MELBOURNE, Fla. — A Brevard County couple burned by a $150,000 solar roof installation can’t believe their contractor concealed his criminal past for years and fooled so many people on the Space Coast.
He lived in a $2.5 million oceanfront home in Melbourne Beach. He chartered private jets for clients out of Melbourne International Airport and had weekend getaways for customers on a yacht in Key West. That’s how Jim Cook showcased his roof contracting business that installed futuristic solar shingles on Brevard County homes and won over new clients like homeowners Mark and Carmen Bernard.
“Very, very, convincing and very charismatic and stuff like that,” Marc Bernard said.
The Bernards also had friends who hired Cook’s roofing company and starred in the Lifetime cable series Designing Spaces.
The program showed a successful solar shingle installation that the clients raved about and it included a clip showing Cook shaking hands with the homeowner.
The Benards signed a $150,000 contract with Cook’s company, Cabo San Lucas, to install a solar shingle roof. As part of the deal, producers for Lifetime’s Designing Spaces planned another show.
“The whole film crew was here for an entire week. They interviewed all the distributors,” Bernard said.
But then the major solar installation turned ugly. Bernard said subcontractors and suppliers were not paid. “The solar company needs payments. The battery company needs payments, and I was getting invoices.”
Crews had ripped off the roof, and the Bernards say the temporary shingles didn’t keep the rain out.
“There was water coming out of the fixtures there,” Bernard said as he pointed to water stains on the ceiling.
The couple says the ceiling damage and mold has not been repaired. And months later, the solar shingles that were installed don’t work.
Bernard says half the job was never completed and they have large losses. “With all the damages and everything, well over $100,000.”
Faced with a contracting nightmare, Bernard started researching Jim Cook online. He discovered Cook’s South Carolina driver’s license was a fake. And Jim Cook was really Leandro Obenauer, an admitted conman on the run for years.
“Can you believe this man got away with so much for so long?” Todd Ulrich asked.
“No, it’s shocking,” Bernard replied.
Obenauer had pleaded guilty to felony fraud and racketeering in Osceola County and was a fugitive wanted for outstanding warrants including probation violations.
Action 9 first exposed the real Leandro Obenauer nearly 20 years ago. Ulrich found home buyers who claimed Obenauer cheated them out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Action 9′s investigations exposed how Obenauer’s company bought low-value properties, then inflated sale prices with fake appraisals, leaving at least 15 victims with mortgages they couldn’t repay.
Bernard’s complaint triggered investigations by Indian Harbour Beach police and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office which led to the arrest of Obenauer and his girlfriend Miriam Torres on outstanding warrants.
The Bernards also blame the major corporations that leant legitimacy to Obenauer’s company without doing basic research.
“In 10 or 15 minutes, you could have found out this guy’s not legit,” Bernard said.
Protecting yourself against this kind of contractor con is not easy.
Whenever dealing with a brand-new company, it’s important to verify everything from the license to the experiences of customers, making sure they are recent and real.
Obenauer is being held on a no-bond status and his attorney did not return any of Todd Ulrich’s calls.