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"Our yard is ruined": More than a dozen Minnesota families say pool contractor took their money, left them in the lurch

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. — More than a dozen families say they are each out tens of thousands of dollars. A WCCO investigation found they all paid up front to have the same contractor put in a backyard pool.

From county to county, family after family say he left them without their money and without a pool. Some filed police reports; others sued. 

Heather and Steve Swearengin look out at the gaping hole in their yard in Prior Lake.

“We’ve kind of run the gamut of every emotion through it,” Heather Swearengin said.

The Swearengins signed a contract with Charles Workman to build a pool. The couple dreamed of their four kids splashing in the water, being a spot for neighbors to gather.

“We were told once this was started it would be eight working days to get this done,” Swearengin said.

They’ve been waiting since October. In an attempt to figure out what happened, Twin Cities families who hired Workman found each other and learned they’re each out tens of thousands of dollars. WCCO brought them together for the first time.

“We got rid of all the other recreational stuff, because this is what we were going to do,” Adam Salonek, of Buffalo, said.

“We asked him for that money back. He kept coming up with excuses,” Janel Holm, of Shakopee, said.

“To accept the loss, it’s heartbreaking. We’ve had several days of tears,” Kyle Swenson, of Chanhassen, said.

The families say they made financial sacrifices and spent their savings only to be left worse off than when they started. Some yards untouched. Others with partial work done. All abandoned.

“We have no hole. He cut our concrete slab and our patio is smaller. Our yard is ruined, our fence is broken,” Swenson said.

“It’s unsettling to know this person can continue to go around and rip people off,” David Olson said.

The 14 families WCCO talked with total nearly a million dollars paid to Workman. One of them filed a civil suit against him and his company MN Crete Pools.

A judge awarded the homeowner $85,000 in March. She still hasn’t seen a dime.

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CBS

Even Bachman’s has history with Workman. The garden center giant claimed he failed to pay the company $28,000 for landscaping materials and supplies. A judge agreed and ruled in their favor.

WCCO uncovered a trail of criminal convictions and alleged crimes as far away as his former home in Kentucky. Workman pleaded guilty to theft by deception there and was ordered to pay restitution.

Back here in Minnesota, past problems haven’t stopped him from collecting money from metro families:

“I am 100% convinced he is not coming back to do the work,” Olson said.

WCCO tried to reach Workman to press him about the unfinished work and to ask where’s the money?

He drove away from his Prior Lake home when he saw us there and didn’t answer our calls.

WCCO discovered contractors with one specialty skill are not required to be licensed with the state.

That includes pool installations, meaning homeowners are not eligible to be compensated through a state recovery fund for an out-of-pocket loss.

That angers homeowners left with little recourse.

“There’s no license, no government oversight. Someone needs to be the backstop to protect consumers,” Olson said.

These families want Workman stopped and to prevent anyone else from doing something similar.

“We’re relying on the law, and there’s too many loopholes there,” Salonek said.

“It’s going to take a joint voice to show just how significant this problem is,” Swenson said.

Back in Prior Lake, the landscape rocks have continued to slide near the hole in the Swearengin’s yard, the soil eroding with each rainfall.

“We could have some issues with our house if we don’t do something soon,” Swearengin said.

Through this whole ordeal they say they’re teaching their kids, and themselves, forgiveness.

“We’re at the realization point that the best-case scenario is that this stops for other people. We don’t want it to keep happening, and we want change to happen,” Swearengin said.

Workman did send us a statement late Wednesday night, which can be found at the bottom of this post. He said he overextended himself, and in time, intends to pay people back or complete the work.

Some of the families have repayment plans. They haven’t received any money.

So what can you do?

The state labor department recommends vetting a contractor before hiring them. Get a name from someone you trust.

Check the state courts website for criminal history and lawsuits.

And structure a contract so you’re not paying up front.

If something does happen, file a complaint with the attorney general’s office.

Here is Workman’s full statement:

There are a lot of great families that I have worked with. One or two pulled projects led to weeks of work getting canceled. The money was invested in everything from the equipment I needed to complete the jobs, to the materials for multiple jobs, to labor and overhead, that decided to cancel after hearing about the first couple.

It will take me some time, but I intend to pay back or complete every project. I overextended myself as a company owner all by myself, and I have a lot of hard work ahead to make sure that each of the families get what they deserve.

I am focusing on doing great work going forward and using new business to help either repay or get the materials for most of the families impacted.

Covid and the economy has hit me hard, and I know that the families I have been working with are feeling the same stress.

That isn’t an excuse for why it happened, but all I can do is be the best version of myself going forward. I want to focus on communication and expectations so that each family knows what steps I am taking to let them put this behind them, either with a beautiful new pool or the money they need to start this project with someone else.


Source: CBS Minnesota

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