BROOKSVILLE — Ralph and Panella Crispo trusted Barbara Bradley like family, but they still wanted something in writing.
Bradley, 33, told the Crispos that she could purchase a home for them in Marion County at an exclusive auction, according to a Hernando sheriff's report. The Crispos, who live in Marion, turned over $40,000 in cash, then another $12,700 as an investment in a separate real estate deal.
Months later, with nothing to show for their money and no return calls from Bradley, the Crispos went to the Sheriff's Office in August. Now Bradley, of Spring Hill, faces a grand theft charge.
Sheriff's Office reports released to the Times give this account:
The Crispos told Detective William Horvath that they connected with Bradley through Ralph's cousin, who is Bradley's mother. Bradley told them she was an agent for a company called Infinity Real Estate Group and she would need cash to bid on the home in Belleview. In September 2012, they gave her $26,000. Then Bradley said she needed another $14,000 to place a viable bid.
The Crispos also gave her $12,700 to invest in a house she was flipping.
In November, Bradley and a man known to the Crispos as her boyfriend, Thomas Gannon, gave the couple a contract for the auction deal.
Bradley told the Crispos at least three times that the auction had been postponed. She told them their $40,000 was being held in escrow and gave them the name of an attorney in Clermont who was overseeing the account.
In early June, the Crispos discovered the house already had been sold to a bank. Bradley wouldn't return their calls, but they did reach Gannon, who said Bradley told him the $12,700 was a loan for the business to pay bills and purchase equipment.
When the Crispos demanded a refund, Bradley cut them a check for $12,700. It bounced. They called the Sheriff's Office in August.
Horvath discovered that the attorney supposedly holding the Crispos' money had never done business with Bradley, and that she is not associated with any business named Infinity Real Estate Group.
But Bradley did operate Universal Ground Services and Construction Company Inc., as well as Infinity Investments. In an August interview, Gannon told Horvath that he had worked at Universal doing cosmetic repairs at sinkhole homes. He said Bradley wrote checks and used debit cards to go shopping with company funds.
"It all went to Barbara, Barbara, Barbara!" Gannon said. "You can't take in $10,000 on Friday and spend $5,000 on Saturday for bull---- that has nothing to do with the company!"
Horvath also found documents that indicated Bradley used the license numbers of two local contractors without permission to work on the Timber Pines Country Club golf shop. And Horvath found a property owner who said Bradley took an insurance check for $22,667 in November for sinkhole repair, but that nine months later no work had been done.
Horvath subpoenaed bank records that showed the $40,000 for the home auction was never placed in escrow. In fact, Bradley removed that money and the additional $12,700 from her accounts in a series of five withdrawals.
In an interview at the Sheriff's Office on Sept. 20, Bradley told Horvath that the Crispos loaned her the money with the understanding she could use it for her company as long as the cash was available at the time of the home auction. She said she would let Ralph Crispo know when she needed money to cover payroll and he would wire more money to her account. She denied stating she would put the money in escrow.
Horvath showed her the contract with the couple that bore her signature. She said she drew up the document but she denied signing it. She also denied the Crispos gave her any money for the flipped house, then contradicted that statement by acknowledging she wrote them the $12,7000 check that bounced.
Bradley was arrested and charged with grand theft, organized fraud and two counts of attempted criminal use of personal identification. Ultimately, though, the State Attorney's Office is moving forward only with a single grand theft count, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, in the case involving the Crispos, said Assistant State Attorney Will Hamilton.
"We didn't think there was enough evidence (on the other charges) to allow a substantial likelihood of conviction at jury trial," Hamilton said.