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Business Observer Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2022 2 months ago

Private school official accused of stealing tuition, mortgage fraud

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A Largo man was charged by federal prosecutors for scheming to move tuition payments into personal accounts and giving false information to get more than $1 million in mortgages.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

A 53-year-old Pinellas County man is facing decades in federal prison after being indicted for bank and wire fraud.

James John Melis, of Largo, is also facing a forfeiture of $1.1 million.

Online court records show he was indicted Sept. 7 and arrested two days later.

He has been charged with four counts of wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft.  If convicted, he’ll face 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud count, 30 years for each bank fraud count and a consecutive mandatory penalty of two years for the aggravated identity theft counts. 

Melis, according to the indictment, was a business manager at an unnamed private school in the area. Prosecutors allege that in his role he had access to a PayPal account which parents used to make tuition payments. Using that access, he added his personal credit union account to the list of accounts authorized to receive money forwarded from PayPal.

Prosecutors allege in the indictment that between about March 2017 and February 2018 he would “email parents whose students attended (the school) and advise that tuition payments were due and to send the tuition payments to” the PayPal account. Once the money was in, he’d transfer it to his personal account.

Court papers detail four examples totaling $2,711.77

Melis allegedly used the money to fund vacations, jewelry and other luxury items, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors also contend that in July 2018 Melis began working on a “mortgage origination fraud scheme against a financial institution for two properties he owned.”

In the indictment, prosecutors allege Melis used another person’s personal identification information to apply for the loans and then submitted fake tax returns, paperwork falsely showing previous mortgages had been paid off and fake leases showing “substantial” rental income. He’s also alleged to have provided checks showing purported payments to the Internal Revenue Service from his personal bank accounts “when in fact such accounts had already been closed.”

According to the indictment, he got $438,200 for a house in Largo and $684,000 for a house in Sag Harbor, New York. 

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