Dade County probing Largo firm

Clearwater Sun

By Shannon Brennan

LARGO - A Largo-based employment agency is under investigation by Dade County consumer affairs officials who have required the company to make refunds to dissatisfied customers.

And the owners of the agency are well-known to consumer fraud agencies in at least two other states.

East Coast Employment Inc., 514 First Ave. S.W., Largo, lists Mary A. Float as the corporation's registered agent.

Mrs. Float's husband, Scientologist Robert Float, made headlines in 1980 when his rental-referral business was hit with fraud charges in two states.

Float has boasted that his Scientologist management techniques have earned him millions of dollars nationwide, according to Bill Oberhardt, assistant attorney general in the Illinois consumer protection division.

"The money he made in Illinois was made illegally," Oberhardt said Friday.

Oberhardt said Float was the executive director of Red Giant Rental Services, an outfit that fled Illinois after agreeing to pay a $10,000 fine levied by a Cook County Circuit judge. After being ordered three times to pay $7,470 to bilked consumers, Red Giant was found in contempt of court and ordered to pay the fine, Oberhardt said.

Red Giant was first sued in 1977 for allowing its franchises to advertise attractive homes in attractive locations at very low prices. But once a person paid a rental-referral fee, they found those homes did not exist, records state.

The Illinois consumer protection division traced Red Giant to Clearwater, Oberhardt said, where two company vehicles and a couple of bank accounts were foreclosed on.

The amount of money still owed the state is substantial, Oberhardt said, adding that tracking down Red Giant's assets is the problem.

"Red Giant has ceased to exist, but Robert Float hasn't," he said.

Marc Goldman, assistant attorney general in Michigan's economic crime division, said Float's Red Giant Rental Services had been accused in 1980 of misleading franchise owners, who lost considerable sums of money.

An out-of-court agreement was reached with Red Giant, Goldman said. The company was issued an order of permit injunction from the circuit court of Michigan for violations of the franchise laws. Red Giant also paid $3,000 to the attorney general's office to cover costs of the investigation, Goldman said.

In Miami, a number of persons who paid $85 each for East Coast Employment's job-finding service have charged that the agency does nothing more than sell job listings already listed in area newspapers.

Consumer officials in Miami said most of the complaints against East Coast Employment have been made by Haitians.

"I don't really have a lot of complaints," said Jack Berliner, and inspector for the Dade Consumer Protection Division.

Berliner said he has received six to eight complaints, but is expecting more. He said he plans to file a complaint with the state attorney general's office next week.

"They have been giving refunds when we complain," he said, "but that doesn't mean I'm happy."

Berliner said for every complaint he receives, there are several people who should be complaining, but are not.

Neither Float nor his wife could be reached for comment Friday.

East Coast Employment is not licensed in Pinellas County or with the city of Largo, according to occupational license records. But as long as the company does not actually operate within the county, it can maintain its headquarters here, county officials said.

No complaints against East Coast Employment have been registered with the Pinellas County consumer affairs office.