OKEECHOBEE CONTRACTOR CHARGED WITH FRAUD, THEFT
Merle Dee Johnston, 69, of Okeechobee, was arrested on the charges following an investigation by detectives with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud. Johnston allegedly admitted to using some $23,000 of the couple’s construction loan money for personal use.
ARREST OF TAMPA COUPLE FOR STEALING UNCLAIMED PROPERTY
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced the arrest of a husband and wife who conspired to illegally collect more than $11,000 in unclaimed property. Investigators with the Department of Financial Services’ Office of Fiscal Integrity said that the couple got caught when the man’s brother, and rightful owner of the unclaimed property, contacted the department to collect the money.
“Stealing money for personal gain is unconscionable and warrants swift and severe action by state prosecutors,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.
Stephen Gutstein, 65, was arrested and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of grand theft, forgery and uttering a forged instrument. His wife, Lynne Gutstein, 59, was also arrested and charged with grand theft. If convicted, each felony count carries a sentence up to 5 years in prison plus a $5,000 fine.
According to state investigators, Stephen and Donald Gutstein are brothers who were entitled to nearly $23,000 in proceeds from their deceased parents’ estate. Stephen Gutstein immediately collected his half of the money, or $11, 231.15. Stephen Gutstein, with help from his wife Lynne, created a false document containing his brother’s forged signature on the unclaimed property affidavit to illegally collect his brother’s half of the funds.
The department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property learned that the money had been fraudulently obtained when Donald Gutstein filed to collect his rightful portion of the proceeds. Donald Gutstein did not immediately pursue the funds because of health problems.