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3 Men Plead Guilty To Fraud In Hurricane Michael Repair Scam

The trio stole approximately $319,000 in down payments.

Three Tampa Bay-area men entered guilty pleas yesterday to defrauding elderly Northwest Florida homeowners whose homes suffered damage from Hurricane Michael.

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The Florida men – Edward Newton, 45, of Lutz, Christopher Mayes, 29, of Tarpon Springs, and Christian Pantazonis, 31, of Largo – pled guilty to charges of fraudulently contracting to make home repairs in the Panama City area but instead, stole approximately $319,000 in down payments. The guilty pleas were announced by Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida

The Indictment charged that a Tampa Bay-area company owned by Newton hired Mayes and Pantazonis in November 2018 to go door to door in Bay County soliciting home repair contracts. They promised that the repair work would begin immediately, telling homeowners they required a down payment to obtain building materials and permits or to “place the homeowner at the front of the line” for repairs. As part of the fraud, they occasionally sent workers to complete small projects, such as removing damaged drywall or replacing shingles, in order to lead the homeowners to believe the major repairs were underway. When homeowners began to complain about the lack of work, Newton told them in writing or by phone that he would return the money he collected for the work never performed. However, on May 25, 2019, he sent each homeowner a letter stating that he did not intend to complete any of the contracted work and would not return any money.

“To anyone who endured the devastation of Hurricane Michael, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could stoop so low as to prey on the storm’s victims in such a craven way,” U.S. Attorney Keefe said. “These men took advantage of trusting people in their time of greatest need, and I am pleased that our office has brought these thieves to justice.”

Each defendant pled guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing hearings are scheduled for July 2, 2020, at 1:00pm at the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee.

The case resulted from an investigation by a partnership of law enforcement agencies and
prosecutors at all levels of government, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Panama City Police Department and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Aine Ahmed is prosecuting the case.

The prosecution is part of the Office’s wider efforts to combat crimes against seniors. The
initiative has enabled the U.S. Attorney’s Office to develop and coordinate further its prosecution of these cases and enhance its overall support of older or vulnerable victims.

This is a press release from the DOJ.

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