The ex-president of the former Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce has pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges after he stole more than $100,000 of chamber funds for personal use, according to federal authorities.
David Gainer Jr., 50, from Lutz, pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud, federal prosecutors in the Middle District of Florida said in a news release Wednesday. Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce was an organization made up of merchants from Pasco County who paid fees to the chamber to promote their businesses. The West and Central Pasco chambers of commerce merged in 2019 to form the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
Greg Armstrong, who was the president of the former West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and now serves as a board member of the current Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce, said the missing funds were discovered around the time of the 2019 merger.
“About 200 businesses got seriously burned, and it’s a wound that takes a long time to heal,” he said.
The Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce sold the building it was operating out of in 2017, and the money from the sale disappeared in a series of wire transfers, according to Armstrong. He said Gainer, who was paid for his work as an executive officer, resigned after the missing money was discovered.
“That was basically the money that the chamber of commerce had, other than just the daily operating money — which wasn’t a whole lot, because it wasn’t a large chamber,” Armstrong said.
The Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce spent thousands of dollars to hire certified public accountants to find out where the money went. The process took about four months, he said.
According to court documents, Gainer had access to the chamber’s bank account information — including bank account numbers, logins and credit and debit cards — and he used his position to make unauthorized withdrawals from the accounts, which he then deposited into accounts he controlled to pay personal debts, such as his credit card and utility bills.
The plea agreement outlines three instances between 2017 and 2018 in which Gainer wired thousands of dollars from chamber accounts to accounts he controlled — on June 19, 2017, he wired $2,035.04 to the accounts, in November 2017 he wired $1,700, and in May 2018 he wired $8,000. In all, the plea agreement said Gainer misappropriated more than $104,000.
“During Gainer’s tenure as President and Treasurer of the Chamber, he fraudulently misappropriated at least $104,689.21 of the Chamber’s funds and deposited the funds into accounts he controlled,” the plea agreement said. As part of the deal with prosecutors, Gainer agreed to forfeit that sum to the United States.
According to the Middle District of Florida news release, the case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
For Armstrong, the matter won’t truly be settled until the money that was stolen from the business owners is returned to them.
“He took from an awful lot of people that trusted him,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the situation showed members early on that the two chambers could work together and deal with the financial hardships Gainer created.
“It actually showed us all that we can get through adversity, and we did,” Armstrong said. “We’ve now got a fantastic chamber of commerce. It’s a lot bigger and a lot stronger.”