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Man accused of bilking investors out of $345,000

By Staff | Dec 21, 2010

A Punta Gorda man is accused of bilking several people out of $345,000 using an investment scam that involved frozen-flavored drinks.
John Christopher Romanoff, 37, of 32177 McMullen Ave., was picked up by the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday for a warrant from the State Attorney’s Office. He was later released from jail on $45,000 bond.
Romanoff is facing one count of first-degree grand theft, three counts of second-degree grand theft and one count of third-degree grand theft, state attorney spokeswoman Samantha Syoen said. He also is charged with one count of sale and offer of sale of an unregistered security.
“It involved an alleged investment scam with multiple victims involving an alleged business called Island Coast Refreshments,” Syoen said.
Romanoff could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
No court date has been set for him.
According to documents from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Romanoff approached people he knew and solicited investment monies in an enterprise called Island Coast Refreshments. He described it as a business venture in which kiosks would be set up in malls across Florida to sell frozen drinks.
A man and his two sons — one a Cape Coral police officer — each provided Romanoff with $20,000 toward the investment. All three are Cape residents.
A couple, also living in the Cape, handed over $60,000, while one Cape woman invested $150,000 in Romanoff’s investment scam, the documents state.
A Fort Myers man pumped $60,000 into the venture, while a man from Rochester Hills, Mich., provided Romanoff with an additional $15,000.
His alleged victims declined comment or could not be reached Tuesday.
Romanoff collected the funds between September 2007 and May 2008.
The majority of the alleged victims reported that they received none of the promised, monthly return payments on their investments — one investor got only one payment of $6,200. Contacting Romanoff became difficult, and they learned Romanoff was providing them with conflicting and false information.
At one point Romanoff “admitted to taking/spending a lot of investor funds for his own personal expenses,” according to the LCSO documents.
Several of the alleged victims later received a letter from an attorney on behalf of Romanoff offering to settle with them for $67,500 in total to be paid over time with no admission of wrongdoing. One investor was left out.
Attorney Joe Viacava said Tuesday he is representing Romanoff.
“All we’ve received at this point is what the charges are,” he said. “We’ve received no facts to support the charges.”
An investigation by the LCSO found that Romanoff did not have the sole distribution rights for Island Way Refreshments and that he used the Island Way name without permission. He disclosed the outside business venue to his employers, but he reported that he was not receiving compensation.