A Palm Harbor businessman has been charged with grand theft and working without a contractor's license after authorities said he took more than $26,000 from swimming pool owners in return for a worthless product.
Paul E. Chenard, 46, faces eight counts of grand theft and four counts of unlicensed swimming pool service contracting. Investigators said Chenard is the general manager of Crystal 2000, which they said applied an ineffective finishing product to the pools of eight Pinellas County residents in 2002.
Chenard's customers later told county officials that the finish on their pools began flaking away in a matter of weeks. They had been told it would last for years, officials said.
Authorities first charged Chenard in November 2003 after investigators for the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services found the company's pool finishing product lacked an advertised ingredient.
All the victims stated they purchased the Crystal 2000 finish because they believed it contained DuPont Kevlar, said Keith Parks, supervisor of the criminal investigation section of Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services.
Not only did the company's product not contain Kevlar, the investigation concluded, but it would not have increased the product's quality in any way.
Eight separate pool owners reported problems with Chenard's service within two months during the summer of 2002, Parks said. The customers were from Largo, Clearwater, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor, according to court records.
When they tried to complain to the company, they couldn't reach Chenard, officials said. Efforts to contact Chenard or Crystal 2000 Monday were unsuccessful.
David Hoffman of Clearwater said he refinanced his home to raise the $2,500 he paid Chenard's company in June 2002. But the finish began peeling in 10 days, he said. In the two years since, he said he has been unable to refinish his pool.
"Quite frankly, I don't have the money" to refinish the pool, Hoffman said. "I took out a loan for 30 years to pay for the first one."
Hoffman said he and his family have not been able to enjoy the pool since the finish flaked off.
"It looks icky all the time," Hoffman said. "Even right after I clean it, the water is all cloudy."
During their investigation, county officials contacted a lawyer and a researcher for DuPont Corp., according to court records. The lawyer said Crystal 2000 never had permission to use Kevlar in its advertising.
When asked if Kevlar would work as an additive in a swimming pool coating, the researcher laughed and said no.
A former Crystal 2000 employee told investigators that when the company ran out of its original product, Chenard began buying a "generic paint-like pool coating" and told employees to use it on customers' pools, according to court records.
Chenard has pleaded not guilty to the seven original counts filed last November. His attorney, Steve Bartlett of Holiday, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Chenard was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on five new counts Friday. He was released the same day after posting $30,000 bail.
The grand theft charges Chenard faces stem from the money customers paid him for services that were either ineffective or not performed at all, according to court records.
Chenard also is charged with unlicensed swimming pool contracting, a first-degree misdemeanor. For some time, Crystal 2000 did have a license.
But the company staff member who held that license died, and the company continued to offer its services after officials notified it that its license had been forfeited, said Rick Adkins, a county consumer services investigator.