Pool and hot tub scammer’s victims now number 76, out a combined $1.38M, DA says

The calls started coming in to the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office from additional alleged victims within moments of the announcement of a home improvement fraud arrest in January.

At that point, District Attorney Terry Houck alleged 58-year-old Roger Kornfeind had scammed 26 people out of more than $481,000 by promising them pools and hot tubs but failing to deliver.

On Wednesday, the number of Kornfeind’s alleged victims ballooned to 76, out a combined $1,378,146 in down payments, Houck announced.

“Kornfeind promised 76 victims and their families he would deliver their pool and hot tub but instead delivered excuses,” Houck said during a news conference at the courthouse in Easton. “These victims are now out thousands of their hard-earned dollars with no finished project to show from it.”

Kornfeind, of the 2800 block of Linden Street in Bethlehem, allegedly had been taking down payments but failing to install promised pools and hot tubs since 2018, according to court records. During the coronavirus pandemic, he found more victims by exploiting their isolation and desire for backyard entertainment, according to Houck’s office.

“I think it certainly helped that Mr. Kornfeind was able to have a steady stream of people looking for swimming pools because public pools were closed, there was limited activities in the public, in the community during the quarantine,” said Deputy District Attorney Jim Augustine. “And I think that he saw a large group of people looking for these types of services, and I think that became very tempting for Mr. Kornfeind. He wasn’t necessarily seeking people out, they sought him out.”

Kornfeind, in essence, was undercutting his competition, telling customers: “‘I don’t care what anyone else is telling you, I’ll get you swimming in 90 days or 60 days,’ and that led to a lot of this,” Houck said.

Prosecutors believe Kornfeind acted alone in his scam, through his Hydro Dynamic Pools business with offices in Pen Argyl; Slatington, Lehigh County; and Oley, Berks County. The Northampton County District Attorney’s Office is consolidating the cases arising from the three counties. Court records detail alleged victims in Bucks, Monroe and Schuylkill counties, as well.

The investigation began when a retired police officer wary of his dealings with Kornfeind reached out to Northampton County Detective Paul Romanic, who followed up by checking for civil actions against Kornfeind and locating numerous consumer-protection complaints filed with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

Some of the calls that have inundated the district attorney’s office since January appear to be purely civil complaints about work actually performed, Houck said. In the cases that led to the criminal charges, victims who paid Kornfeind as much as $55,000 were left with maybe a hole in the ground or some random pool parts, according to Houck and court records.

Pool and hot tub scammer’s victims now number 76, out a combined  .38M, DA says

“These were cases that we just thought were straight-up, 100% criminal in nature,” Houck said.

Kornfeind was arraigned Wednesday before District Judge Alicia Rose Zito on 150 new counts, on top of the 78 counts he was charged with in January. He has been in Northampton County Prison in lieu of 10% of $250,000 bail since his arrest, with Zito tacking on $125,000 bail on the new charges. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled March 14 on the original charges, with a March 24 preliminary hearing tentatively scheduled on the new round, both before Zito. When that hearing is held, the district judge will be asked to determine if there is sufficient evidence to send the charges toward trial in Northampton County Court.

The charges of theft, receiving stolen property and home improvement fraud are a mix of misdemeanors punishable, upon conviction, by up to 10 years in prison and felonies that could carry 15 or 20 years per count, Augustine said.

Kornfeind’s attorney, Phil Lauer, told lehighvalleylive.com in January “legitimate explanations” could explain the apparently unfilled promises of a backyard pool or hot tub. He said Wednesday he was aware of the new charges but had yet to review them.

“I would just say that given the difficulties that anyone in any part of the construction industry has experienced during the pandemic with regard to shipping and supplies and so forth, I would imagine that those difficulties played some part in this, although I honestly can’t offer any real opinion until we actually get to look at the charges,” Lauer said Wednesday.

Houck said some of the alleged victims had done research on getting a pool or hot tub installed before signing on with Kornfeind for the work. That kind of research is essential, the prosecutor said in offering tips on avoiding falling prey to a home improvement scam. Other tips include getting protections in a contract, like deadline dates, and limiting how much of a down payment they are willing to pay.

“These places are demanding money up front, and it’s unfortunate that there’s so much money involved here, it’s unrealistic to think that these people will ever ... be made whole and get their money back,” Houck said.

The district attorney, who has spent 44 years in law enforcement, said he had never seen “anything like this in my life” approaching the scope of this case.

“And the concerning part is the calls haven’t stopped yet,” he said, noting the investigation is ongoing. “I just get the feeling that that’s going to continue.”

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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com.

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