I-TEAM UPDATE: Pool contractors sentenced to decades in scandal
EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The couple at the center of a pool contracting scandal entered a plea Wednesday in court.
Bruce and Heather Alford took a so-called Alford plea. The name is a coincidence; an Alford plea is a guilty plea, although the defendant maintains their innocence and admits the prosecution’s evidence would probably result in a guilty verdict.
When Meredith Anderson started looking into Bruce and Heather Alford, many victims were told their only recourse was to file a lawsuit in civil court.
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We were in court Wednesday when a judge handed down a hefty criminal sentence. Forty years each, with 15 in prison. Their sentence started right away.
As soon as the judge announced it, the Alfords were placed in handcuffs as a courtroom filled with their victims watched.
One by one, the victims trickled in…each family representing a felony count.
They filled an entire side of Judge James Blanchard’s Columbia County courtroom, and all 27 families couldn’t even be there.
Bruce and Heather Alford each faced 27 felony counts, 54 total, tied to 27 unfinished pools, and even though they technically pleaded guilty, they wouldn’t admit to any guilt.
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Heather Alford: “We are decent God-fearing people who never intended to hurt anyone.”
Heather: “I humbly ask for forgiveness for anything that I said or did that caused anyone any pain. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. That was never my intention.”
Twelve victims begged to differ and spoke in court, each digging a deeper hole for the Alfords, painting a larger picture of this scam, detailing lies, broken trust, and tens of thousands of dollars needed to clean up the mess they left behind.
Blanchard himself described Georgia-Lina Pools as leaving behind a trail of destruction.
“Rather than stop once you finished one job and maybe had money for others, go back and complete that job, you continued that trail of destruction, and you’ve destroyed many people’s lives.”
While it feels like justice, the victims say it doesn’t erase what happened, and they feel bad for the Alfords’ children, who will lose mom and dad for a while.
Missy Bonsack: “If you notice, when the judge rendered his verdict, nobody stood up and smiled. There was none of that. It was just bow your head and wow.”
Heather Medlin: “It definitely needed to be jail time, which is hard on my heart for her children. But it definitely needed jail time.
Dorcas Powell: “The only good that can come out of this is that other people won’t lose money and won’t be scammed and go through what we have gone through with these people.”
Kelly Sherrill: “Nobody won in this. I mean everybody’s lives are forever impacted by these two people.”
Bruce Alford did tell the judge he felt betrayed by the local news that there are two sides to every story, and no one asked them their side.
We did ask. Many times and actually got a message from heather in July of 2018. It’s short. “Georgia-Lina pools is closed, no longer doing business. End of story!”
They never agreed to an interview. There will be another hearing, this one for restitution, to figure out how much they can and will pay each victim. No date has been set, but it will be via video from prison.
EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We have an update years in the making that could finally mean justice for dozens of families left high and dry by local pool contractors.
At first, law enforcement told these families their only recourse was a lawsuit in civil court, but when our I-TEAM’S Meredith Anderson started investigating, she discovered a pattern of problems that went way beyond bad business.
When the I-TEAM exposed possible criminal behavior, the mugshots started piling up for Bruce and Heather Alford of Georgia-Lina Pools.
During our years-long investigation, at least one of them was arrested in Richmond, Columbia, Aiken, McDuffie, Lincoln and Putnam counties.
Wednesday, the married couple will have to answer to their charges in Columbia County where they each face 27 felonies, or 54 total felony charges, representing 27 different families.
They checked back in at the Bonsack home because that’s where the stakes are now higher. That’s because there’s a lien on their home.
Bruce and Heather Alford never paid the concrete company. “Too long. Too, too long. It’s been four years,” says Missy Bonsack
We first introduced you to Missy Bonsack back in 2019, not long after her family moved here from Missouri so their daughter Lucy could receive treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.
Her doctors suggested a therapy pool, so they hired the Alfords.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, you got a pool, you got a pool.’ It wasn’t what I paid for.”
For starters, we witnessed some concrete evidence.
Our cameras captured concrete still splattered on the house.
What’s on the ground is also splattered and cracking - and the I-TEAM observed why that may be.
A young child was captured on film as part of the work crew.
At night, the light that illuminates the liner shows that it is far from smooth.
They dumped dirt on their flat backyard and never hauled it off.
Missy told the I-TEAM that another builder, Pete Alewine Pool and Spa, fixed an electrical issue for free just to keep her family safe. “He said look, I’d like to come out because we had an electrical cord running from our pump into our house.”
It’s also not the Alfords’ only charges connected to a therapy pool.
A local Baptist preacher wanted a pool to help with his wife’s Parkinson’s disease.
“Aquatic therapy because we drive. We live out in Appling and we drive downtown three days a week to do physical training for Parkinson’s.” Paul Morris was one of these families who walked through these doors in Columbia County Magistrate Court.
Morris and most of these other families first started with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office – reporting the Alfords ripped them off.
Morris paid the couple $66,000 for what looked a lot like – a big hole in the dirt.
This is the unfinished pool at the home of yet another Columbia County family, Tracie, and Joel Bacon, who hosted a pool party of sorts before that hearing. It’s a club none of them wanted to join.
“And we’re all sitting here because we have no pools.” Bill Powell tells us. “It’s been...it’s just been awful. It’s been a horrible experience.” Says Heather.
But for the Bacons, who are both navy vets, this was especially painful.
“He told us he was a disabled vet who got hit by an IED, and that really brought us in, with the guarantee that it would be done in time. Yeah. Yeah. So.” All of this is what Morris says he was trying to stop. “I even cautioned the Columbia County Sheriffs. I said if you don’t do something with my case, you’re going to be dealing with more cases. And that’s the truth. So I’m glad there’s an all-stop for Heather and Bruce Alford at least in this industry and I hope they don’t open any other businesses in Columbia County.” For the last four years, the only thing that’s opened are court cases against them, including another one in bankruptcy court.
Lawyers for a bank, using 18 pages of our I-TEAM reports and my Facebook posts to try to prove the Alfords lied to get a “small business association loan” for $150,000.
Court documents show they closed their business a “mere 11 days” after they got the money. Lauren says she wants to know – where is all of that cash?
“That’s what I want to know. I mean, where is the investigation on these guys? Why isn’t anyone watching their every move? Why were they let out of jail all these times?” All questions missy hopes to get answered Wednesday in court. But, that’s not all. “I want to see them be held accountable. I want to see them have to pay back and I want to see them have to serve some time for that.” Adds Missy Bonsack.
She wants actual jail time. But in the end, she says she’s just happy the courts started to see the Alfords the way she and the other victims did, as criminals, and not just bad at business.
“You have been on and stayed on, to make sure that that this be forefront on the news. These last four years. I absolutely. Do not believe that this would have happened.”
Bonsack to the I-TEAM’s Meredith Anderson shared, “And I know I can speak for every one of the families that we are so thankful that you did this.” To put in perspective how long this has gone on, it started before one of the victims was pregnant. She has since given birth to two children.
No word why it’s taken four years, but it’s fair to point out covid did delay all court cases and Columbia County’s split from the Augusta circuit likely slowed it as well.
I’ll be in court on Wednesday and of course, will keep you posted.
So far, Bruce Alford pleaded guilty to his charges in Putnam county.
In 2019, he was given first offender status and placed on 10 years probation and was ordered to pay $9,600 in restitution.
Now going into this week’s hearing, he can no longer be a first offender.
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