The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services filed a lawsuit in July, but dismissed it last month after Collier sheriff's deputies went to serve Brian Battaglia with the lawsuit and found his Progress Avenue garage vacant.
EAST NAPLES — A state consumer agency that attempted to slap an East Naples auto mechanic with a cease-and-desist order and fine has dropped its lawsuit after discovering he'd shut down.
But Brian C. Battaglia, 45, who operated FJB Motorsports and faces roughly $2 million in judgments, still faces a criminal trial next month on fraud charges. He is accused of bilking customers who paid money up front last year for repairs that were never made.
Court records show he bounced customers' refund checks, used the money to pay his own bills and closed his accounts with a negative balance. The Bonita Springs man has been arrested at least nine times, served a 4-year sentence in an Illinois prison and two years of probation in Lee County — both for fraud charges involving drugs.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services filed a lawsuit in July, but dismissed it last month after Collier sheriff's deputies went to serve Battaglia with the lawsuit and found his Progress Avenue garage vacant.
"It was dismissed because the business is no longer operating," said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The unpaid $1,000 fine and cease-and-desist order involved one customer and invoices that didn't comply with state regulations. In contrast, the criminal case involves fraud and five customers.
"Once you cross that path into fraudulent activities it becomes criminal and is handled by the State Attorney's Office," Sterling said.
Battaglia couldn't be located for comment and there is no defense attorney listed in his pending fraud case.
State corporation records list his business as active, but phone numbers listed to the business were disconnected or no longer his.
He was arrested while driving his Porsche near his garage in October, accused of demanding payment up front for repairs that were never made, writing refund checks that bounced and threatening customers who said they'd report him to authorities.
Records show Battaglia has been arrested seven times on theft by deception charges in Illinois and also served time in an Illinois prison after being convicted of obtaining a substance by fraud in 2005. Three years later, he was sentenced to two years of probation for that same charge in Lee County.
Court records show a trail of 40 lawsuits and 28 judgments and liens, mostly involving customers in Illinois, the state of Illinois, the IRS, and seven lawsuits and evictions filed in Lee County. The judgments include $101,453 for unpaid IRS taxes, a $299,114.63 judgment in Illinois, and an $857,734.89 judgment involving embezzlement in Lee County, the largest lien.
A Collier sheriff's arrest report shows five customers complained after losing $7,711, but another case that hasn't yet been fully investigated involved another $4,160.
Francis Milazzo, the customer involved in the state and Collier case, declined to comment to the Daily News, but his wife, Dolores Hanyon, said in October that they pressed for criminal charges because Battaglia "wasn't going to stop with us."
The arrest report gives this account:
After a week of Battaglia's promises to return their Lincoln Towncar and a $1,100 down payment for repairs, Milazzo went to the shop, but found the fuel had been siphoned, the battery was dead and the transmission was untouched.
The car was inoperable, so he had it towed to another mechanic. After paying $1,600 to the second mechanic, and never seeing the refund Battaglia promised, the couple lost nearly $3,000.
"Mr. Battaglia reportedly told Mr. Milazzo he was not giving him his money back and he could file a civil suit, he didn't care — he had lots of them," the report says.
It lists four other victims who lost money from March to June 2011, and a pending investigation. Battaglia's FJB bank accounts didn't reflect purchases usually seen at a car repair shop, but showed he used the money to make purchases and pay his bills.
After his arrest on two felony and three misdemeanor fraud charges, the prosecutor opted to move forward with one fraud charge, a third-degree felony. If convicted, Battaglia faces five years in a state prison.