Carlos Hernan Longo and his wife Romina Campanella De Longo, who together have owned Crystal Clear Pool of Central Florida since 2010, were arrested today and each charged on 11 counts of fraud and a count of organized scheme to defraud, a first-degree felony. They are being held at the Flagler County jail, each on $320,000 bond.
The list of their alleged victims is long, the names including some prominent members of the Palm Coast community. Crystal Clear Pool was also at the center of allegations against former Palm Coast Building Inspector Charlie Mini, who resigned his long-time government job with the city in the fall of 2018. An internal investigation found he’d manipulated inspection reports and particularly favoring Crystal Clear Pools.
The charging affidavits against the Longos list 12 individuals or couples with whom they’d contracted from September 2017 through February 2019 to build in-ground pools. The contracted work was allegedly not completed, defrauding the 12 parties of a combined $456,000.
“In each of the 12 cases,” the investigative report states, “Carlos Hernan Longo failed to complete each job, asked for more money and left each victim with a hole in the ground that could not be used as a pool without the intervention of another hired licensed Contractor or in a couple reported case did not completely finish the job to include installing the salt system, final grades, and calling in final inspections to close out the permit. Each victim has since had to pay to have a separate licensed Contractor complete the existing shell” that Crystal Pool started.
“Crystal Clear Pools took advantage of customers who trusted them to perform as promised per their specific agreements but they took their customers’ money and ran – leaving them high and dry,” State Attorney R.J. Larizza said.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s detective John Castanheira opened his investigation in June 2019, jointly with the State Attorney’s Office. His arrest affidavit lists some details for each of the 12 parties allegedly defrauded.
One case involves a Palm Coast Fire Department firefighter who’d contracted with Crystal Pool in 2018 for a $51,000 pool at his B-Section home, financed with a home equity loan. The Longos were paid nearly $39,000 (the homeowner and the Longos agreed to subtract the balance when the homeowner opted to build a screen enclosure separately). But the work on the pool was never done, and eventually had to be completed by a different contractor.
A couple contracted with Crystal Pool for a $46,500 pool in the Hammock in February 2015. The homeowners made one installment payment of $21,250. But the work never started. The homeowners contacted the county’s building department and found out the Longos had never applied for a permit on the project. They contacted the Longos for a refund. The Longos told them they didn’t have the money to refund them. The homeowners contacted the Sheriff’s Office’s Seniors vs. Crimes, which intervened and helped broker an agreement for a full refund. The Longos made only a partial refund, however, of $12,000. A certified letter to the business returned undelivered.
Another owner, Harry Russo, provided FlaglerLive with a four-page chronology of the ordeal that followed signing a $57,600 contract with Crystal Clear Pools in November 2010, with a “lifetime warranty on the pool shell.” Russo was required to pay a 50 percent deposit, which he did in three installments. Work began just before that Christmas. In January, Russo is told that the foundation on the house was sinking and had to be reinforced. A nearly $5,000 check was cut, but the work was not done. Another payment followed in January. By then, Longo was not communicating much, and was not paying other contractors hired for the job. That spring, work that had been ongoing fails inspections. Romina Longo in April 2019 tells Russo her husband was no longer with the company, and Russo stops hearing from him. Other problems develop. By May, Russo has spoken with other homeowners who’ve had similar issues with Crystal Clear Pools. He fires the contractor and alleges contract fraud in a statement to the Sheriff’s Office. By June 1, Larizza calls him to tell him of an active investigation.
The cases all resemble each other, with a signed contract followed by installment or full payments followed by work that either did not start or was never completed, along with difficulties contacting the Longos.
“Romina and Carlos used their registered pool business, Crystal Clear Pool Cleaning of Central Florida, Inc., aka Crystal Clear Pools, Inc.,” the report states, “to defraud customers of their money. The business address was listed at their home address, 14 Fifer Lane, Palm Coast, FL 32137.”
The Longos would complete written contracts, ultimately with large deposits being made payable to either Crystal Clear Pools or to Carlos Longo himself, the report states. “Numerous jobs incurred liens being placed on the property by the Concrete Gunite Company. In some cases, the clients had to pay these liens personally so their properties would not be auctioned. In all the cases except one, the clients paid Crystal Clear Pools almost the entire contract price with only half the pool being completed. One case a permit was never applied for and the funds were not available to be refunded as they were most likely spent on other projects or personal use.”
The investigation scoured the records of numerous bank accounts the Longos held.
“The business continued selling pools knowing the financial hardship they were incurring. They knew they did not have the ability to complete the pools for the customers,” the investigation found. “They were using deposits from other customers to apply towards other pools already started.”
Romina Longo told the detective she was responsible for the finances of the business. She said she knew the business was struggling, in part because her husband was in a car crash and couldn’t work. She said she tried to catch up with bills by selling her own house and taking out loans, but it all became too overwhelming. Carlos Longo did not submit to an interview, the detective reported.
The arrest warrants were served at the Longos’ home this morning at 7 a.m.
“These cases are intricate and take a long time to build but Detective Castanheira the State Attorney’s Office
investigator did a great job building this case,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “This is also a good reminder to always check-out contractors with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Better Business Bureau before signing contracts.”