Pool Builder Accused of Faking His Own Death Amid Bankruptcy
A bankrupt pool builder in North Texas has been accused by customers of faking his own death among other allegations.
MerLux Pools, a once-popular pool builder in North Texas, is facing accusations of taking money from dozens of customers for pool projects that it never completed. The company is now in bankruptcy, and its former customers have been left holding the bag. Some of them have even begun to speculate that one of the company’s owners, Jared Hall, may have faked his own death to avoid responsibility.
The story begins with Caprice Bohr, who dreamed of having a pool in her backyard. She paid MerLux Pools last summer to build one, but the company never completed the project. Today, Bohr is left with an unfinished pool that collects rainwater and debris. She is one of many homeowners in North Texas who have paid MerLux for projects that the company never finished.
Other customers, like Anusha Raavi and Kedar Kunal, paid MerLux over $142,000 to build them a backyard oasis with a pool, waterfalls, fire bowls, and an outdoor kitchen. They say that everything was perfect until just before Thanksgiving, when a fellow customer warned them that the company was going under. By that Sunday, MerLux was declaring bankruptcy.
Upset customers began to gather on Facebook, sharing videos and stories of their experiences with MerLux. Some customers even confronted one of the owners, Jared Hall, in person, weeks before the bankruptcy. In court records, MerLux reports that it owes money to at least 35 customers and has a total debt of more than $2 million.
During a recorded phone meeting with a bankruptcy trustee, the company’s co-owner, Ryan Setty-O’Connor, claimed that the main reason the company failed was because of Hall. He accused Hall of stealing money, spending it lavishly, and deceiving everyone, including him. Setty-O’Connor testified under oath that Hall died in January from an unspecified illness. During his testimony, Setty-O’Connor also revealed that he was aware that some of the positive reviews for MerLux Pools were not genuine.
However, some customers are not convinced that Hall is actually dead or that he’s the only one to blame. They have questioned the absence of an obituary or public death certificate, and some have even suggested that he may have faked his own death to avoid responsibility.
“Maybe two years later, they both might be sipping margaritas on some beach,” Anusha Raavi told reporters.
CBS News who broke the story was unable to confirm that Jared Hall, co-owner of MerLux Pools, has indeed passed away. However, bankruptcy trustee Shawn Brown has reported that he was provided with a “scan copy of the death certificate” that “appeared authentic.”
With few assets left, MerLux is unlikely to pay off much of its debt. This leaves the company’s former customers to clean up its mess, and many of them are left wondering whether they will ever see their dream pool become a reality.
Photo Credit: @SFamBam – YouTube
One on One With Elite Pool Designer – Danny Wang
When it comes to the world of pool and outdoor living design, there are few who have come close to the success and recognition that Danny Wang has achieved. Based in Orange County, CA, his firm DW Design & Build has established a reputation as one of the leading design firms. Racking up award after award for his over-the-top luxury pool and backyard designs, Wang’s ability to help homeowners conceptualize their ideal outdoor living environment is unprecedented.
With an uncanny ability to envision complete outdoor living design concepts on-the-fly, Danny Wang is almost a household name in the pool design world. He seems to possess a rare ability that gives him near-instant insight to look at a home and see the potential for a complete redesign in his head before ever putting pen to paper.
“I’m not freestyling it but it’s almost like when I go walking into someone’s backyard an image of a project literally pops up in my head and I see it,” said Wang, “I don’t know how else to describe it. Usually, by the time I’ve walked through the yard and talked to the homeowner, the designs are done within 5 to 15 minutes.”
“It’s probably based on all my experience. You build so many pools, that you kind of know what goes where and what can and can’t go on in the design,” said Wang.
“Lately, when I’m approached for a design the homeowner just lets me do my thing,” said Wang, who admits he’s looking to work with clients who allow him free reign to create them an over-the-top design for their backyard. “That’s kind of how we screen our clients to know if they’re going to be very involved in the process. I mean, that’s okay, but more and more what we like are folks who know they are hiring me to build them an award-winning pool and know that I’ll get it done right,” he explained.
“I don’t think every designer could say that confidently. We’re building a very complex pool, so there are only a few people that can execute at that level. This is why a lot of times we build our own projects,” said Wang.
“Of course, it’s not my house, so what we have to do is still take into account what they want and need. We take those elements from discovery and incorporate those into a design around that,” said Wang.
Wang says he draws inspiration from what other folks like Paul McClean are doing in the field of architecture. “I think pushing that boundary is important, seeing what’s possible both technologically and artistically. What have people not seen before? I think that part really motivates me to be creative and innovative in the design and build aspect. That, makes it more fulfilling and kind of drives me,” said Wang.
“I get a lot of inspiration from just looking at different places. I would look up resorts in Bali, Mexico, and other various parts of the world and try to understand their different design language,” explained Wang, “looking at things globally and saying ‘well what are these people doing in different parts of the world?’ and then taking inspiration from that and combining elments into what we’re designing for our clients.”
Things didn’t always come so easy for Wang, who let us know that the moment he started to become known, he made a typical mistake many design firms make. “I think in 2017, at that time, I had a lot of business. I made a mistake, as a lot of people do, and took on way more than I could chew. I think at that time, I had about 50 projects backlogged, and I was doing about 30 projects at once. It was brutal, and we were losing money left and right,” said Wang.
In order to regain some sanity, Wang said that he was forced to take a break to complete the projects he had in backlog. “I couldn’t build for like two years because we just had so many in backlog,” explained Wang, “I did have time to do design, so what I ended up doing was I was doing my projects during the day, and at night, I would go home and design for other people.”
“That was roughly the same time that I started doing social media. People see would see our designs on social media and it just kind of took off from there,” said Wang.
Wang’s visionary designs are clearly not only appreciated by the pool industry but by the general public as well. Having amassed an enormous social media following, he has plans to leverage his brand in new and exciting ways.
“Our content is entertaining and also educating people. There’s a lot of stuff we can learn now through social media, where we have a worldwide audience. I didn’t know that there were so many different types of building techniques and different elements used throughout the rest of the world. So that’s really eye-opening, and I learned a lot. I also see other people learning a lot from the content that I’m producing and that’s very interesting to me,” said Wang.
Often eager to show off the latest design trends, we asked Wang what’s trending with his social media audience. “I think bigger and crazier water features. We’re using a lot more lighting versus just the traditional on-and-off people are used to. We’re doing smart lighting where we can control the water feature lighting and that creates a whole new element of the design. DMX lighting where the water features change color with the music. LED’s can have patterns and the pool almost becomes like a musical stage.”
By the millions of likes and shares his content is getting, it’s clear that folks are excited about what Wang is doing in the backyard. “You just don’t see these types of things happening in your ordinary backyard,” said Wang.
It’s clear Wang’s portfolio of over-the-top luxury resort-style swimming pools continues to grow almost as quickly as his social media following. Wang said he has every intention of turning the brand into a household name. “We’re kind of getting into product development. Right now we’re talking with tile and fire pit manufacturers. We’re also going to start developing our own indoor and outdoor product lines. So lots of exciting things going on,” said Wang.
Listen to our entire conversation with elite pool designer Danny Wang on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Out With The Old & In With The New
I have seen a lot of ‘great new ideas’ come into our industry and I have been on the ground floor to help work on them. I’ve helped in the field development as I was trying to incorporate these great new ideas into my own projects.
Ideas such as therapy spas that were created in my little town of Lafayette by Jacuzzi for one of their family members, or working with the very first robotic pool cleaners that were created by Andy Pansini or Howard Arneson, right here in the bay area. Or maybe it was being the first person to introduce the Bay Area to fiberglass spas along with being part of the Redwood hot tub craze that was started right in northern California by Bill Brown, whose grandfather started building redwood water tanks in the East Bay over 125 years ago.
The fact is, I have seen and been part of what is next and cutting edge in of our industry almost from day one when I decided this was what I wanted to do for a craft for the rest of my life. I have seen some great new ideas come into our industry and I am forever keeping my eye out for what is just around the bend.
With that being said, I recall a conversation that my son, Nicco, asked me about 5 years ago. He asked, “just how sustainable is the pool industry?”. I said that there always seems to be the next great idea around the bend that rejuvenates our industry. Innovations that take us to the next level, come along every so many years. I reminded him that our family had been building pools in our local market since 1955 and that we’ve never been without work because the pool industry is forever evolving.
With some of this history in mind, I want to tell any of you that are reading this article what I’ve noticed as the next big trend in our industry for those of us that build swimming pools. About 15-20 years ago I started to hear about companies that were specializing in pulling out pools instead of building new ones. It became such a big market that it was not uncommon for excavation companies to remove over 100 pools a year. I started to worry that maybe the lifestyle of owning a swimming pool in your backyard was changing. Was this the moment that enjoying a luxury pool in the privacy of your own backyard might be passing? Was our society was no longer interested in the lifestyle of owning your own pool?
As the momentum grew for pool removal I started to notice that some people weren’t just pulling their pool out because they didn’t have an interest in having a pool in their backyard. What was happening is that they were doing some major remodeling to their home and the pool didn’t fit their needs in its current location, however they still wanted a pool as part of their yard.
I thought our market was getting saturated and that all the good pool sites were built on already. Were all the good pool sites gone? With fewer and fewer lots to build a pool on, is this how the pool-building market ends in my corner of the country?
Instead, along comes this great new opportunity. If you don’t like your pool or if the cost to repair it is too expensive, then invest your money in the new backyard of your dreams.
At first, I thought how wild a concept this was. I remember when my father was building pools back in the ’50s and ’60s that his average pool was $2,000 all in. As we continued to get calls to remove a homeowner’s old pool, I didn’t want others to know that I was actually throwing away an old pool to replace it with another “state of the art” new well engineered, and hydraulic-designed swimming pool with all the latest and greatest innovations that we use on all of our projects today.
Along with the idea of building a new pool came the need to also redesign the entire backyard. That led to scrapping the backyard so that everything was gone and we had a fresh new canvas to design on. The idea caught on like wildfire and before I knew it we were involved in building much higher-priced projects. Not only were we building state-of-the-art swimming pools but also the latest and greatest concrete designs and patterns. Now we could incorporate a gas fire pit in the yard next to the pool. We would design and build a bocce court as another entertainment area. Building a solid roof pavilion with an outdoor fireplace, bar, BBQ, dining room, and a TV above the fireplace; was now possible We could accomplish that in our builds as custom pool builders in our new backyard designs.
Almost every client that I showed the possibilities to seemed to share the vision. Now the opportunity to personalize their very own backyard with a new swimming pool was possible. All you need is a creative mind and a willing client that believes in your ability to help transform their backyard. They also need a budget big enough to fund their dreams. It no longer became a conversation about what they could do once the old pool was removed, it then became what are all of their possibilities. This new mentality has become such a big part of our business. We no longer talk about just the pool and now focus on the entire backyard.
My son and I are part of a team of artisans that have all figured out that together we can create some beautiful artwork as we all work together for the common goal of building the entire backyard. In most of our projects, I become the project manager by helping bring in the other team players in coordination with building the swimming pool. It used to be that I would look in various magazines for pool ideas. I would be in awe of the elaborate yard designs that we are now seeing in our industry. Now Nicco and I are the ones that are building these elaborate entertainment backyards. Working alongside our landscape designer to help set the theme of the backyard.
What I have come to realize is that we aren’t the only ones across the country that have seen this change coming to our industry. I am a member of the Carecraft Pool Professional Buying Group and as I talked to other top professionals in our group, they too are starting to see the designs of the full backyard growing by removing the old pool and installing a new complete backyard entertainment area.
Most of the pools we remove are typically from the previous generation of the ’60s and ’70s. Not that they were poorly built, but most of the architecture of those swimming pools were based on templated design. This was just before the era of the custom design pool that started in the late ’70s to early ’80s.
1979 was the year that many of us custom builders seem to get our start as we transitioned from the basic pool design to the unique one-of-a-kind, personalized pool designs that you see today. This was the beginning of such builders as David Tisherman, Lew Aikens, Skip Philips and Brian Van Bower.
This was the beginning of a new era of pool design and building. One where we talked about taking our building skills to the next level or raising the bar for our industry. Our generation ushered in the creation of the vanishing edge or the negative edge pool design. This time period seemed to be the era of the rising tide that would lift all boats.
In the ’80s builders like Geremia Pools and Aquarius Pools in Sacramento seemed to be the trendsetters for natural lagoon pools that incorporate the beauty of the landscape into a swimming pool that was personalized for each homeowner. Gone were the days of basic pool template designs. Now there was the freedom of expression to create your own pool design each time you designed and built a swimming pool.
There have been numerous ups and downs in our industry. Whether it be the economy or whatever shortage was in our market that year, the pool industry seems to have not only survived but thrived in those moments of sunshine. I truly feel that this trend of removing old pools and building all-new backyards is going to be a big part of our industry. The value of our homes seems to only be going up and I am seeing clients realize that if they are going to stay home more then ought to improve their property.
The photos in this article are one of seven projects we have completed this year where the focus was removing an old outdated pool and installing a whole new entertainment area in our clients backyard.
On 3 of our “Extreme Backyard Make Overs” we found a buried, half-removed pool that was full of broken concrete and capped with dirt. Fortunately, we own all of our own equipment and have our own in-house crew that were well aware of how to remove the old buried pool and prepare the site for a new vessel.
I highly recommend that if you do take on removal projects like this that you always consult with a soil expert and structural engineer. There is little room for error and you have to prepare the bottom of the pool properly before you put a new, state-of-the-art pool on top of it.
Building custom swimming pools has been a passion of our family for the past 3 generations. As I slow down to reflect on my career, I could not be prouder of the advances and direction my son Nicco, has already taken our company, since he became part owner. I attribute a lot of the advances to his attending many of the higher level education courses that are now being taught on pool construction by Watershape University and GENESIS.
In my day, you learned on the job from the experience gained by just doing what needed to get done and by sharing ideas with other designers and professionals in the pool industry. Joining together with other like-minded pool professionals has made a big difference in the success of our work and in our reputation. Nicco and other young pool builders have the benefit of learning from generations of pool builders like myself that continue to expand their horizons and raise the bar.
P.O. Box, 586, Alamo, CA 94507
Email [email protected]
Phone (925) 837-2715
An Open Letter To Home Depot
Home Depot commercial may portray pool builders in a negative light and give misleading information to consumers.
For decades, my associates and I have tirelessly worked to enhance the knowledge and image of pool builders as highly skilled professionals through educational seminars, technical publications, hands-on demonstrations, certifications, and licensing in many states.
Yet, in your recent commercial, those efforts were thwarted by your organization’s portrayal of a pool builder.
The commercial, “Meet the kind of people who are in our parking lot at 5:45 a.m.” portrays pool builders with an old stereotype – a guy with an old beat-up truck and notepad drawing.
The video pans in on each of the “people” in their vehicles as the voiceover describes their profiles and why they are coming to The Home Depot. The last profile is Ed… “Ed’s putting in a pool for a friend… we all need an Ed!” The visual is of Ed making notes on a pad. As the commercial continues, the store opens and each of the “People” climb out of the vehicles to go inside. “Ed” with a window sticker “my other truck is a boat”, walks away from his vehicle, an old beat-up truck.
The original 1-minute commercial produced by BBDO Atlanta/BBDO New York was released in March 2022. A shortened 30-sec version was also released.
As a licensed pool contractor in Las Vegas, Nevada, a Certified Building Professional, and former director on the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance national board, I take offense to how your commercial depicts my industry. Not only is this commercial insulting to the many highly educated pool professionals across the US and internationally, but it also encourages the viewpoint that pool builders are simply a guy with old trucks and notepads. Furthermore, “friends” don’t know everything there is to know about building a safe and efficient pool.
There are many states that require licensing for pool construction. Most have specific guidelines such as building standards and regulations, ANSI and ISPSC codes and in some states- water use restrictions just to name a few.
Nevada homeowners do have the option to build their own pool. However, the Nevada State Contractors Board has outlined in strict detail the guidelines for such activity including registering the project, permitting, insurance responsibilities and mandatory use of licensed sub-contractors to do the work.
It is a crime for an unlicensed person to perform construction work even on an owner-builder pool project and that includes one’s “friend”.
While it seems that your creative team at BBDO wanted to capture a variety of individuals, needs and projects, they did not take time to consider the negative and dangerous implications of the “Ed” character.”
The Home Depot commercial could sway an unlikely consumer to seek a “friend”, an unlicensed and untrained individual to install their pool, jeopardizing the wellbeing of the family both physically and financially.
Ed might be better off “Putting in a garden for his wife!”
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