15 charges in property scheme
A man from England is the latest to file charges against a Nokomis man and his title and escrow company. The company allegedly absconded with more than $1 million in investment funds related to various real estate deals.
Stephen Joseph Cormier, with A Clear Title and Escrow, was first arrested in August for transferring $150,000 from a client in Hawaii without proper approval. He placed the funds into a trust pursuant to a real estate deal entered into a year earlier, and kept the $10,000 fee.
Ultimately, the investor lost the fee and his investment.
Since then 11 more victims have come forward.
Cormier now faces 15 counts of grand larceny involving missing funds from wealthy investors and businesses all over the country, according to the Sarasota County state attorney’s office.
But Cormier may be a low-level player in a bigger scheme, say investigators.
According to Assistant State Attorney Will Shaffer the FBI is also monitoring the case.
“Right now we are pursuing what we have in front of us,” Shaffer said. “What happened is these other guys were able to trick him (Cormier) into releasing some of the funds. All of the cases involved a variety of investment deals and people placing money in his escrow account … sometimes international investments. We still haven’t really found out where the money went.”
Shaffer said Cormier gave a statement that amounted to a confession, and has given up at least some of the names of his business associates.
The case is “very much evolving,” Shaffer said. “It may turn into a federal case.”
“It’s my top priority right now. We’ve been in a holding pattern waiting for victims. They are from all over the country … Hawaii, California, a group in Atlanta, a group in Chicago. The latest is from England. They’re all wealthy individuals and businesses that used his escrow company as a place to deposit monies — a combination of collateral and fees related to real estate deals.”
Venice Police Detective Todd Reale, who led the investigation, said there are other ongoing investigations into the fraud scheme as well.
He, too, thinks Cormier is involved in a larger conspiracy.
“There are other people involved,” Reale said. “(Cormier) got caught up in a scam. Others kind of led him. I don’t know if they’ve been found.”
None of the victims is from the Greater Venice area. All the investors are from out of state, Reale said, although a local bank was used to transfer the funds.
“The deals didn’t go through and the money is gone. The accounts are pretty much drained,” Reale said.
Cormier, 40, 800 block Shackett Creek Drive, Nokomis, was arrested again Tuesday morning on a Sarasota County warrant related to the English investor’s complaint, and released on $15,000 bond that afternoon.
Shaffer plans to move forward with the case in January.