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Investigation Into Aqua Pool, Spa Expands

POSTED September 8, 2010 11:08 a.m.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has expanded its investigation of Ripon-based Aqua Pool and Spa. To date, CSLB has received and is investigating 77 complaints against the company from consumers and material suppliers. On Aug. 19, the company shut its high-profile store just off Highway 99 in Manteca. Company officer Richard Townsend told the media the company would be filing for bankruptcy.

Oakdale-based Cooley’s Custom Pools, owned and operated by Sean and Michelle Cooley for the past seven years, has caught a wave of new business due to Aqua’s closure, but the news still shocked the small town business.

“There’s been rumors that they’ve been in trouble for a while but we were still surprised. I feel bad for all the clients left holding the bag,” Sean Cooley said. “It makes it difficult to sell pools because people are nervous when they see a big company like Aqua go down. Just because they’re a little bigger doesn’t mean they’ll be around forever.”

Last week, CSLB Enforcement Chief David Fogt and others met with company officers. Those officers were instructed by CSLB to present a plan for all customers whose jobs had not been completed, or to provide those customers with a release from their contract, which would enable them to get the job finished by another contractor.

Michelle Cooley said she’s been fielding calls from Aqua clients looking for someone to help them finish the work left behind by the giant pool company’s abrupt closure.

“Everyone’s a little upset but no one has really bashed Aqua,” Michelle said.

The deadline for that plan was close of business on Aug. 30. CSLB did receive contact from the company.

“We’re encouraged that we received a call … from company officers,” said Fogt. “They say it is their intent to complete all the unfinished jobs. We’re hopeful they’ll meet their obligations.”

While the investigation continues, CSLB will give Aqua the opportunity to take care of the customers.

“What they do will help determine if this investigation is criminal, civil or administrative,” added Fogt.

According to the Cooleys, the unfinished Aqua pools they’ve been contacted about, are all in the same stage of completion, with the concrete poured but missing the electrical, plaster and equipment.

“They’re kind of in a bind. They’ve already paid for the electrical and equipment,” Sean said.

CSLB investigators are concerned with the release form Aqua is sending to its customers. The form is a mutual release that would free the company from any liability for not completing a job.

“We’d encourage Aqua customers to get legal advice before releasing the company from any responsibility,” said Fogt. “If they haven’t yet done so, Aqua consumers with unfinished jobs are encouraged to file a complaint with CSLB.”

CSLB investigators are also getting indications that there may be plans to reopen the Manteca store under a new name, Vintage Pools. Two of the officers who recently disassociated from the Aqua Pool and Spa license have filed an application for a new license under Vintage Pools. CSLB has frozen that license application.

“Disassociating from a license after there are consumer complaints doesn’t release anyone from their responsibility for those complaints,” said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. “We will not issue a new license until our investigation is completed.”

CSLB is also working with the California Spa and Pool Industry Education Council (SPEC), the Sacramento Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP), and the northeast California Better Business Bureau (BBB) to identify how a unified plan and teamwork might be implemented to help any abandoned Aqua Pool and Spa customers.

Questions about warranty issues are at the top of the list of concerns.

“If the business isn’t there, there’s no recourse and if they’re not there, who holds the warranty?” Sean said, echoing the questions clients are asking.

Michelle added the closure of the high profile pool company is a mixed bag for competitors.

“It’s good and bad for the small guy,” she admitted. “We have to work harder to reassure clients that we’re not going anywhere.”

To date, the 77 complaints received by CSLB are as follows:

Alameda: 1

Sacramento: 12

Calaveras: 1

San Joaquin: 21

Contra Costa: 13

Solano: 3

Merced: 2

Stanislaus: 13

Napa: 1

Yolo: 2

Placer: 7

Yuba: 1

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