A thirty-five-year-old man from Fort Myers, Florida has been charged with theft and fraud charges after being accused of embezzling over $900,000. The money allegedly was stolen from a non-profit focused on helping people with disabilities.
A source states that the organization has since declared bankruptcy and is no longer operating due to a lack of funds. The organization still has a live website, and a recent blog post indicates that the company may reopen at a later date. The center served people in need of support located in the counties of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee with state funds, federal grants and individual donations.
The suspect, Robert Michael Eugene “Gene” Bruist, 35, held the role of Executive Director for the Center for Independent Living of Southwest Florida (CILSWFL) when he was arrested and charged with grand theft, scheming to defraud, communications fraud and aggravated white collar crime. According to investigators, Bruist allegedly used state funds, federal and non-profit grants as well as individual donations for his own personal use by falsified balance sheets.
“The case include a number of detailed accounting issues, “ stated criminal defense lawyer Thomas C. Grajek. “It is hoped that the charges against Mr. Bruist will include detailed auditing of all accounts.”
Mr. Bruist could be sentenced to 95 years in prison, if convicted, as well as fines as much as $2 million. As of August 2010, the organization under Bruist reported that it had $11,000 in the bank, though it is now known that it had $102, while there was a reported $64,000 in a Morgan Stanley account, which actually was $33. Paper trails show that Bruist used the money to travel and life an extravagant lifestyle.
The arrest was the result of an extensive joint investigation between the Florida Department of Education’s Office of inspector General and then Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s Office of Financial Integrity.