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Celebrated entrepreneur behind $20M HVAC firm arrested for fraud

Louis Bruno founded the company in 2012.

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  • | 9:23 a.m. June 5, 2020
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File. Louis Bruno founded his company in 2012.
File. Louis Bruno founded his company in 2012.
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CAPE CORAL — Louis Bruno, who had built his HVAC services company into a nearly $20 million business, has been arrested for fraud. Authorities allege Bruno — and up to nine employees of Bonita Springs-based Bruno Total Home Performance — used high-pressure sales and scare tactics to induce consumers to purchase services and products that were not needed.

Bruno’s schemes, contends the Florida Attorney General’s office in a complaint filed June 2, also involved defrauding consumers in the sale of HVAC services and products and submitting fraudulent consumer loan applications.

Bruno and former employees are charged collectively with one count of scheme to defraud, a first-degree felony; 16 counts of fraudulent use of personal identification information, a second-degree felony; 15 counts of communication fraud, a third-degree felony; four counts of filing fraudulent papers in court to deprive someone of real property, a third-degree felony; and four counts of fraudulent use of a notary, a third-degree felony. The former employees weren’t named in court documents. 

File. Louis Bruno founded his company in 2012.
File. Louis Bruno founded his company in 2012.

The arrest follows two separate investigations conducted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution in conjunction with the Cape Coral Police Department and the AG’s Consumer Protection Division. According to the investigations, Bruno and former employees allegedly tricked customers into signing contracts and, in other cases, forged customers’ signatures, according to a statement.

The Consumer Protection Division received about 245 complaints, including 135 from seniors, alleging Bruno Air misled consumers about the actual cost of the HVAC units to be installed and, in some instances, installed units that were different from those agreed upon by the consumers. In many instances, consumers alleged Bruno Air tricked them into signing on electronic devices sales or financing documents that consumers were told were estimates or pre-loan qualifying documents.

The deceptive trade practices started in 2015 and ran through December 2019, according to the complaint, filed in the 20th Judicial Circuit in Lee County.

“I have said since taking office as Attorney General that I will not tolerate abuse of our seniors,” Attorney General Ashley Moody says in the statement. “Targeting seniors with fraudulent sales and scare tactics is disgraceful and criminal. My office is taking action both civilly and criminally against these defendants to account for the fraudulent scams they perpetrated under the guise of serving consumers. Today’s actions will help bring these defendants to justice and will seek to make these victims whole.”

Louis Bruno founded the company in 2012, initially named Bruno Air Conditioning. It had $71,000 in revenue and two employees that year. By 2014 it had $10 million in annual sales and 140 employees. For the fast growth Bruno, then 26, was named a runner-up for the Business Observer’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2015. During those first few years, Bruno and the company received other recognition in Southwest Florida and HVAC trade publications, for its growth and service.

But in a 2018 Business Observer story, Bruno acknowledged the rapid growth of the business — some 200 employees and 7,000 customers by 2015 and $18.4 million revenue by 2017 — caused customer service to collapse. “There was a lot of pressure put on our processes,” he said back then.

That collapse led to numerous customer complaints, which culminated in the Better Business Bureau revoking the firm's accreditation, the Business Observer reported in 2018. The BBB, in a 2015 note, cited “a pattern of complaints from consumers alleging that the business misdiagnosed or misrepresented issues related to repair or replacement, which led to higher costs or estimates for the consumers.”

Bruno, in the 2018 story, said the customer complaints humbled him. “I took some long looks in the mirror,” says Bruno. “I realized I had a lot to learn.”

In a follow-up story in December 2018 in the Business Observer, Bruno said the firm was going to use the Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE) to build another stream of customers. The program is intended to assist consumers with energy-efficient improvements to their homes, including installation of more energy-efficient HVAC units.

But, according to the criminal investigation, Bruno and former employees used customers’ personal identification information to submit PACE loan applications to potential lenders without the knowledge or consent of the customers. The applications contained false information, including grossly inflated monthly incomes and forged signatures, officials contend. In many cases, forged signatures were allegedly notarized by Bruno employees and submitted as supporting documents for the loan applications. The loan proceeds were then directly deposited into a bank account maintained by Bruno, officials say.

Bruno Air also allegedly submitted consumer financing applications without the consumer’s authorization by forging signatures or copying and pasting signatures from another document. When consumers complained about these practices, the release states, the firm often allegedly filed liens against the consumers’ property or initiated foreclosure proceedings.

If convicted, Bruno faces prison time and more than $290,000 in fines and restitution. The AG’s Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute the case.






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