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CCPD announces contractor fraud arrests

By Staff | Jun 4, 2020

The Cape Coral Police Department on Tuesday announced the arrests of Louis J. Bruno, along with his general manager, Tammy Schreier, on 40 counts of felony fraud charges that police say involved more than 240 county residents, the majority of them seniors.

Bruno, owner of Bruno Total Homes, a Southwest Florida HVAC, plumbing and electrical service company, has been charged with one count of scheme to defraud, a first degree felony; 20 counts of fraudulent use of personal identification information, a second degree felony; 15 counts of communications fraud and four counts of unlawful filing of false documents or records against real property, both third degree felonies, said Chief David Newlan at a press conference

The investigation into Bruno Total Homes goes back to Nov. of 2018, when CCPD Det. John Howes, in conjunction with the Florida Attorney General Consumer Protection Division, began a criminal investigation into the company.

In January of 2019, all business-related documents and more than 125 electronic items were seized via a search warrant at their office in Bonita Springs.

CCPD also named eight other employees they said are involved in the fraud scheme and are “at large.”

“This was a very long and in-depth investigation that revealed that Louis Bruno, along with his General Manager Tammy Schreier, and several other co-conspirators engaged in an ongoing and systematic course of conduct with the intent to defraud consumers,” Newlan said at the press conference.

Police said Bruno and select members of his team took advantage of the PACE (property assessed clean energy) loans program that was created to assist homeowners in financing energy-related upgrades.

“Currently, The City of Cape Coral has agreements with four lenders that will allow homeowners to borrow the money needed to make home improvements such as installing energy efficient air-conditioning units,” Newlan said. “The debt is then repaid through voluntary assessments on their property tax bills. The program allows a homeowner to borrow up to 20% of the assessed taxable value as shown on LEEPA (Lee County Property Appraiser).”

Newlan said throughout the course of their investigation, many types of fraud were taking place.

Police allege one scheme involved a Bruno Total Home employee going to a customer’s home to provide an estimate for a new air conditioning unit, where they would ask the customer to sign that estimate on an electronic device, such as an I-Pad.

From there, Newlan said Bruno is alleged to have used that unknowing client’s signature for other purposes.

“Then, that signature would be transferred to a sales contract, without the customer’s knowledge, and Louis Bruno would apply for funding through the PACE program or other home improvement lenders,” Newlan said. “This was done without the customer’s knowledge, and in some cases, where the customer was physically unable to sign anything, their signature was forged. “

Officials said Bruno would also finance the maximum allowed under the program, which “far exceeded the cost of a new air conditioning unit.”

Newlan said victims would not realize that something was wrong until they got their statement from their lender showing a home improvement loan had in fact been taken out in their name. Newlan said Bruno also had filed several liens against victims.

“Just to give an idea of the scope of this investigation, there were more that 240 consumer complaints filed with both the Cape Coral Police Department and the Florida Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. The victims included 135 seniors and another 28 were either active or retired military. All the complaints combined allege more than $2.3 million dollars in losses,” Newlan said.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said her office will not allow Florida’s seniors to be taken advantage of and will take civil and criminal action against Bruno and his co-conspirators.

“I have said since taking office as Attorney General that I will not tolerate abuse of our seniors. Targeting seniors with fraudulent sales and scare tactics is disgraceful and criminal,” Moody said, in a statement. “My Office is taking action both civilly and criminally against these defendants to account for the fraudulent scams they perpetrated under the guise of serving consumers. Today’s actions will help bring these defendants to justice and will seek to make these victims whole.”

Alleged co-conspirators of Bruno and Schreier are: Dustin Baucom of Lehigh Acres, Tyler Murray of Labelle, Ronald Toledo of Naples, John Pennell of Naples, Celeste Robinson of Fort Myers, Holly Hansen of Labelle, Frederico Munoz of Colorado and Matthew Harrell of Alva.

Bruno, 31, was released from the Lee County Jail on a total $40,500 bond Thursday morning.

Schreier, 54, was released Wednesday afternoon on a $3,500 bond, total for all charges.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj