Cape man gets prison time for mall kiosk scam
A Cape Coral man was sentenced to prison Tuesday for bilking investors out of $270,000 in a scam involving mall kiosks and frozen-flavored drinks.
John Christopher Romanoff, 38, of 625 S.W. 22nd St., formerly of Punta Gorda, pled no contest to one count of scheme to defraud and four counts of sale and offer of sale of unregistered securities in a deal with the state.
“We arranged a plea agreement,” Samantha Syoen, with the State Attorney’s Office, said. “We had almost every victim in court yesterday.”
“They wanted a plea agreement. They wanted their money back,” she said. “They just wanted it to be over.”
Romanoff received 18 months in prison, followed by 15 years probation.
“He has to pay back all $270,000,” Syoen said.
During his probation, Romanoff must make a minimum payment of $1,000 per month, which will be disbursed to the victims. If he does not pay back the entire amount within 15 years, he will return to prison for being in violation.
Syoen said there are about four victims, but one victim may equal multiple people because it is a couple or because a group formed a corporation.
Assistant state attorney Danielle Liguori handled the case.
It was unknown Wednesday who represented Romanoff.
The state first filed charges in December 2010.
At the time, Romanoff faced one count of first-degree grand theft, one count of third-degree grand theft, one count of sale and offer of sale of unregistered securities and three counts of second-degree grand theft.
“Then, as the case progressed and more information came in, we filed additional charges,” Syoen said.
In December, the state filed against Romanoff one count of scheme to defraud, as well as five counts of sale and offer of sale of unregistered securities and five counts of fraudulent transaction or omission of facts.
Syoen explained that the original grand theft charges were dropped, being replaced by the counts of sale and offer of sale of unregistered securities.
Under the plea deal, the state dropped the five counts of fraudulent transaction or omission of facts and one count of sale and offer of sale of unregistered securities.
“One victim may or may not have been involved in the case in another manner,” Syoen said, adding that there were other elements to the case.
“We did have some issues with the case,” she said. “One is our main witness is no longer in the country.”
According to documents, Romanoff approached people he knew and solicited investments in Island Coast Refreshments. He described it as a business venture in which frozen drink kiosks would be set up in malls across Florida.
A man and his two sons – one a Cape police officer, and all three Cape residents at the time – each provided $20,000. A Cape couple handed over $60,000, and one Cape woman invested $150,000, the documents state.
The majority of the victims never received the promised monthly return payouts – one investor did get $6,200. At one point Romanoff “admitted to taking/spending a lot of investor funds for his own personal expenses.”
An investigation by authorities 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.