9 Investigates: Criminals skipping court-ordered restitution payments

by: Karla Ray Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - Some victims of crimes who were promised payments from their offenders have been left waiting for years, so 9 Investigates uncovered what happens when criminals skip out on paying restitution.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray found out who in Orange County has been ordered to pay the most and learned that there are few consequences for non-payment in many cases.

Some restitution payments are handled through probation officers, while others are assigned to the Orange County Clerk of Courts. Some victims wonder if the lax punishment for non-payment will keep them from being repaid.

Read: Police brutality victim awaits restitution he says he was promised by Orlando prosecutors

An Orlando couple told Channel 9 that they sent checks to a man named Mario Ferreri, who was working as a financial advisor. They said that they thought the money was paying for a life insurance policy.

"(We spent) almost a million dollars," a man named Rick told us. He and his wife, Linda, asked to only be identified by their first names.

Agents said that their money and hundreds of thousands of dollars from other clients went straight to Ferreri’s personal bank accounts. He was arrested for fraud in 2014 and was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2016.

Read: Man battered by former Orlando police officer hopes for restitution

“It was difficult," Linda said. "We never ever thought we’d be in a situation like that. He came across (as) very sincere and very honest."

Ferreri is expected to pay about $1.3 million in restitution to Rick, Linda and other victims. Channel 9 learned that the amount is the most assessed against one person out of the county's more than 16,000 cases.

Not everyone pays up.

"It’s very difficult, and I hate to generalize people," Orange County Clerk of Court Tiffany Moore Russell said. "But if someone is convicted and they owe $5,000, are they really concerned if they lose their driver’s license?"

Read: Orlando attorney accused of stealing from clients ordered to pay $141K in restitution

Russell said that her office can only enforce restitution payments by requesting that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles pull an offender’s driver’s license. Cases are sent to a collection agency after 90 days of non-payment.

That recently happened to Christopher Daley, who has the second-highest amount of assessed restitution in county history.

Daley didn’t answer the door when Channel 9 visited his Windermere home to ask him if he planned to pay the more than $960,000 he owes in connection with a 2003 arson in the town.

Read: Action 9: Collection courts failing those who deserve restitution

Former financial advisor Michael Stephen Meyer owes the third-highest amount. Court records said that he recently missed payments on $950,000.

Channel 9 spoke to him after a recent court hearing for an unrelated violation of probation charge. Meyer is accused of continuing to provide financial advising despite a court order forbidding him from doing so.

"It’s been tough," Meyer said about making payments.

Read: Charity con man can be asked to pay restitution, court rules

Ferreri requested that a judge shorten his prison sentence because he wants to pay the restitution. But the judge denied that request.

His victims said that they don’t believe he'll repay them.

"No, I don’t think we’ll ever see that money back," Linda said. "If we do, I’ll be very glad to eat my words."

Read: Florida residents headed to prison over Costa Rica sweepstakes scam targeting seniors

Over the last year, the Clerk of Court worked to collect  on more than 34,000 cases in the county involving unpaid court costs, fines and restitution. Through mailes requests for payment, Russell was able to collect $240,000 on those cases.

Russell said that she has spent the last year trying to collect on backlogged restitution cases and has collected $240,000 through mailed requests for payment.

There isn't a database detailing how much has been paid in each case, because some cases are handled by probation officers.

Read: Victimized twice by court ordered restitution

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