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Former Milton Car Dealer Charged with Organized Fraud

1/30/2003

MILTON – The owner of a former Milton automotive dealership was arrested Wednesday on charges of stealing more than $100,000 from his customers.

Investigators determined Michael E. Bratton, 47, owner of the now-defunct Michael Bratton Automotive in Milton, allegedly failed to pay off prior liens on trade-in vehicles and failed to secure extended warranties purchased by his customers. He is suspected of cheating more than 50 customers. Bratton was arrested in Lee County, Alabama, by the Lee County Sheriff's Department following an investigation by the Department of Financial Services' Division of Insurance Fraud and Bureau of Financial Investigations, under the Office of Financial Institutions and Securities Regulation. Assistance was also provided by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office.

Before investigators could complete their case, Bratton moved to Opelika, Ala., where he opened another car dealership. He was arrested on an outstanding Florida warrant and charged with organized fraud, a first-degree felony.

The case will be tried in Santa Rosa County by the State Attorney's Office in the First Judicial Circuit of Florida. If convicted on the charge, he could face up to 30 years in prison and as much as a $30,000 fine.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's fraud hotline at 1-800-342-2762. A reward of up to $25,000 is offered for information leading to a conviction.