Tuesday, January 14, 2003

'Investment' scheme brings arrest

Police say ex-con posed as adviser promising big return

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CRESCENT SPRINGS - Robert Bonavita told people he worked for an online brokerage firm and promised big returns to those who "traded" with him, officials said.

But according to investigators in two Ohio and Kentucky communities, the only thing the 36-year-old ex-con truly traded was the location of his victims' money - from their hands to his.

Major Jack Banks, head of the Boone County sheriff's criminal investigations bureau, said the former Sycamore Township resident bilked an estimated $150,000 from three people - two in Northern Kentucky and one in Clermont County - who believed he was investing their money in "financial instruments of varying kinds."

Authorities believe there might be other victims who bought into Mr. Bonavita's alleged scams. They're asking anyone who invested money with Mr. Bonavita to call local law enforcement.

Convicted in Hamilton County in 1994 of theft, Mr. Bonavita was released from prison in March.

By May, he was involved in a romantic relationship with a woman and convinced her to invest $4,000 with him, authorities say.

His sister introduced him to the recently divorced woman at a retirement party, they said.

Union Township Police Detective Jeff Brown has a document Mr. Bonavita is accused of giving the woman that "guarantees" a return of between $6,000 and $7,500 by July.

"In a two-month period, he was guaranteeing up to a 150 percent return. It never existed.

And when he was arrested, he gave a statement to Boone County (investigators) that he had partied the money away," Detective Brown added.

Authorities said Mr. Bonavita told the woman he worked for Ameritrade and had spent eight years in prison for embezzlement.

Detective Brown said Mr. Bonavita also told the woman he had $90,000 in a bank in Atlanta from that earlier incident and "because he served his time, that money was now his."

"We haven't been able to substantiate that that money ever existed," Detective Brown added.

Although Mr. Bonavita was described as a Casanova-type con man who made his living by preying on women, officials believe that - because he was posing as a financial adviser - this latest endeavor might not have been limited to women.

He was, however, romantically linked to at least two of his alleged victims, officials said.

At the time of his Jan. 6 arrest, he was found in the Crescent Springs home of another alleged victim, Lorie Schneider, 32.

Ms. Schneider was charged with hindering apprehension because she helped him while he was a fugitive, investigators said. She is free in lieu of bond.

Mr. Bonavita also is accused of passing a bogus check at the Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun and as a result is being investigated by the Indiana Gaming Commission, Major Banks said.

There are also warrants for his arrest in Campbell County and he is being detained without bond in Kenton County.

Besides the multiple counts of theft by deception and criminal possession he faces in Kentucky, Mr. Bonavita is charged with felony passing bad checks and could face a theft by fraudulent investment charge.

"The more we dig, the more we find," said Detective Brown.

E-mail mmccain@enquirer.com

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