LAKELAND, Fla. — A former Lakeland Electric employee is accused of faking his academic credentials to get his job, and sending an email pretending to be the Mayor of Lakeland to an HR manager during the verification process.
Detectives with the Lakeland Police Department say John Bretz, 53, faked records showing he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Illinois University (SIU) in 1990.
According to an affidavit, Bretz was hired by the City of Lakeland as a Turbine Maintenance Engineer III in Nov. 2011 using the fake credentials. Since his initial hiring, Bretz was promoted twice — first as an Engineering Supervisor in August 2012 and second as a Plant Manager in June 2019.
All three positions required a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Professional Engineer license from the Florida Board of Professional Engineers (FBPE).
The police department says in Dec. 2013 Bretz received his license in Florida "solely based" on fake credentials showing work experience and licensing in Illinois. Those credentials included a self-notarized copy of a State of Illinois Professional Engineer license, according to LPD.
Police say the City of Lakeland started using a third-party, Employment Background Investigation (EBI), for verification check on applications in 2017. When Bretz applied and was chosen for the Plant Manager position in September, EBI was unable to confirm his graduation status, according to LPD.
Their check revealed that SIU had no record of Bretz ever attending the school.
The police department says an email sent in September during this process was "concerning." The email was sent to an HR manager and encouraged her to continue with Bretz's promotion. It was signed Bill Mutz, who is the Mayor of Lakeland.
Mayor Mutz told police he didn't send the email and didn't know Bretz.
The police department contacted SIU's admissions department on Oct. 4 and sent them copies of the transcripts Bretz submitted for his position. The admissions department confirmed the transcripts were fake, according to an arrest affidavit.
That day, officers went to the Lakeland Electric McIntosh Power Plant to interview Bretz. He maintained that the transcripts were real and told police he went to SIU on a baseball scholarship. Authorities later confirmed with SIU Athletics that Bretz was never part of their baseball program, according to the arrest affidavit.
Bretz resigned from his position on Oct. 8. According to an arrest affidavit, he called an LPD detective the next day and asked them to speak to Lakeland Electric management about not moving forward with criminal charges.
The affidavit says Bretz admitted to buying the transcripts from an online company and to making a fake email using Mayor Mutz's name and sending the email to the HR manager. He also admitted that he has never held a legitimate mechanical engineering license in Illinois or Florida.
Lakeland Police say Bretz made $865,904 since his employment in 2012 without legitimately possessing the minimum requirements.
An affidavit shows Bretz was given promotions over a total of five internal candidates and was also able to adjust his work schedule several days a week to pursue a master's degree at the University of South Florida. According to the affidavit, detectives confirmed Bretz was never a student at USF either.
Bretz is facing charges for scheming to defraud and criminal use of personal identification.