MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - The dream of swimming or hosting backyard pool parties turned into a nightmare for several Lowcountry couples who all hired the same contractor.
The couples claim the contractor took tens of thousands of dollars for work he never completed. One couple is suing the contractor, Shawn Thomas, and one of the companies he operated out of Mount Pleasant. Other Lowcountry couples say the loss of money and the expense of finishing their pool made it financially difficult to take legal action.
Karen Kemp and her husband decided to the plunge a year ago and build a swimming pool at their home on Wadmalaw Island. The Kemps started putting money away so they wouldn’t have to take out a large loan to pay for it.
“Every Christmas and every birthday and every bonus went into that pool fund,” Karen Kemp said.
The Kemps researched contractors in late 2018 and settled on Aquatic Innovations in Mount Pleasant.
“This is the one that followed up a lot and seemed to get a good understanding of what I was trying to build and seemed very knowledgeable,” Kemp said.
Karen says the couple signed a contract with Thomas and work started in January 2019. She says they started paying $12,000 installments as outlined in the contract.
“It was toward the very first of May and he said, ‘We’re almost done,’” Kemp said. “'Three more days and you’re going to have water in your pool.'”
After telling the Kemps the pool was almost finished, Karen says Thomas asked for three large payments between $10,000 and $12,000 each to cover equipment, the gunite, and a pool cover. Karen says she express concern to her husband after the payments.
“I said, ‘Wow, that’s more than $30,000 that just went out the door in a week,’” Kemp said. “He said, ‘We’re at the end of the project’ and I said, ‘I guess it makes sense.’ But he never came out. That was May and he never came out again.”
In June, the Kemps still had an empty hole in the backyard, were out $30,000. Karen says they confronted Thomas and he threatened to file bankruptcy. The Kemps hired Meadows Pool and Spa out of Charleston to finish the job and learned they were not alone.
“They said ‘Oh, we’ve finished lots of pools this year for this guy,’” Kemp said. “'You’re one of many, many people.'”
Will Hundley says Meadows Pool has finished work on a handful of pools for customers in the last two years. He says they all originally hired Thomas.
"The first time it was a shock and you're thinking, I can't imagine it happens," Hundley said. "The shame of it is, it's kind of become a norm."
One of the pools Hundley and Meadows finished was for Christine Reilly of Mount Pleasant. She hired Thomas in October 2017. Back then, his company was called Aquatic Settings. Reilly says she agreed to a timeline and expected the work to be finished in time for an engagement party at her house.
"We have pictures of the pool with all the chipping out on March 18 when it was supposed to be completed, and it wasn't even close," Reilly said. "I was sitting here with a cement pond that looked like a beaver ate it."
The Reillys and Kemps didn't realize, when they hired Thomas to build their pools, he was already being sued in Charleston County and the accusations were very familiar.
Alex and Harriet Apostolou filed a lawsuit in February 2018 against Thomas, Aquatic Settings, and a pool design company called Pebbletech. The lawsuit claims the Apostolou's hired Thomas in August 2017 to build a new pool by November 1, 2017. The couple says they put down a $10,000 deposit and made regular payments as the work began.
According to the Apostolou's lawsuit the pool still wasn't finished in December and Thomas stopped showing up. The lawsuit also highlights excuses when the pool still wasn't finished in late January. It accuses Thomas of claiming he was out of town or sick.
According to court documents, Thomas denied all accusations made in the lawsuit.
The claims made in the Apostolou's lawsuit mirrors the experiences of the Kemps, the Reillys, and four other people who shared their stories but didn't want to be identified. They each claim losses ranging from $15,000 to $30,000.
"If someone came in your home and stole $30,000 of stuff out of your home, you'd have recourse," Kemp said. "You'd call the sheriff. You'd call law enforcement. This guy took a lot of stuff you know. He took a lot of money and he's doing it to a lot of people."
Aquatic Settings and Aquatic Innovations are still listed in good standing by South Carolina's Secretary of State. Neither company has an active website but do have profiles listed through the Better Business Bureau. Aquatic Settings has an A+ rating with the zero complaints despite only negative reviews. The BBB says ratings are not based on reviews but on how a company responds to complaints.
Attempts to contact Thomas to respond to the accusations were unsuccessful. His lawyer said Thomas would not comment.
The lawsuit is still active in Charleston County court and the earliest it would go to trial would be February of next year.