HOUSTON – For three months, Channel 2 Investigates has been trying to track down a Magnolia, Texas, pool contractor.
Last week, with rain falling from the sky, Bill Spencer and photographer Jon Hill finally caught up with him.
“Hey Roger, how are you doing?" Spencer said. "It’s Bill Spencer. We have some serious questions to ask you."
The man in question, Roger Russell, is listed on state records as one of two owners of Passion Pools LLC, in Magnolia, which has taken tens of thousands of dollars from hardworking Texas families, Channel 2 Investigates has found.
The company, which claims to build backyard pools, instead has left at least eight different families high and dry, with incomplete pool construction jobs.
"He’s hurt these families very badly," said Nicki Petrelli, who said she paid Russell thousands of dollars. "A lot of these people put their life savings into this, and he came in saying he’s going to build a pool and 'We’re going to give them a deal.'"
Petrelli and her two young sons are among the families hurt by the company.
Robert Campbell is accused along with Russell.
Petrelli said she paid Passion Pools more than $60,000 to build a beautiful pool and was left with an incomplete pool and broken promises that the company would finish the job.
Howard Walper said he paid the company $34,000 for what he said turned into a giant, cement swamp filled with filthy water, exposed pipe, sharp rebar and rusty nails.
"I had envisioned this oasis of tranquility that I could come home to and relax, and instead, every time I come home, my stomach is churning," Walper said.
Nathan Collier wanted to give his two children, 8-year-old Allie and 10-year-old Jackson, something his parents could never afford.
"Yeah, this pool was supposed to be everything for us," Collier said. "It was going to be our vacation. You know, paradise here at home."
He said he paid Passion Pools $85,000.
“For that, they did about 50 percent of the job," Collier said. "They left us with an empty pit that just fills with rainwater. My kids couldn’t even go in the backyard. It was a nightmare."
When asked who he dealt with most of the time, when working with Passion Pools on getting the pool built, Collier named Russell.
But when Channel 2 Investigates tried to question Russell about all of these unfinished pool jobs, he jumped into his pickup truck and drove off, telling us to call him instead.
Channel 2 tried calling Russell numerous times over the past week to talk to him and get his response to all of these allegations against him and Passion Pools LLC. But every time, we got his answering machine.
Finally, on Monday, just hours before this story aired, Russell called us.
Channel 2 Investigates asked for an on-camera interview, but were told Russell had been advised by his lawyer not to go on camera.
So we asked Russell to send us a text message, explaining what has been happening with Passion Pools.
This is part of the text message Russell sent: "I feel terrible about the clients who have incomplete projects that do not owe Passion Pools money. I myself am owed over tens of thousands of dollars from Passion Pools.
This has taken a huge toll on my family. To be clear, I was never the owner of Passion Pools. To the clients with incomplete projects, I am truly sorry for what happened to your project. When working for Passion Pools, my intentions were always to complete every project."
The problem with Russell saying he is not an owner of Passion Pools is that on the official Texas Franchise Tax Public Information Report, Russell is listed as both owner and director of Passion Pools LLC.
Campbell is also listed as owner and company director.
At this time, Passion Pools has a D-minus rating with the Better Business Bureau.
According to some Passion Pools customers, Passion Pools is being investigated by the Harris County District Attorney’s Consumer Fraud Division right now, but the district attorney’s office will neither confirm nor deny that information.
If you would like to learn how to protect yourself when hiring a pool contractor, we have created a special video, with the help of the Houston chapter of the Better Business Bureau.