LGBT-owned businesses tangled in web of fraud

LGBT-owned businesses tangled in web of fraud

A lesbian-owned business is the latest victim caught in the crossfire of a crime spree, and an Orlando man is accused of being the one behind the frauds.

Twenty-five-year-old Chris Braun allegedly ripped off charities and businesses alike. He made television news on Fox 35 WQFL after he was pulled over and arrested for writing a bad $56,000 check for the truck he was driving. When chasing that story, reporters discovered that Braun had offered to host a charity event for B.A.S.E. Camp, a children’s cancer foundation based out of Winter Park. Braun is accused of signing a contract that promised Graze, the restaurant formerly located at the bottom of The Sanctuary Condo Tower in Thornton Park, $10,000 to buy out the venue for the event benefiting B.A.S.E. Camp. According to the news report, Braun never came through with the deposit, although the event was a success for the charity, raising about $7,000.

However, B.A.S.E. Camp founder Terri Jones said Braun didn’t keep small promises to them, either, and the camp had to put up for some smaller denomination auction items when he promised but never delivered.

And Graze shut its doors in May, just a few months after it opened.

What the television report did not uncover is that Braun’s victims appear to extend beyond Graze, B.A.S.E. Camp and the car dealership.

Cindy Kaplus and her partner Suzi Vachon own Sunset Strip, an upscale clothing boutique located in Winter Park. Kaplus said she and Vachon were friends with Braun’s boyfriend at the time.

“Chris shopped, and bought lots of clothes, and since we knew his boyfriend, we didn’t ask for I.D. with his credit card,” said Kaplus.

A few weeks later, they got a call from their merchant disputing about $1,100 worth of charges because Braun had paid with a stolen card, she said.

Kaplus said she didn’t report the theft to police because she’s been the victim of fraud in the past, and she believes investigations don’t get any results. Additionally, phone calls to the Orlando Police Department did not yield any information about the case or any possible warrants or investigations.

“He is a good talker, a good scam artist,” said Kaplus.

Kaplus said she didn’t file a police report because she didn’t think it would help.

Jones said she got a phone call a week before her charity event from a former boyfriend of Braun, warning her that Braun was a bad guy.

“We didn’t file charges because in the grand scheme of things, we were lied to and misled, but Graze is what lost money,” she said. “[Braun] is the best liar I’ve ever met in my life.”

She said Graze contacted police, but it’s apparently a civil case, to be decided in court. Of course, the restaurant no longer exists. As for criminal charges against Braun, the state attorney’s office is still deciding whether to prosecute.

Watermark was able to secure an e-mail address for Braun, and he responded to a request to speak to him about the allegations with a single line: “Please do not contact me.”

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