Rising GOP star arrested

Angelo Cappelli is accused of theft from the estate of a deceased bank client.

Published August 16, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Less than a year ago Angelo Cappelli was a hot newcomer on the local political scene, building key allies in his race for House District 52.

Cappelli narrowly lost the election, but his fundraising prowess, Ivy League pedigree and well-established banking job with SunTrust solidified his future with the local Republican Party.

That was until SunTrust began taking a closer look at paperwork coming from his office.

After a six-week investigation, police arrested Cappelli on Wednesday morning at his lawyer's office on Central Avenue. He faces grand theft and perjury charges, according to St. Petersburg authorities.

Cappelli, 37, is accused of stealing more than $100,000 from the trust of a deceased bank client. By Wednesday evening, Cappelli was out of jail on $55,000 bail. He could not be reached for comment.

"He was very emotional and provided the detectives with a complete confession to the crimes," said Bill Proffitt, a St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman.

Cappelli worked at the SunTrust Bank at 300 First Ave. S for the past four years as a wealth and investment adviser. He sold clients products but did not have direct access to their accounts.

So it was unusual when bank officials discovered that Cappelli had signed paperwork with the Pinellas County Circuit Court probate division regarding a deceased SunTrust client's will.

In those papers, Cappelli listed the estate of Mario Granata at $58,000, when Granata's trust was worth almost $160,000.

A bequest to charity

Granata, 83, died in February and had no spouse or children. Granata's will allocated all his assets at the time of his death to the Pinellas County Community Foundation, a charitable organization based in Clearwater.

In June, Cappelli delivered a $45,353 check to the foundation.

"When the check was delivered, I had no reason to think anything was wrong," said Julie Scales, executive director of the foundation.

Cappelli then committed five different fraudulent transfers taking a total of $110,500 from Granata's estate account, according to police. He put the money into an account he opened at Mercantile Bank in St. Petersburg named the "Y Club of Tampa Bay c/o Community Foundation."

Cappelli paid personal credit card bills with some of the money.

He also conducted another fraudulent transaction in which he paid $4,489 to St. John's Insurance Co., which provided his homeowner's insurance, police said.

Nephew saw problem

The transactions went largely unnoticed until a distant nephew of Granata's came to St. Petersburg to clean out his deceased uncle's apartment. He found a will and bank account statements. He phoned Granata's attorney, Cynthia Orozco.

The court documents "alerted me that something was going on," said Orozco, an estate planning lawyer in St. Petersburg who drafted Granata's will in 1998. "It was unusual that Mr. Cappelli signed in those capacities. That's something that the lawyer's office was supposed to do."

SunTrust officials launched an investigation and relieved Cappelli of his duties in late June. St. Petersburg police got involved shortly after.

Strong resume

Cappelli graduated from Yale and Fordham universities where he earned both a law degree and a master's of business administration. Prior to his recent troubles, his resume listed service on the boards of St. Anthony's Hospital, the Arts Center of St. Petersburg and the Police Athletic League.

Well-known developer Mel Sembler and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker supported his run against Democrat Bill Heller for House District 52. Cappelli ended up raising $160,000 more than Heller but lost the race in a difficult election year for most Republicans across the state.

Finances turned grim

Cappelli's personal financial picture became increasingly grim in the last several months. Details of his money problems are sketchy, but authorities said Cappelli had been complaining to co-workers about financial hardships.

In July 2006, Cappelli and his wife, Michelle, took out a loan with SunTrust bank for $880,000 and began building an almost 3,700-square-foot home in the Placido Bayou area of St. Petersburg, according to records. It was an adjustable rate mortgage.

Shortly after his dismissal at the bank, Cappelli reimbursed the loss - $114,989 - to SunTrust Bank, according to police reports. The bank then gave all the funds to the foundation.

Mayor Baker said Wednesday that the judicial process has to play out before deciding whether he's guilty or not.

"I'm saddened by the news," he said.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727893-8828. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273. Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.