A Treasure Coast Florida couple is in jail after allegedly using their swimming pool construction business as a front for committing scams on over 150 homeowners, law enforcement officials say.
According to Florida state court documents, both Brian and Crystal Washburn — owners of Amore Pools, Inc. in Vero Beach, Florida — were arrested Tuesday, October 5, on 16 counts of felony charges each. These charges include money laundering, working as unlicensed contractors, and identity theft, among others.
Dubbed “Operation That’s Amore” by state officials, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation into the two-year-old business claim that the Washburn’s pool operation was actually a “sham company” that sought to swindle unknowing homeowners seeking backyard pools out of nearly $2 million primarily over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was not a business that was struggling to fulfill or meet a strong consumer demand during a pandemic,” Special Agent Lee Massey stated at a press conference held October 6. “They systematically set out with a plan to defraud homeowners.”
Both being held on $1,125,000 bond according to arrest warrants, the Washburns are alleged to have calculatedly victimized homeowners in six counties — Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Okeechobee, and Brevard — by starting contracted work on pools after receiving upfront payments upwards of 25% before quickly abandoning projects with no communication thereafter.
According to an affidavit, law enforcement officials began receiving complaints about the lack of progress on various projects in late July of this year and soon began an investigation.
Numerous purported victims claim Amore Pools allegedly began construction of in-ground pools in their residences’ backyards before abandoning the holes entirely — and sometimes compromising homes’ foundations in the rare event of completion of shoddily completed shells.
The investigation into the background of the Washburns revealed that Crystal had applied for a license to become a Registered Pool/Spa contractor with the State of Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPBR) in 2017 using false information, such as former pool construction business Infinite Pool Design Inc.’s license number, and soon registered for a permit in Port Saint Lucie, Florida — which she later used as leverage in requesting permits in other cities across South-Central Florida.
According to the DBPBR, “the difference between a registered contractor and a certified contractor is that the latter can work anywhere in the State of Florida… a registered contractor is someone who registered a local county municipal certificate of competency.”
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Amongst the triple-figure count of victims include homeowner Fredrick Hall, who made a sworn statement that he contracted Amore in March 2020 about constructing a pool in his backyard.
After his first deposit, the affidavit states, Hall noticed that permit applications filed by Amore contained signatures from Hall that were not his own as well as notarized by Eric Luntz, a friend of the Washburns.
The investigation found that Luntz owned a check-cashing store in Vero Beach titled “Checks-2-Dinero,” an apparently fictitious name for the company listed as Coastal Bound LLC on FloridaSunbiz.org.
After approximately 60% of the pool casing was built, Hall stated that Amore had pulled $59,000 over eight draws from the contracted price and ignored phone calls and emails before moving forward with criminal complaints.
The affidavit lists sworn statements from 10 other homeowners, while briefly listing 11 additional victims with claimed losses totaling $214,250.
Consistent throughout the sworn statements from victims was the alleged cashing of checks through third-party check cashers and never an official business account related to Amore.
“We’re never going to stop looking for the money,” Special Agent Bill Salidrigas said.
Subcontractors hired by Amore were later forced to file mechanics liens on several of the properties.
A mechanics lien — also known as a construction lien — is a commonly used legal strategy contractors employ that levels a standing claim on a property that work was performed on instead of against the property’s owner themselves, essentially demanding attention from multiple parties associated with it for alleged unpaid dues that prevent the property from being sold until those are fulfilled.
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Chiefly among the filing subcontractors is concrete suppliers Cemex, who took out liens on 18 homes that Amore had hired them to perform work on, totaling around $70,000 in unpaid work.
Homeowner Anthony Martens told WPTV that the Washburns sold them on the idea of creating a backyard pool through a sleek presentation although, like several others who claimed to have been scammed, Amore never intended to complete their project.
“We believed them. We really thought they wanted to do the right thing” Martens said. “Like, it was just a company that fell behind [during the pandemic].”
Marten and his family said that they had spent $36,000, paid for with money inherited from Martens’ father before passing away. With an original contract price of $54,500 with Amore, the Martens say they are now looking to pay $73,000 to finish the project with another company.
While the case against the Washburns still continues to play out in court, Treasure Coast homeowners are still reeling from the damage of their alleged actions.
“There’s a lot of people out here that are going to be out a lot of money,” Martens said.
Officials with The Florida Department of Law Enforcement were not available for comment at time of reporting.