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'Cabinet Bandit' accused in scam

A man known for rip-offs allegedly took more than $45,000 from a Palm Harbor couple who hired him to redo their kitchen, prosecutors say.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published May 12, 2004

They're calling Raymond Orlando the Cabinet Bandit.

For at least eight years, he ripped off homeowners who hired him to remodel their kitchens and install high-end cabinets, prosecutors say.

In that time, investigators think Orlando ripped off about a dozen Pinellas homeowners of more than $250,000, vanishing when the project was half-finished. In some cases, he never even swung a hammer, arrest affidavits state.

In the past, authorities have arrested Orlando on charges of unlicensed contracting, but they say Orlando bailed out of jail each time and continued his scam.

On Monday, Orlando was arrested again, this time on charges that he stole more than $45,000 from a Palm Harbor couple who hired him to remodel their kitchen. He left the project unfinished, reports state.

"He essentially takes the money and doesn't do much work, if any," said Keith Parks, who supervises criminal investigations at the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services.

Parks said Orlando met his victims through word of mouth, acquaintances or advertising. He acted as a representative of companies that offered high-end cabinets from France, Germany and Italy.

"I suspect we've only touched the tip of the iceberg of potential victims," Parks said. "Raymond Orlando . . . was the king of cabinet bandits. He was taking huge amounts of money."

Orlando, 51, who lives in Madeira Beach, first came to the attention of authorities in 1995 when he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of unlicensed residential contracting. He pleaded no contest and was ordered to pay court costs.

In 2000, authorities began investigating him again, eventually arresting him on multiple charges of grand theft and unlicensed contracting. Orlando bailed out of jail but continued to rip people off, prosecutors say.

He was hit with more charges in 2002, but that still didn't stop him. He continued to thumb his nose at authorities.

"This is a clear modus operandi that he has been involved in while out on bond," said prosecutor Gary White.

It was Orlando's alleged activities that prompted the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board to begin specifically licensing cabinet installers in 2003. Before that, it was difficult to prosecute cabinet installers who ripped off their customers.

If convicted of all the charges, Orlando faces a minimum of more than four years in prison. The maximum sentence would be 85 years, said White, who plans to seek prison time above the minimum guidelines. Records show Orlando has already pleaded guilty in one of the pending cases against him.

"This man has hurt a lot of people," White said.

A judge revoked Orlando's bail after his most recent arrest Monday. He is being held at the Pinellas County Jail.

White said there is still an ongoing investigation exploring what happened to all the money Orlando is accused of stealing.

"We call him the "Cabinet Bandit' because of the apparent persistency to keep going on this course of criminal conduct," White said. "I would say that this . . . defendant has been accused of this type of crime in a higher volume than anyone else I have had the occasion to investigate."

- Chris Tisch can be reached at 727 445-4156 or at tisch@sptimes.com

To check whether a contractor is licensed, call the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board at 536-4720. To report a complaint about a contractor or to check whether a contractor has previous complaints, call the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services at 464-6200.

[Last modified May 12, 2004, 01:56:30]


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