When the air conditioning stopped working in Alfred Bruno's house, the 89-year-old picked Radco Appliance Air Conditioning & Refrigeration out of the telephone book. Owner Robin A. Delardi came to the house and was as "sweet as peaches," Bruno said.
Delardi diagnosed the problem - a burned-out motor - and quoted a repair price of $800. But the motor didn't come with a warranty, and if Bruno wanted one of those, he could shell out $2,700 for a new air conditioner.
That was Nov. 21. On Tuesday, Delardi was arrested on a charge of grand theft and accused of stealing from Bruno.
According to a sheriff's report, Delardi lied about what was wrong with the air conditioner and took money for repairs that he never performed.
Delardi, 43, of 283 Peachtree Drive, Spring Hill, has owned the business since 1991. He contracted out air conditioning work until January 2001, when he became a certified air conditioning contractor. The Better Business Bureau recorded one complaint against his company in August 1992.
Delardi was freed on bail from the Hernando County Jail on Tuesday, and when reached on a cell phone, he responded to the allegations.
"Absolutely false, unfounded and ridiculous," he said. "The facts will come out. (Bruno is) just someone who's looking for something for nothing."
Delardi's attorney, George Angeliadis, said he thought this should be a civil matter.
"I don't know why the Sheriff's Office is involved. I don't think it comes anywhere near being a criminal matter," he said.
The trouble started in the fall when Bruno's air conditioning went out at his Spring Hill home. It turned out that his air conditioner had overheated when he called Radco. He called Delardi to his house and said he felt some hesitation about buying a new unit. He asked to pay the $2,700 cost in three installments, but Delardi said the prices were about to go up.
So Bruno withdrew money in $100 bills and turned it over to Delardi at the bank without a contract or a receipt.
Bruno drove out of the bank parking lot and expected Delardi to follow him home. But no one showed up from the air conditioning company - not that afternoon and not in the days after.
"He was sweet as peaches when making the business, but after that, he got balky," Bruno said. He had a few testy exchanges with Delardi.
Delardi offered to install the new air conditioner because he already had the money, but Bruno said he didn't want it. He just wanted the money back.
Bruno tried to cancel the installation on the third day of the right of rescission period, according to the sheriff's report, but Delardi wouldn't accept cancellation.
Bruno was ready to write it off as a loss, but a neighbor persuaded him to call County Commissioner Christopher Kingsley.
Kingsley contacted the Sheriff's Office, and Detective Jeff Kraft took over.
Bruno helped his case by not allowing the new air conditioner to be installed, said Kraft, who has seen about 100 complaints about air conditioning ripoffs.
"Once the unit is gone, we are 100 percent out of luck," Kraft said. "(Bruno) is the only person I know of who stuck to his guns."
Once the machine is replaced, Kraft said, there is no evidence about whether the repairs were done properly.
Angeliadis agreed that Bruno tried to cancel the installation, but he said Bruno was at fault. Angeliadis said Bruno opted for a new air conditioner, and Delardi did a patch job in the meantime. Then, when the patch job fixed the problem, Bruno tried to cancel the new unit.
But Kraft said no repair was done.
Kraft called two other air conditioning companies and a county building official to inspect the air conditioner. They all told him that no repairs had been made. But he said Delardi insisted it had been repaired.
Bruno said he knows he shouldn't use only cash, but it has become a philosophy at his age.
"I don't like to owe anything," he said. "God forbid, if I buy something and I die, my kids will owe something."
Times researcher Catherine Wos contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or email@example.com.