Coral Bay boss jailed
With more than $1,000,000 in claims from 134 victims, investigators say Coral Bay Homes could be the largest home building scheme in Florida...While a bulk of the complaints of unfinished homes came from Hernando County, Coral Bay Homes collapse has left victims across the state and the world. Home builders need to take responsibility for their financial state, Assistant State Attorney Phil Hanson said during a press conference...
Coral Bay boss jailed
Nov 13, 2006
BROOKSVILLE With more than $1,000,000 in claims from 134 victims, investigators say Coral Bay Homes could be the largest home building scheme in Florida.
Steven Bartlett, 39, president and owner of the Spring Hill-based business, turned himself into the Hernando County Jail Monday after a warrant was issued for his arrest Thursday.
Bartlett, who lives in Spring Hill at 6167 Airmont Drive, is charged with grand theft of $100,000 or more, after authorities said he used money received to build homes for personal use.
While a bulk of the complaints of unfinished homes came from Hernando County, Coral Bay Homes collapse has left victims across the state and the world. Home builders need to take responsibility for their financial state, Assistant State Attorney Phil Hanson said during a press conference Monday. A builder cant be an ostrich and stick his head in the sand, he said. They cant say I didnt know where I stood.
A criminal investigation was opened in May, following two years of receiving complaints of Bartlett reneging on his contracts. Sheriffs Detective Harold Varvel worked full time on the case, logging 755 hours into the investigation. Investigators pored over nearly 20,000 documents including bank statements over the course of the six-month investigation.
It was basically the same story from every victim, Varvel said: We paid a lot of money and we didnt get what we paid for.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also worked on the case because Coral Bay Homes contracted out work in Sumter, Citrus and Pasco counties. Investigators said Bartlett used the money for personal use, but wont provide any specifics. But Bartlett easily had access to $24 million that was invested in 20 homes, Hanson said.
Proving criminal intent was tricky.
Theres no builder who hasnt had a fiasco or two, Hanson said, but Bartlett displayed a pattern of repeatedly using the money for his own purposes. The company filed for bankruptcy in federal court in May. Two contractors have sued the company: Cemex Construction Materials Inc., which claims Coral Bay owes $269,332 for concrete, and Cox Lumber Co., which is seeking back payments of $63,350.
Investigators are confident most of the victims have come forward. The last one trickled in a few weeks ago after the victim returned from six months out of the country.
Theres not much recourse left for the victims. The Florida Homeowners Recovery Fund doles out claims to homeowners who lost money by a contractors mismanagement.
But claims are set at a maximum of $50,000.
There is the possibility of restitution when the case is closed, but Hanson predicts that could be two years or more down the road.
If convicted, Bartlett faces a maximum of 30 years in prison for the first-degree felony.
The State Attorneys Office decided to press only one charge instead of more than 130 charges. That opened the possibility of more than 700 years in prison, Hanson said.
Bartlett was in custody Monday on $10,000 bond.
Reporter Kyle Martin can be contacted at 352-544-5271