A Fremont man and his partner stole upward of $6 million from customers and subcontractors of an Omaha property management company, federal prosecutors allege.
Federal agents raided the home of a Darland Properties vice president in May, seizing expensive jewelry and more than $74,000 cash, almost all of it in $100 bills.
The next day, the employee under investigation, Brett A. Cook, 47, killed himself, according to federal court documents.
“On May 4, Saunders County sheriff’s officials found Cook deceased,” according to a civil complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Omaha. “He had been shot once in the torso and once in the head. Cook’s death was ruled a suicide.”
Now, federal authorities are investigating Cook’s former domestic partner and business partner, Jeff Stenstrom, and his brother, Brian Cook, according to a press release this week from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Court records show Stenstrom also is awaiting sentencing for federal income tax evasion after prosecutors allege he failed to file tax returns over several years and failed to claim about $2 million in income that his company received from Cook.
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Stenstrom’s attorney, Stu Dornan, said he and his client would have no comment at this time.
Brian Cook’s attorney, Clarence Mock, said he has seen no evidence that Brian Cook had any knowledge of any fraud alleged to have been committed by his brother. Brian Cook merely agreed to do payroll and billing for a side company that Brett Cook set up in 2019 to do contracting work, Mock said. Brett Cook’s side company was set up to take over for subcontracting work after Stenstrom began to shut down his business, Stenstrom Services.
The feds say both Stenstrom Services and the replacement company, Midwest Property Maintenance Solutions, billed clients for work they never did, overbilled clients for work that was performed and submitted inflated invoices to obtain insurance proceeds.
Mock said Brian Cook has a full-time job in bookkeeping; he took on his brother’s payroll and billing on a part-time basis.
“I can say that Brian became involved with his brother Brett in 2019 at his brother’s request,” Mock said. “His involvement in the company was a part-time endeavor. Whatever nefarious dealings that Brett may have had with Jeff Stenstrom, Brian has no knowledge of and wouldn’t have agreed to it.”
Darland Properties, an Omaha-based company, has filed a court action against Brett Cook’s estate, saying they have “claims for fraud ... against the (deceased) and the Estate.”
In a statement, Darland said it was a victim of Cook and his subsidiary companies.
“Acting on his own accord without the knowledge of or direction from Darland Properties, Mr. Cook directly received a financial benefit from fraudulently obtained proceeds and concealed his unlawful activity from Darland Properties and its clients,” the company said.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal court filings:
Darland paid Brett Cook an annual salary of $60,000 plus commissions on lease renewals and new leases.
To try to generate more money for himself and his partner Stenstrom, Brett Cook would steer customers and contractors to Stenstrom, and later to his own shadow company, Midwest Property Maintenance Services, to provide maintenance, repair and renovation work.
The two would charge customers for work that was never performed or double-bill them for work that was performed. Brett Cook also would insist that certain subcontractors pay him commissions for steering work to them — kickbacks that he wasn’t entitled to, the feds say.
Stenstrom Services “performed no skilled labor, had no employees and all regular laborers were unskilled,” prosecutors wrote in the civil lawsuit. “Most of the work SSI performed on behalf of (Darland) was subcontracted.
“The scheme resulted in a loss of $4.25 million, the majority of which directly benefited (Brett) Cook.”
In November 2019, Brett Cook and Stenstrom stopped using Stenstrom Services to help out with properties. Instead, Cook and his brother formed Midwest Property Maintenance — which the feds say was a new name for the same game.
In one case, Darland had paid a subcontractor $121,000 for material to repave a parking lot. Brett Cook called the subcontractor and told him to reimburse Midwest Property — not Darland — for the materials.
During this past winter, which was mild, prosecutors say, the Cooks billed eight Darland customers $194,000 for snow removal — eight times what the bill should have been ($24,000).
“The continued scheme resulted in a loss of not less than $600,000, most of which benefitted Cook and Brian Cook,” federal prosecutors wrote.
On top of that, Brett Cook required customers to pay a fee “for negotiations with insurance companies and by requiring kickbacks.” That resulted in customers losing an additional $1.1 million.
Total fraud, according to prosecutors: $5.95 million.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said in press release this week that a “criminal investigation is ongoing.”
In the meantime, agents have filed a lawsuit seeking to either freeze or seize a dizzying amount of assets that Brett Cook and Stenstrom purchased over the past four years.
A suburban Phoenix home that is now valued at $1.7 million.
$365,000 for a house at 20505 York St. in Omaha.
$150,000 that was put into a pizza place and bar in the Woodcliff Lakes area south of Fremont.
$103,000 to pay part of a mortgage on a house at 19607 Mayberry St. in Omaha.
$100,000 that was spent for a 50% stake in real estate housing an auto glass store in Columbus.
$470,000 for a commercial building in Millard.
A 2020 McLaren 600 LT Spider sportscar, purchased for $345,000.
A 2017 Ferrari 488 GTB, purchased for $306,000.
$80,000 each for four red 2021 or 2022 GMC Sierra trucks, many of them Denali models.
$71,000 for a blue 2020 GMC Denali truck.
$86,000 for a 2021 Chevrolet Silverado truck.
If the cars weren’t enough, federal officials say, Cook and Stenstrom purchased a gallery worth of expensive jewelry, including: a $54,000 Rolex Daytona watch; a $52,000 18-karat adjustable chain and four hearts solitaire pendant; a $34,400 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Daytona White Mop8 watch; a $28,300 Hublot Bing Bang watch; a $19,000 DIA 18-inch necklace; an $8,300 Zenith El Primero watch; four Rolex Oyster perpetual watches that ranged in price from $6,000 to $18,000 each; a $13,800 hockey player pendant and a $10,000 18 karat yellow gold hockey goalie pendant; a $14,500 18-karat diamond ring with sapphires; a $13,800 18-karat white gold bull rider pendant; a $3,500 18-karat white gold lady’s ring with sapphires and diamonds; a $2,000 Astron SS brace watch; an $8,700 Breitling Navitimer watch; and a $4,800 Breitling Aviator 8 Curtiss Warhawk watch.
And the feds are claiming an interest in more than $2.18 million in life insurance policies that Brett Cook had taken out.
Prosecutors say the government is also entitled to the $74,000 in cash it found at Cook’s residence in the Woodcliff Lakes area south of Fremont, along with another $75,000 in a bank account.
One item the feds list but may have no way of getting a refund on: a Memorial Stadium suite that Cook leased to watch Husker games.