HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. — A licensed contractor who was considered one of the "main players" in a 2013 sinkhole scheme is now walking away without paying court-ordered restitution.
Barbara McGrew and her husband hired Clicks Construction and general manager Robert Contorno, 55, after finding telltale signs of a sinkhole, cracks, in their bathroom. That repair cost the couple and their insurance over $57,000.
Our I-team interviewed four homeowners who also hired Contorno to remediate their sinkholes. The investigation revealed that after collecting a total of more than $120,000 the repairs were never completed and in several cases, the company forged the completion reports that should have been signed off by an engineer.
The scheme ended in four arrests and a felony conviction for Contorno in 2013. The co-defendants included Carl Click, the owner of Clicks Construction, Contorno’s wife and engineer Ram Goel.
Prosecutors say, five years after their arrests, all of the defendants except for Contorno paid the court-ordered restitution in full.
Hernando County Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt ordered Contorno to five years probation and to pay more than $140,000 in restitution to Amy Chaves, Barbara McGrew, and Phyllis House.
House told our I-team she was getting $57 a month even though Contorno owed her $40,000.
The court ordered Contorno to pay McGrew the most — $59,000. Court records revealed he's only paid her $83.96 a month.
Five years later, he still owes McGrew $50,000 and House another $34,000 but the checks stopped in April — the month Contorno's probation ended.
Prosecutor Rob Lewis explained there's no law that calls for jail time over delinquent restitution.
After obtaining the audio recording of Contorno's probation hearing, his frustration appears to be shared by a judge.
In the recording, Judge Merritt explains his hands are tied and that under the law he can’t incarcerate Contorno for lack of payments.
I-team investigator Jackie Callaway attempted to ask Contorno questions about the payments but he would not answer any of them on camera. Over the phone, he told her that he's making arrangements to continue payments to his victims.
On paper, we found that he works at a sign company in Clearwater — the same job he held during his probation.
His victims say the system failed them. Now all they can do is go after Contorno civilly; however, after checking we found that the home he lives in is in someone else's name.
In the coming weeks, we will be checking back with all the victims to see if Contorno has resumed payments.