now in Spring Hill," Robinson said.
While news of Boerner's arrest Friday morning was shocking to much of the business community, it was welcome news to Robert and Robin Tvrdik, the Spring Hill couple who Boerner allegedly bilked.
"I thank God he was finally arrested," said Robert Tvrdik, 36, who declined to say anything else about Boerner because he didn't "have anything nice to say about the man." Instead, he referred questions to his wife.
According to Mrs. Tvrdik, the couple contracted with Boerner's Quality Construction Group in October 1987 to build a $107,000 home on Radcliff Street in Spring Hill.
Under the terms of the contract, the Tvrdiks were to make monthly mortgage payments to Boerner, who in turn was supposed to pay them to the now-defunct Gibraltar Savings Bank.
But Boerner, according to the Tvrdiks and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, did not make at least three mortgage payments and instead channeled the money elsewhere.
"Basically, he held the mortgage for them and was supposed to make the payments for them, but on these three incidents diverted the funds for his own use," said sheriff's Detective Mike Owens.
Owens said that there were several other complaints against Boerner from other customers, but he said there were no other charges pending.
Boerner, who was released on his own recognizance Friday, did not return a reporter's phone calls.
His attorney, Emmett Donnelly of Gainesville, denied any wrongdoing by his client.
"Mr. Boerner never misappropriated or mishandled any funds," Donnelly said. "At this point, we don't even know what he's responding to."
Boerner, 49, emigrated to the United States from Hamburg, Germany, where he worked for Ford Motor Co. He lived in Pennsylvania for a short time, and moved to Spring Hill in the early 1980s.
In Spring Hill, he got into the building business and built his construction companies into some of the most successful in the area.
He constructed more than 2,000 single-family homes in Spring Hill during the early 1980s, and also built commercial projects such as the Cinema Square theater and neighboring Wal-Mart Plaza shopping center and the Spring Hill Lanes bowling alley.
His business started to sour in the late 1980s, however, in part because of the beginning of a commercial construction slump.
In January 1989, Boerner's Quality Construction Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing debts of nearly $2.9-million and assets of $1.7-million.
Boerner was unable to reorganize the company's debt, however, and in April of this year converted the Chapter 11 filing into a Chapter 7 filing.
Under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, a business' assets are liquidated to pay debts.
The toll on his businesses also took a toll on Boerner personally.
Last June, Boerner filed for personal bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa.
"Those years (the late 1980s) were some tough years for a lot of builders," said Robinson, whose organization once honored Boerner as its Businessman of the Year.
"There were some very good businessmen who have gotten into some real deep business trouble because of them," he said.
A glance at the builder's projects
Gerhard Boerner was one of Hernando County's biggest and most prominent builders during the 1980s before his downfall, which began with the January 1989 bankruptcy of his company. He was arrested Friday on charges of grand theft and misappropriation of funds. Under at least 17 different companies, Boerner built single-family homes and commercial projects throughout Hernando and elsewhere. Here are some of the larger projects Boerner was involved with, including some that were announced but never started:
Hernando County Family YMCA: Boerner served as the first chairman of the YMCA. His Quality Construction Group was not the general contractor for the $2-million center, located on Mariner Boulevard, but did make some contributions.
Wal-Mart Plaza: Boerner built the U.S. 19 shopping center in 1985. His company also built the neighboring Dunkin Donuts and Rax restaurants and Cinema Square, Spring Hill's only movie theater. Boerner also built and was a part-owner in the Box Office restaurant near the shopping center.
UHL Plaza: Boerner and a partner, Alan Uhl, built the U.S. 19 shopping center before disbanding as partners in 1982.
Suncoast Eye Center: Boerner built the Hudson eye clinic in the early 1980s.
Spring Hill Lanes: Boerner built Spring Hill's first bowling alley in the early 1980s.
Player's Club of Spring Hill Inc.: Boerner in January 1986 announced plans for a $3-million luxury health club, which never got off the ground.
Days Inn motel: Boerner announced in September 1987 plans for a $3.5-million, 120-room hotel on State Road 50 east of HCA Oak Hill Hospital. The Days Inn never got off the ground.