Financial Scams Lead to 15 Year Prison Sentence

Clifton Cornelius was sentenced to 15 years in prison for Scheme to Defraud and 5 years in prison for Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle, in a separate case, to be served concurrently. Between September and October of 2017, Cornelius orchestrated a series of scams in an effort to take money from several unsuspecting individuals in Lee County.

The first involved a manager at a family restaurant in Bonita Springs. Cornelius convinced her that he helped veterans sell their vehicles when they were no longer able to drive. Cornelius promised the victim she could purchase the vehicles for basically the cost of storage and the title transfer. Cornelius got $1298.00 from the victim who then realized she was being defrauded.

Another scam involved convincing a car salesperson to purchase a Nissan Sentra from Cornelius that he claimed he owned. Ultimately, this victim was taken for $520 before realizing she too was being scammed.

Aside from promising to sell unsuspecting people vehicles he did not own, Cornelius also “purchased” vehicles for other people he was not capable of paying for. Cornelius purchased a 2017 Ford Focus for a man he was hiring to work in a non-existent sporting goods store in Naples that the defendant claimed to own. He convinced the man he was buying the car for, to put the purchase and car insurance in their name. Cornelius wrote a check for $18.462.66 for the car that bounced due to insufficient funds. After leaving the dealership, the defendant took the vehicle and never returned it to either the dealership or the victim.

About four weeks later, Cornelius “purchased” a 2015 BMW 428I for another unsuspecting person in the same manner. Cornelius convinced this woman that he was dying and that he was trying to bless other people with his wealth before he died. This time Cornelius wrote a check for $49,262.05 to the dealership and had the woman put the car in her name along with the car insurance. Again, Cornelius took the vehicle from the dealership and never returned it.

The Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle occurred in March of 2018 when Cornelius contacted an
acquaintance and asked to borrow his vehicle to go to the store but never returned. The Lee
County Sheriff’s Office investigated all of the incidents involving the defendant. He has a
pending case in Collier County on other charges.

Assistant State Attorney Tino F. Cimato of the Economic Crimes Unit handled the Scheme to
Defraud case and Assistant State Attorney Michael Curley of the Lee County Felony Division
handled the Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle case.

Samantha Syoen
Communications Director
State Attorney’s Office