Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Shaky Foundation Bust
Tonight a 7 News investigation follow up that begins with a bust: Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero first questioned a charity that claimed it could help people build houses of their own for a fee. She's back "On the Case" with the latest developments.
WSVN -- It was mid-afternoon when the law came knocking at Todd Findley's door.
Agents from the Florida Department of Agriculture were at his trailer, outside Bunnell, to arrest the 42 year old on charges of grand theft and scheme to defraud.
Carmel Cafiero: "What do you have to say about being arrested?"
Todd Findley: "That I didn't do anything wrong, and I'm sure I'll be exonerated."
Some history: Back in 2004 Findley grabbed my arm when we walked into a meeting he was holding in Plantation.
Carmel Cafiero: "Don't touch me, mister."
Todd Findley: "We're asking you to leave."
At the time he was traveling the state asking for $2,500 deposits and promising to build homes.
Todd Findley: "Everybody pools their money together to buy land, and we help them buy land and help them build houses."
But people who signed up and paid up complained that once Findley had their money they could not reach him.
Margaret Miller-Melendez: "There's nobody answering the phone."
Carmel Cafiero: "So you haven't been able to reach him for how long?"
Margaret Miller-Melendez: "A couple of months."
And they could not get their money back.
Lisa Figueras: "But there are people worse off than me who really need the help."
And they could not get answers.
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you think Todd Findley mislead you?"
Diana Hernandez: "Very much so -- very much so, and I would never let this happen to myself again."
Findley did buy property in the name of his organization -- the European American Heritage Foundation.
Today, there is a house on that land, but it isn't occupied by Margaret Miller-Melendez or Lisa Figueras or Diana Fernandez or any of the people who bought into Findley's pitch.
His parents live here.
Carmel Cafiero: "Oh, the only person to get a house is your parents."
Todd Findley: "Yeah, that's correct. Nobody else came to do any of the work. What was I supposed to do?"
Findley claims nobody else showed up to do sweat equity hours when the house was under construction.
As part of his plan, participants were required to work at least 500 hours on other homes for his charity before their homes would be built.
Carmel Cafiero: "Time and again people who gave you money say the problem was they could never reach you to arrange to do any of this sweat equity."
Todd Findley: "No, that's not true."
Carmel Cafiero: "Don't you think it looks kind of bad that the only ones to benefit are your parents?"
Todd Findley: "They don't benefit because we're not keeping the house."
Woman: "What are you doing? Hey!"
At the house, an unidentified woman came out when she saw our camera.
Carmel Cafiero: "Are you Todd Findley's mother?"
Woman: "No -- why?"
But she didn't stick around to chat.
Findley says his folks have lived here for about a year.
Court records show a real estate company that paid Findley's foundation $140,000 for it last October owns the house.
Todd Findley: "Look, I'm living in a single-wide mobile home. If I was out to screw anybody why wouldn't I live in that house?"
Findley may have a chance to explain it all to a judge and jury.
He's facing felonies that carry a possible 10-year sentence. The state says it has identified 11 victims and believes there may be more.
Carmel Cafiero: "This case is about more than charges of scheming and stealing. It's about taking away the dreams of families who had believed Todd Findley could help them have a home of their own."
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