Robert Schnepf, Dick Vitale, and a Decade of Alleged Scams in Florida and New York | #datingscams | #lovescams

It was too good to be true, with a Florida twist.

After agreeing to buy a 2022 Mercedes-Benz S-Class at a Sarasota dealership last month, police say, a man who called himself Robert Banagino told the manager helping him sign for the luxury car retailing for over $132,000 that he had an unusual problem.

The self-styled New York businessman said he had traveled to Florida as part of his hurricane relief business in the wake of the devastation wrought by Ian, and decided to purchase two properties in the same number of days, according to a Sarasota Sheriff’s Office police report. At first, he sought a 26,560-square-foot industrial warehouse for a little over $17 million, before expressing interest in owning a $5.2 million seven-bedroom mansion about 30 minutes south.

But he wasn’t done yet.

Banagino told the sales manager of the Mercedes-Benz dealership on Oct. 28 that he needed to spend more—specifically, to donate some of his $127 million net worth for tax purposes. He went as far as to show a picture of his loaded checking account balance to prove his wealth, according to the report.

Almost immediately, the manager offered a tantalizing solution: donate the money to ESPN legend Dick Vitale’s cancer foundation.

“They called me and told me of his intention [of] making this large donation and asked if he could bring him over to my house to introduce me to him,” Vitale told The Daily Beast. “Shortly after meeting him, he verbally committed to a $3 million donation for pediatric cancer research.”

The meeting was short, Vitale recalled, punctuated by the visitor asking for a signed basketball for his “daughter Jenna” who he said was on a basketball scholarship at Florida State University. But when the sportscaster offered to take a picture with the mega-donor, he swiftly declined.

Vitale did not raise an eyebrow when the elusive backer preferred not to document the significant win for the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research—because he kept bragging about his wealth.

This is all simply a job to him.

Laura Maslin Osenni

“He kept saying that his companies were doing so well and that he wanted to give back to charities,” Vitale said about the rendezvous at his home.

While Vitale was “initially ecstatic” about such a hefty donation, authorities say the local realtor working with Banagino had grown suspicious upon realizing he had yet to show an ID despite several attempts.

After a few internet searches, the realtor began to wonder if Robert Banagino even existed.

In fact, the supposed titan seeking $23 million dollars worth of homes and cars in Sarasota was Robert Schnepf—a man previously described in media reports as a con artist who was currently on probation for grand theft.

While it is not immediately clear if Schnepf even had the money for these lavish purchases and donations, police say that over the last 15 years, the 48-year-old has swindled a slew of people and businesses in Florida and New York under a series of disguises. They range from an FDNY Emergency Medical Services lieutenant to an army war veteran to a plumber. While the alleged scams and aliases vary, Schnepf’s motivation always seems to be the same: try to gobble up money or goods before disappearing.

Schnepf’s criminal history dates back to at least 2009, and includes arrests in the two states on an array of charges, including burglary, assault, criminal impersonation, forged instruments, and theft. Interviews and court documents illustrate how he was able to slip through the cracks for years—evading serious punishment and enraging those unfortunate enough to cross paths with him.

And while Schnepf is not directly charged over the pledge to Vitale, his attempt to dupe a celebrity may represent the end of a long and improbable road to infamy.

“This guy is a rock star of a scam artist. He is very charismatic and nice and makes you feel like you can trust him,” Laura Maslin Osenni, a 63-year-old Florida resident who was the victim of a theft scheme Schnepf was convicted of in 2019, told The Daily Beast.

How do you impersonate a New York City… EMS worker and still are able to get out on the streets?

Faith Gamali

Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The Sarasota Sheriff’s Office has charged Schnepf with a single felony of scheming to defraud more than $50,000 in connection with the alleged scam involving the property and car deals, and he is now being held on a $100,000 bond. Schnepf pleaded not guilty to the charge and has requested a jury trial.

If convicted of this latest felony charge, Schnepf faces up to 30 years in prison. His public defender, Geoffrey Proffitt, declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment. Schnepf’s family did not respond to a request for comment.

Standing 6’6 and weighing over 250 pounds, Schnepf doesn’t exactly slide under the radar.

A native of Forest Hills, Queens, local news reports state that Schnepf made quite the name for himself in New York—through that name and his occupation seemed to vary depending on who he was with.

Court documents suggest he first made it onto law enforcement radar around April 2009, when he was charged with burglary in St. Lucie County, Florida. A warrant obtained by The Daily Beast states that Schnepf broke into a woman’s house “with the intent to commit an offense.”

However, Schnepf was soon back in the Empire State—where he allegedly used several fake identities to scam women out of money. Among his most popular alleged grifts, according to a transcript of a 911 call to Southampton Village Police Department, was pretending to be “a 10-year Special Forces veteran to elicit food, lodging, and work in the area.” (It is not clear if he was ever arrested or charged in connection with that scheme.)

Southhampton Village Police Department

In other parts of town, according to a 2010 article by the New York Post, Schnepf would pretend to be a business mogul with ties from everyone from Rihanna to Heineken.

During an October 2009 speech, Schnepf reportedly promised $3.5 million to fund a facility for a Staten Island domestic violence shelter. At another charity event, Schnepf was caught on camera donating $50,000—before claiming that he was in a movie with Jessica Alba. (The Daily Beast could not find any record of the donation or film appearance.)

“When you look back on it, you feel like an idiot,” Long Island resident Kim Cuneo told the Post over a decade ago. “He’s just a smooth talker. He’s very good at what he does.”

Swirling rumors about Schnepf’s antics eventually caught the eye of local New York reporter Howard Thompson, who was known for a TV bit meant to help residents solve conflicts. The show, “Help Me Howard,” hinged on confronting individuals who had ill-gotten gains—and often included dramatic surprise moments that would elicit wild confessions.

“Hey Gang, Trust me, no one wants to find Robert Schnepf… more than I do!” Thompson wrote on Facebook on Dec. 16, 2009.

Schnepf was arrested just days later in Southampton on the outstanding Florida burglary warrant. He was eventually extradited, though it is not clear what happened to the case.

Upon his release, it seemed like Schnepf might be laying low. Eventually, however, he was once again on the radar of his old foe—PIX 11’s Howard Thompson—after the reporter caught wind of his allegedly bilking New Jersey resident Marcus Matos.

According to Matos, Schnepf promised to renovate his home to the tune of $34,000. Instead, Matos told Thompson in a “Help Me Howard” segment, Schnepf and his crew merely tore up his Dover home and vanished after a local inspector shut down the construction site for not having the proper permits.

“Sick to my stomach, literally,” Matos said in the segment. “I mean we basically gave him pretty much everything.”

In the dramatic segment, Thomas caught up to Schnepf after what he described as years of “playing catch me if you can.” Outside of a two-family Staten Island home, Thompson is seen walking up to the towering hulk just as he is exiting his car. Sporting a chin strap beard and baseball cap, Schnepf insists that he did not rip anyone off.

“I wanna make sure this gets straightened out as soon as possible,” Schnepf said. “I don’t have that money.”

Matos did not respond to questions about the allegations, but told The Daily Beast that knowing Schnepf was “free to roam and able to continue with his deceitful ways is sickening.” It is not clear if he was ever charged in connection with Matos’ allegations. The Dover Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

While Schnepf’s very public profile on local television garnered online buzz, it seemed to die down by the time Faith Gamali met him as she was selling her home.

The 54-year-old Brooklyn native said that when she was connected to Schnepf by her realtor to help clean out her house in 2019, he introduced himself as Robert Hart. She needed all the help she could get, she said, because she had been diagnosed with cancer that same year.

While Gamali declined to chat in detail about her relationship with the man she would later learn was Schnepf, she did tell The Daily Beast that she began dating him that year—around the same time she introduced him to a friend she met at the gym, Laura Maslin Osenni.

“He was nice and instantly said we were family,” Osenni told The Daily Beast, adding that she also knew Schnepf as “Robert Hart.”

So when Osenni and her then-husband began to make plans to move to Florida, she was delighted to learn Gamali was planning the same southern migration. To make matters even more fortuitous, she learned that Schnepf was a “master plumber” who might be able to help them with their new home.

Osenni didn’t think twice when Schnepf told her she needed a new AC unit. She said she wrote checks in May 2019 totaling $25,000 for the unit and additional plumbing work to be completed over the next month. Later, she said, she would learn that her husband gave Schnepf an additional loan of $30,000.

“At first, I thought it was a great deal for all the work he said had to be done. He also said that the AC unit would only be $5,000, because he got a great deal,” Osenni said. “My husband at the time and I thought he was doing us a favor—so we went for it. We had no reason to not believe him.”

But by June 2019, Osenni said, Schnepf had stopped answering her calls and had not done any of the work he proposed. She said her former husband, Peter Osenni, also attempted to contact Schnepf several times—but received radio silence.

“He started coming to the house less and less. Then he stopped answering all phone calls,” Osenni said. “We really needed that money [we loaned], you know?”

Finally, two months after handing over thousands of dollars, Osenni and her husband filed a report with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. In an August 2019 police report obtained by The Daily Beast, police say the Osennis gave Schnepf money for the housework—and noted that Schnepf also provided them with a business card identifying himself “as Rob Hart, master plumber, of Hart’s Plumbing Inc.”

“It was discovered [Schnepf] used an Alias on his business card and is not licensed in the state of Florida under either name,” the report states. “The address provided for the business is a post office box and the phone goes unanswered.”

Circuit Court, Sarasota County Florida

Schnepf was initially arrested on a second-degree grand-theft felony charge and a misdemeanor charge of acting as a contractor without a license for “knowingly obtain[ing] $5,000 of the victim’s money with the intent to permanently deprive the victim of his funds.”

Court documents show Schnepf was released on bail for $1,500 before eventually pleading no contest on the two charges. He was sentenced to probation for 18 months in July 2022 and required to pay $12,000 in restitution, in increments of $666 a month, starting this past August.

Osenni said that as of this past week, she had yet to see a cent of that money.

For Gamali’s part, she said she was thunderstruck by Schnepf’s illicit activity—and threw Schnepf out in 2019, when she got suspicious and “cops were coming to the house.”

“I was going through chemo at the time,” she said. “I am still sick over what he did to Laura, but I had no clue at all until it was too late. All I would say is he is a disgusting human being and I can’t understand why he [was] still walking around the street after all he has done.”

Osenni’s opinion of him is, likewise, less than forgiving.

“This is all he knows how to do. This is all simply a job to him,” she added.

After he was through with a woman going through cancer treatment and her friend, Schnepf made his way back north. This time, according to the Fire Department of New York, he even had a costume.

In July 2020, Schnepf was arrested after allegedly impersonating an FDNY Emergency Medical Services Lieutenant to swindle Staten Island residents and business owners as the pandemic surged across New York.

Complete with a light blue FDNY uniform that had the name “Lt. Hart” embroidered on the right chest, authorities allege that Schnepf flashed a fake badge as he approached individuals and told them they were in violation of a city code. Then, Schnepf would allegedly either demand money to fix the fictitious problem—or ask for money to look the other way.

“It is a complete abuse of public trust for someone to impersonate a public servant,” Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement at the time. He added that their “partners in the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement alike will not tolerate any situation where someone is in the community falsely representing themselves for personal gain.”

According to a 2020 New York Daily News article, Schnepf also allegedly gassed up his car and took items from several Staten Island establishments without paying—falsely telling employees that he left his wallet at the FDNY station and would return to pay them back.

Authorities eventually caught up to Schnepf on June 19, 2020, after fire marshals observed him wearing the uniform and “acting suspiciously within a public park in Queens,” according to a press release. He was charged with petit larceny, criminal impersonation of a public servant, and possession of a forged instrument.

The case, prosecuted by the Richmond County District Attorney’s office, is still pending. A district attorney spokesperson told The Daily Beast that a Schnepf “court date was in August 2021, where a bench warrant was ordered as a result of [him] failing to appear.”

“How do you impersonate a New York City… EMS worker and still are able to get out on the streets?” Gamali wondered in an interview.

None of that messy past seemed to matter when Schnepf reached out to a local realtor last month as the mysteriously wealthy businessman in need of some property.

The recent Florida arrest report states that on Oct. 26, the realtor texted a man she believed was Robert Banagino after receiving an inquiry for her services.

Despite being unable to find anyone by that name in her realtor database—or online—the realtor met Schnepf at the Parrot Restaurant in Sarasota. At the meeting, Schnepf explained that “he was from New York and had traveled to Florida as part of his business” for Hurricane Ian relief after the storm had ravaged the area, according to the arrest report.

“While in Florida, he (Banagino) decided he wanted to purchase a specific property,” the report states, noting that the 23,450 square-foot plot was originally listed for $18 million.

After he met with the owners of the property about 12 minutes from the airport, the price was reduced to $17.5 million. Once that deal was completed, Schnepf immediately asked to buy a second property—this time a Mediterranean-style lakefront mansion just steps from Myakka River State Park.

A listing for the home says the 3.5-acre lot boasts a movie theater, game room, and separate guest house.

The latest Sarasota arrest report states that while the relator was preparing the paperwork to bid on the home, Schnepf expressed interest in buying a Rolls Royce. That prompted her to reveal that “her father was the Sales Manager of the Mercedes-Benz dealership.”

At the dealership, Schnepf agreed to buy a luxury car, notably signing the purchasing option under his alias “Robert Banagino”—but signing and dating the document with his legal name, according to the arrest report. The expensive purchase soon parlayed into the dealership manager arranging the meeting with Vitale so that Schnepf could donate money “for tax purposes.”

“I am well known for raising money for pediatric cancer research through the V Foundation,” as Vitale told The Daily Beast.

“My annual Dick Vitale Gala has raised $55 million thus far, so naturally I was initially ecstatic when I was told that he wanted to donate $3 million,” he added.

Soon after Schnepf’s pledge, according to the arrest report, the realtor “felt uneasy” about his identity and began to do some research. Quickly, she discovered details of his past—and alerted the authorities. It didn’t take long for Vitale to take to Twitter to express his disgust.

“He is a notorious con man who has been arrested numerous times all over from NYC to Florida,” Vitale tweeted on Oct. 29. “I believed that we had $ 3 Million for kids vs cancer. I am sick to think in my house he was hugging my wife & I & so happy.”

While Vitale was left “devastated [and] heartbroken]” over Schnepf’s alleged scheme, at least one of his former victims was expressing relief he may finally have hit the end of the road.

Even if it took way too long for a reckoning.

“It’s wild to think that now that Dick Vitale is involved, he may finally go to jail,” Osenni said with a laugh.

“He deserves to go to jail. Robert is such a piece of shit.”

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