Business manager

School principal charged with tuition theft and mortgage fraud

TAMPA, FL – A Largo man has been charged with wire and bank fraud after he was accused of stealing $1.1 million via mortgage fraud, plus approximately $2,700 in tuition from Hillel Academy in Tampa Bay.

James John Melis, 53, was charged with four counts of wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each count of wire fraud, 30 years for each count of bank fraud, and a consecutive mandatory sentence of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft.

In addition, he will be ordered to confiscate the proceeds of his criminal conduct.

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According to the indictment, Melis abused his position as business manager at the academy at 2020 W. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, in 2017 by tying his personal bank account to the school’s PayPal account without permission.

When the parents paid the tuition to the school account, Melis initiated fraudulent electronic funds transfers to his personal account. He then spent the stolen money on travel and luxury items, such as jewelry, according to the indictment.

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Court documents show Wired melis amounts under $1,000 four times in 2017, totaling about $2,700 in tuition to his own account, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Separately, the indictment charges Melis with conducting a mortgage granting fraud scheme against a financial institution for two properties he owned, according to the indictment. To trick the mortgage lender into thinking he was a qualified borrower, the indictment accuses Melis of using another person’s personally identifying information on loan applications, and preparing and submitting false IRS tax returns, mortgage satisfactions falsely representing that his properties had equity, and false rental agreements showing that he received substantial rental income.

As part of the scheme, the indictment says Melis used the IDs of four other people and forged their signatures on fictitious mortgage satisfactions and forged rental agreements submitted to the mortgage lender.

Based on Melis’ misrepresentations, the financial institution approved and funded a mortgage for $438,200 in 2018 and another for $684,000 in 2019, according to court documents.

The case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the FBI.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the sources from which James Melis is accused of theft. Most of the money stolen by federal officials came from loans, while less than $3,000 was taken from the school.

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