LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Some Southwest Florida businesses say they were scammed out of hundreds of dollars from solicitors misrepresenting themselves as part of the Lee County School District. They want to warn others before it happens again.
Gwiz & Gwiz Re-upholstery has operated in Southwest Florida for 30+ years. "We run a good honest business here, that is one of our principles, our integrity, doing what we say, saying what we do," owner Paul Gwizdala said.
Back in March, Gwizdala got a phone call from someone representing herself as a Dunbar High School employee, selling banners to local businesses as a fundraiser. "Basically, she sold me on helping kids over in the Dunbar community and putting a billboard up, a smaller one, two-footer for $175," Gwizdala said.
Two weeks later, he got a mysterious phone call from a woman who said she used to work for Varsity Signs. She said Bambi Lynn and Jesse Moers - the people Gwizdala had actually bought the banner from - were in no way associated with the school.
A few days later, he got a call from Bambi Lynn. This time, according to Gwizdala, she said she was representing Fort Myers High School, and asked him to buy another banner. Gwizdala set up a meeting at his business, hoping to have the police intercept. But, they got away, and Gwizdala has still not seen his money or his banner.
"No such working relationship existed," Lee County Public Schools Spokesperson Joe Donzelli said.
According to Donzelli, they'd gotten word about the situation a few months ago. In addition to "Varsity Signs," they learned those behind the fraud are also using the name "Community Connect."
"To be honest, one school is one too many," Donzelli said. "They are treading on the good names of our high schools. Our high schools go out of their way to keep their reputations intact, especially when it comes to the athletics of the schools."
The Better Business Bureau gives Varsity Signs an "F" rating. Their website lists locations in Cape Coral, Naples and Palm Bay, FL. We tried calling the phone numbers listed on their website site. No one answered from the Cape Coral number, and the other two were not in service.
The address listed on the banner order form for Varsity Signs is 1217 East Cape Coral Parkway, Suite 159. We went to that address and found a U.P.S. Store. It has plenty of P.O. Boxes, but no Suite 159.
The complaints reach beyond Lee County. The Collier County Sheriff's Office has 3 reports, and the Charlotte County Economic Crimes Unit has 3 as well.
"They'll get them," Gwizdala said. "I'm convinced they'll get them, because when you steal from kids, with the elderly people here, a community like ours, it's terrible. Shame on them."
We also learned Bambi Lynn Moers was arrested last year as part of a school magazine scam in Jupiter. She and another woman collected more than $15,000 from businesses who thought they were advertising to benefit local schools.
The key is doing your homework. Donzelli says the district does advertise with local businesses. The easiest way to check the legitimacy of any solicitation is to call the school in question.