LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Instead of their bright yellow vans, Bruno Total Home employees were seen today in orange jumpsuits Wednesday as several made their first court appearances, including owner Louis Bruno.
Fox 4’s cameras were rolling when investigators raided the company’s offices in January of 2019. Now Bruno and nine of his employees face several felony fraud charges.
John Pennell, former service technician with the company is also charged with “scheme to defraud,” according to the criminal complaint, and fraudulent use of someone’s ID.
“This isn’t the way I want to be associated with a company, and that’s why I left,” he said.
Pennell said he quit Bruno in December of 2018. He has not been arrested.
Tuesday Cape Coral Police Chief Dave Newlan announced fraud charges for employees involved.
“A signature would be transferred to a sales contract without the customer’s knowledge. And in some cases where the customer was unable to sign anything, their signature was forged,” said Newlan.
Bruno would allegedly use those signatures to acquire loans for himself under a Florida program called PACE. It gives homeowners loans for better air conditioning upgrades. Pennell’s attorney Mike Chionopoulos said his client didn’t participate in that, but explained what it looked like.
“Somebody didn’t qualify, because they were two months behind in their mortgage payment. And so at that time PACE says we’re not going to loan you any money if you’re behind on your mortgage. So, Bruno would either go to GreenSky, another lender, whatever. He’d borrow the $20,000 for the air conditioner. Plus say the $2,000 they were behind on their mortgage.”
Then he said the customer would get approved for a pace loan. Pennell said he heard rumors if this but feared retaliation if he spoke up about his concerns.
“It’s not a good idea to speak up, because you know it would jeopardize my job, and I had a family to support,” he said.
So he quit. Chionopoulos believes Pennell’s name will be cleared based in part on bruno getting arrested.
“The fact that there’s this significant of a complaint, and this type of investigation, I think it does help John. It shows it was going on at the highest echelon of the company,” he said.
Bruno has posted his $40,000 bond. His next court date is scheduled for June 8th.