EXCLUSIVE: Customers share experiences with pool builder sued by Nebraska AG
Area homeowners say Premier Pools and Spas required contract that forced tens of thousands of dollars to be paid upfront, prevented negative online reviews
VALLEY, Neb. (WOWT) - After an exclusive story that 6 On Your Side investigated last month, exposing questionable business practices by an Omaha-metro pool installer, the state AG has filed a lawsuit against the company.
Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Premier Pools and Spas of Valley. Among the allegations are a deceptive payment scheme, misleading marketing, neglected pool projects, ignored refund demands, and contract language that discourages bad reviews from customers themselves.
The AG also alleges the company used pictures of pools they didn’t build.
Only rainwater and frustration fill the unfinished pool that Mary Ellis told 6 News that Premier Pools and Spas started 17 months ago.
“I deserve to have a pool because they have $75,000 of my money,” she said.
Ellis is among eight customers who filed lawsuits against Stanger Enterprises and Premier Pools and Spas. 6 News went to the company’s headquarters seeking a response from owner Aaron Stanger and talked with an employee.
6 News asked whether he wanted to comment and attempted to leave a message.
“Yeah, I will let him know that you stopped by,” the employee said.
Stanger emailed 6 News saying that there will be no comment on pending litigation, but pool customer Kyle Mahoney said he wants a response — and hired attorney Jason Bruno, who filed several of the lawsuits.
“There’s no backyard at my house. No kids no dog nothing back here. For how long? It’s been two years,” Mahoney said.
He has estimates from other pool contractors to complete work that Premier started.
“I’m out $90,000, and now I have to invest $38,000 to put it back to normal,” he told 6 News.
The Nebraska AG filed the lawsuit against Premier Pools and Spas because customers are in deep — and not just financially.
“And you highlighted in your reporting, these holes are hazards,” Hilgers told 6 News. “I mean its one thing that you take someone’s money — and that’s terrible. But take money, then put the hole in, and put on the homeowners the potential hazard.”
The Schriers still have a nice backyard, so you could say they’re Lucky — except they paid Premier about $50,000 two years ago. The attorney for Alan and Lisa Schrier filed the suit.
“They haven’t done anything for me, so I stopped it relatively quickly when I felt something wasn’t quite right with their dealings,” Alan Schrier said.
In a counter claim, Premier alleges it started design and construction plans, so there’s no breach of contract or refund due.
“We argue they breached the contract because we paid the down-payment, like requested in the contract, and we got nothing for it,” attorney Andrea Hardesty said.
Customers like the Schriers signed a contract with a section warning if they post a negative social media review of file a Better Business Bureau complaint without first notifying Premier Pools and Spas, the company can terminate the contract — implying no refunds.
Alan Schrier said the clause had a chilling effect.
“Because nobody was allowed to post on social media about what was happening to them, so as we did our research, all we saw were good posts, positive comments, and in reality that wasn’t the case,” Schrier said.
The AG alleges that gag clause, first exposed by 6 News, is illegal.
“They’re getting retaliated against for coming and raising their hand and saying ‘There’s something wrong,’ and that’s a problem,” Hilgers said. “So the more sunlight that we can shine, whether it’s our office or the work you are doing, Mike, I think it’s valuable.”
The lawsuit doesn’t stop Premier Pools and Spas from taking on new customers.
For customers like the Schriers and Mahoney, the Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks restitution and implies the money they paid for incomplete projects has been funneled elsewhere.
“I paid that much because I thought it was a cheaper route, and I could trust them,” Mahoney said.
As for Ellis, her pool passed a plumbing inspection, but no more work has been done.
Copyright 2023 WOWT. All rights reserved.