Problems deepen for Pinellas seawall company - WFLA News Channel 8

Problems deepen for Pinellas seawall company

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Clearwater-based Pinellas Marine Construction left unfinished jobs, heavy machinery and frustration across Pinellas County, an 8 On Your Side investigation found.

Nine customers say they've paid hefty down payments of tens of thousands of dollars but received only partial work or nothing at all. Customers say company owner Kevin Fisk at first gave a list of excuses and then stopped returning their calls.

The Pinellas County Licensing Board and Pinellas County Consumer Protection are both investigating the complaints. Until now, though, this company had an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and no complaints with any of the local consumer groups. That's why it's so puzzling to these consumers that something has gone so wrong.

8 On Your Side reported about five disgruntled customers with half-done jobs in January. Since then, more customers have stepped forward.

At first, Fisk didn't return repeated phone calls from 8 On Your Side, so we tracked him down at his Seminole home. He wouldn't speak on camera, ran inside his home and wouldn't come out. But he did speak on the phone and blamed the delays on a family illness, the weather, permitting issues and broken equipment. He said that in his 35 years of running his business, he's never had issues and that he plans to finish all of the jobs.

Some of the broken equipment Fisk mentioned is behind the Commodore Apartments on Treasure Island. Owner Dale Nelson is frustrated. His records show he paid Pinellas Marine more than $86,000 to fix the seawall after it fell apart last April. His first payment was in May. He says Fisk kept asking for more money for materials, and he kept writing checks.

Work was sporadic for eight months, and then the job just halted in October. Now, Nelson doesn't know what to do about the broken seawall, and he fears rising water will damage his property.

"It's terrible. It's a mess, and then of course I find out about a month ago that there are other people in my same boat," Nelson said. "And then I really started to worry."

He's not the only Pinellas Marine customer in limbo. In Largo, Kim Taylor and her neighbor together spent at least $15,000. John Granger is waiting on $21,000 worth of work to be finished in St. Petersburg.

Alicia Lowther, in St. Petersburg, paid $24,000. Work started in October but halted a few weeks later. She says Fisk has left sporadic messages promising he'll be back but now won't return her calls.

"It's unsightly, but more so, it's a safety concern," Lowther said. "It's just not safe to be in the backyard. We have concerns that if the job is not completed soon, we're going to be back in hurricane season again."

Potentially worse, Lowther's neighbor, Rita Cotsakis, says Pinellas Marine cashed her two checks totaling $12,500 in October and never started work at her St. Petersburg home. She and her husband prepped their dock for the job. At first, she says Fisk gave excuses but now won't even answer the phone.

"We're frustrated," Cotsakis said. "We're disappointed. It's a hard situation to deal with. We're in limbo right now."

Doug Templeton, with the office of Pinellas County Consumer Protection, says these are the first customer complaints to that agency about Pinellas Marine since the company opened in 1979. But something clearly went wrong.

Templeton is currently investigating, and says these consumers did their homework. But he offers tips for anyone hiring a home contractor:

*Don't pay more than 10 percent down.

*Get an estimated completion date and payment schedule in writing.

*Don't pay before each part of the project is done.

*And ask the contractor to sign an affidavit, promising that sub-contractors were already paid.

Several of Fisk's customers have received notices of liens on their homes from sub-contractors.

The Pinellas County Licensing Board is also investigating and says Fisk will have to answer questions about recent complaints at a hearing in front of the board in March.

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