NEW PORT RICHEY — Michael Motola mingled with the other parents at his kids' youth sporting events, earning their trust on the sidelines of soccer matches, baseball games and hockey tournaments.
Then he offered to handle their investments — only to pocket the money for himself, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
At least eight people are now out more than $800,000, and detectives say they are aware of additional victims that will bring the grand total to more than $1 million.
Motola, 44, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of organized fraud.
He was released after posting $20,000 bail. He did not return a call Thursday for comment.
The sheriff's report said Motola ran the scams from January 2006 to December 2010. Motola falsely represented himself as a stockbroker and businessman and claimed he was able to sell securities and other investments, the report said.
Tony Gagny met Motola a couple of years ago, when their sons played on the same roller hockey team. Motola was the coach. Gagny mentioned his dissatisfaction with his IRA, and he said Motola persuaded him to cash it out. Motola promised to sell him a legitimate stock — then trading for $16 a share — for $12 a share, he said.
"He said with the money you're making (in the investment), you won't have to worry about the penalty (for withdrawing the IRA funds early)," Gagny said.
Gagny was in. He also agreed to invest in a bar that Motola said he was buying, and he said Motola even offered him a job running the place. With the closing date approaching, Gagny gave his two weeks' notice at work. But when he went to the bar and talked to the owner, he discovered there was no sale in the works.
"The bar owner said, 'I have no idea who that man is. You'd better check your money,' " Gagny recalled.
Gagny said Motola dithered and stalled, but never returned his money. Gagny handed Motola more than $40,000 — plus he racked up debt in the six months he was out of work, after quitting his job for the fictitious bar post.
"He seems to be a sincere person, but he was a very conniving man," Gagny said. "He has a very smooth way of dealing with people."
Others gave Motola between $8,000 and $130,000, the Sheriff's Office said. One victim invested more than $500,000.
When the "investment evaporated," the Sheriff's Office said, Motola gave the victims a promissory note outlining the amount of money he owed them and a strict payment schedule. In some cases, the report said, he promised daily repayments for years.
Except no one was repaid.
This week's arrest is not the first for Motola. Last fall, while detectives were investigating the alleged fraud, Motola was accused of trying to silence two of the victims with bribes.
Those victims told deputies that Motola offered them thousands of dollars to drop charges and stop cooperating with investigators. He wanted to cut a deal with one for $22,300, according to a Sheriff's Office arrest report, and with another for $39,425, plus an extra $500 if he signed the agreement on the spot.
Motola, of 9727 Hermosillo Drive, was charged last August with two counts of tampering with a witness or victim.
Court records show that he still faces those charges, as well as several counts of writing worthless checks.