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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Restitution hearing held in fraud case


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BROOKSVILLE - A restitution hearing for a 2010 fraud case was held Thursday afternoon in Judge Daniel Merritt Jr.'s court.

In April, Robert Contorno, 50, pleaded no contest to charges of organized fraud of less than $20,000 and was sentenced to five years probation. As part of the plea deal, Contorno agreed to pay restitution to multiple victims.

Back in 2009, Contorno's Click Construction company was hired by four Spring Hill residents to fix sinkholes on their property. A sheriff's office investigation found the Palm Harbor man relied on a non-certified engineer to prepare sinkhole reports and filed false documents to collect money from insurance and mortgage companies. Contorno hired a certified engineer to sign off on the reports after the fact.

The charges against Contorno were eventually reduced from a first- to a third-degree felony.

All four houses sustained further damage from Contorno's company's work, according to witness testimony on Thursday.

A witness for the state, Phyllis House, explained how her livelihood depends on securing money from private investors to buy sinkhole properties, which she then restores and sells for a profit. After Click's Construction worked on a Cumberland Lane property, where House was also living at the time, House said the insufficient repairs left her business "dead in the water" and damaged her reputation.

The home has since gone into foreclosure, with a lien and lawsuit against House.

Another witness, Amy Chavez, said that four years after Contorno's company worked on her property, the damage continues to get worse.

Chavez said water pours into her home every time it rains, and she's replaced the wood floors twice.

Chavez said she's never paid Contorno out of pocket, and that all of the payments have gone through her insurance company.

When asked by Contorno's attorney, Peyton Hyslop, why she didn't file another sinkhole claim with her insurance company after Click's Construction worked on the home, Chavez said, "I feel like I'm ripping them off."

A decision on how much money Contorno owes to the victims is expected in August.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday .com

(352) 544-5283

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