Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

FBI probes fraudster's alleged church scam following Tampa Bay Times report

PLANT CITY — Once again, the FBI is investigating felon fraudster Victor Thomas Clavizzao.

On Wednesday, two agents interviewed Pastor Minnie Wright, who says Clavizzao scammed her and her Plant City church out of nearly $20,000 while he was still on probation from a mortgage fraud conviction. The agents' visit came four days after the Tampa Bay Times published a story about Wright's experience with Clavizzao and what turned out to be a phony loan company.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Mortgage fraudster promised to help them build a church, then split with their money

"They were familiar with Victor,'' Wright said of the agents, who took copies of several documents that Clavizzao had her and her husband to sign. Among them: forms that bore what appeared to be their notarized signatures but that Wright said had not been notarized in their presence, as required by law.

The FBI did not return a call Thursday and typically does not comment on ongoing investigations. Wright, however, said the agents told her they have received other reports about Clavizzao's activities since his 2013 release from federal prison.

One of the agents said '"Some people are willing to talk and some are not,'" Wright recalled. "I said, 'I am, I don't want him to do what he did to us to anybody else.' He needs to be stopped."

A New York native, Clavizzao, 54, already had a record for fraud and grand theft when he began working as a loan originator in the Tampa Bay area during the real estate boom of the mid 2000s. Using "straw buyers" and false income figures, he arranged loans on at least 18 houses and condos and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in loan proceeds. In 2009, he was convicted of conspiring to commit mail, wire and bank fraud, and sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of probation.

"Based on your history, I'm predicting you're going to have a hard time going three years without violating your supervised release," U.S. District Judge James Moody told him at the sentencing

Less than a year after he got out of prison, Clavizzao registered a fictitious name — Victor Thomas — and incorporated a company called Sunplow Capital in St. Petersburg with himself as director and Tampa lawyer Mary Elizabeth Bolint as president.

Wright said Bolint accompanied "Victor Thomas'' in 2014 when he came to Wright's New Testament Outreach Holiness Church #2 and told the congregation he could help get a $650,000 loan to build a permanent home for the church. At that time, Wright said, she paid $2,220, which she understood would be split between Clavizzao and Bolint.

During the interview with the FBI this week, Wright said, one agent pulled up a photo of Bolint on his phone and asked if it was the same person who had been with Clavizzao. Wright confirmed it was, but said she never saw the lawyer after the 2014 meeting.

Bolint declined to discuss her involvement with Clavizzao when a reporter called her in early May.

"I don't know anything about him. I haven't talked to him in years," she said.

After the meeting with church members, Wright gave Clavizzao a check for $9,100 that was supposed to cover appraisals and other loan-related costs. She later wrote him a $5,000 check, ostensibly as a downpayment on land where the new church would be built.

It was not until 2015, when Clavizzao stopped answering calls, that the Wrights realized who he was and that none of the money had gone for the intended purposes. The loan never materialized; the New York loan company Clavizzao claimed to work with did not exist.

As a result of widespread loan fraud during the last housing boom, Florida passed a law requiring people who "solicit or accept" loan applications to be licensed. Clavizzao, who also incorporated a St. Petersburg- based company called Key Business Loans, does not have a license nor would he be able to get one because of his criminal record.

RELATED COVERAGE: After prison term for Tampa Bay mortgage fraud, he's back in business

Wright said the FBI agents took copies of the loan proposal, cancelled checks and forms on which she and her husband put down personal financial information. She was startled when the agents pointed out that some of the forms had been notarized.

Except in very rare cases, the signer of a document must be physically present before a notary. She told the agents that no notary was present when she and her husband signed.

"That caught their attention," she said.

Clavizzao, who lives in Palm Coast, did not return a call for comment Thursday. Corporate records show that he is a vice president of a newly incorporated company: Crestar Florida in Lake Mary.

Fadel Alshalabi, who owns Crestar Labs in Tennessee and North Carolina and wanted to expand to his laboratory-supply business to Florida, said Thursday that a friend introduced him to Clavizzao.

"He told me he was like an officer with a finance company, or mortgage company or something like that," Alshalabi said. "He seemed like a pretty decent guy."

Alshalabi said he didn't check out Clavizzao. When told of his background he said: "Oh, my goodness, Lord mercy." He then indicated that Clavizzao ---- who was going to do marketing for the company — might not be with Crestar much longer.

"This is a 100 percent legitimate business," he said, "and obviously you want honest people to work with you."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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