Deputies arrested the former owner of several property investment companies, Jose Valenzuela, 53, for organized fraud. He's accused of taking nearly $50,000 from one victim then using the funds for his own personal gain.
The victim is listed as a doctor from Brandon. Arrest records show he gave Valenzuela $25,000 in 2014, then nearly $19,000 a month later. None of that money was invested in a real estate venture, according to deputies.
"The first thing you can do [before investing] is make sure the company is legitimate," said Shawn Yesner, real estate attorney.
Yesner says most investment companies are legitimate, but there are scam artists, too. To avoid losing your money, he said, do your research. Research could have saved the alleged victim thousands of dollars in this case.
Deputies claim Valenzuela was running the scheme through his company, Pinnacle Investments LLC. But according to records on Sunbiz.org, that company was dissolved in 2013 before the doctor gave Valenzuela any money.
A broader look at business records show seven companies listed under Valenzuela's name. All of them are now dissolved.
"Is this a situation where he was just creating company, after company, after company, after each one is found out to be doing something wrong. I don't know, but that would be a red flag in my mind," Yesner said.
Yesner said Valenzuela's arrest record should also raise a red flag. It shows a trend of theft and fraud dating back to the mid 1990s.
We found four open cases for organized fraud, check fraud and grand theft. All of that is public record and can be found on the Clerk of Courts and Sheriff's Office websites.