FORT MYERS, Fla. - Robert Bruist used to be in charge of a non-profit helping people with disabilities. But an investigation claims he took $900,000 for himself.
"When someone steals state funds for personal gain it's no different then stealing directly from the pockets of Florida taxpayers," said Alexis Lambert with the Florida Department of Financial Services.
Bruist was the Executive Director of the now defunct Center for Independent Living of Southwest Florida. The doors suddenly closed last year, because the money ran out. Now the 35-year old is at the Lee County Jail, accused of taking almost one-million dollars meant to help the disabled.
"The investigation did reveal that Mr. Bruist misappropriated about $900,000 from the center," said Lambert.
Roger Bradley, Executive Director of LARC, runs a similar non-profit to help people with developmental disabilities.
"Resources are limited and when someone steals those resources, they should be punished to the full extent of the law," Bradley said.
A joint investigation by the Chief Financial Officer's Office of Financial Integrity and the Department of Education's Inspector General claims that Bruist converted state funding, federal grants, non-profit grants and personal donations for his own use.
"One thing that we did specifically find was an extravagant lifestyle and international travel," said Lambert.
Other organizations, like the Center for Independent Living Gulf Coast have stepped in, offering service to people with disabilities in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.
"We're always confident that there will be another good organization in the area that will be able to fill the need for these individuals," stated Lambert.
Other charges include grand theft, scheme to defraud and aggravated white collar crime. If convicted, Bruist could spend 95 years in prison, be fined $2 million dollars and ordered to repay the $900,000 dollars.