Hillsborough and Pinellas county investigators arrested an Ohio couple on Tuesday who they say ran a phony employment agency in the bay area between April and September.
At least eight customers from Tampa were bilked of hundreds of dollars each in the scheme run from a W Waters Avenue shopping plaza, law officials said.
And now, Pinellas sheriff's deputies are investigating whether a second business run by the couple has similar fraud problems.
Brad Monteith Stockmeier, 36, of 5112 Old Village Way in Oldsmar, and Sheryl Jacklin, 24, 4814 Old Village Way, Oldsmar, were arrested shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday. Both were charged with grand theft and scheming to defraud people and were being held at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $26,000 bail each.
Law enforcement officials are investigating the couple's second business, Doctor's Weight Centers Inc. They have asked anyone who might have used the weight center to contact Pinellas sheriff's deputies at 571-2828.
Hillsborough sheriff's deputies say they have identified eight victims of the job agency scam, but there may have been as many as 100. Anyone who had contact with the employment office is asked to call 247-8601.
Unusual practices at the Doctor's Weight Centers led deputies investigating the employment scam to the couple, the deputies said.
Pinellas Sheriff's Deputy Dale Carnell said the leasing agent for the business plaza where Weight Centers is located, 28870 U.S. 19 N in Clearwater, noticed something was wrong shortly after the business opened.
Stockmeier was representing himself as Dr. R.B. Juliano, a nutritionist, Carnell said. The leasing agent, formerly a nurse, noticed that the doctor's office had only a scale and no other medical equipment when Stockmeier moved in Aug. 29.
"It just wasn't a professional-type atmosphere," Carnell said.
The leasing agent told Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials, who had an office in the same business plaza. They notified Pinellas deputies.
At the same time, Hillsborough detectives were investigating the alleged employment scam.
Between April and September, Stockmeier and Jacklin ran an employment office at 4131 W Waters Ave., said Sheriff's Deputy Frank Martelli. They placed advertisements in area newspapers looking for clients who would pay between $200 and $250 for help finding work.
Martelli said Stockmeier, a former sheriff's deputy in Ohio, used the name Robert Luca Jr. and listed himself as president on the company's letterhead.
"He had people from Clearwater, from all over Hillsborough County, calling him up," Martelli said. "He'd get their money, and then do absolutely nothing for them."
"Everybody tells me he (Stockmeier) was very well-dressed and seemed like a nice guy," he said.
Months after the employment office opened, the Hillsborough County Consumer Affairs Department began to get complaints. County investigator Chuck Delk said his office received the first complaint about the agency at the end of July and has received four or five since then.
Investigators in Hillsborough had asked area law enforcement officials to look out for Stockmeier. Pinellas deputies contacted Martelli as soon as they discovered Stockmeier's real identity through his Ohio license plate.
Martelli said most of the people taken in by the scheme really couldn't afford to lose their money and were desperately looking for work.
William Druding, 36, of Tampa responded to one of the advertisements. He said Stockmeier told him he had a specific job in mind for him. Druding said he gave Stockmeier a $100 down payment on a $250 retainer, and doubts he'll ever recover it.
"I'll have been out of a job for a year in December," Druding said. "When someone says they have a job for you that you qualify for, you believe them."