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. 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.
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 construction business and built his 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.