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NC fraudster went on crime spree while at home on COVID release from prison, feds say

Michael Gordon, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in News & Features

It didn’t take Joseph DiBruno Jr. very long to get back into the family business.

According to court documents unsealed Thursday, the 52-year-old Gastonia, North Carolina, man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Charlotte for financial fraud — a cornerstone of his family’s business model dating back to the 1990s.

In 2008, DiBruno, along with his father and brother, pleaded guilty to a decade-long conspiracy in which the trio bilked almost $4 million from unwitting investors.

According to court documents at the time, the DiBrunos used an array of sham businesses — from a cholesterol-lowering milk product and a gold mine to a food supplement designed to cure world hunger — to scam elderly or infirmed victims out of their savings and retirement accounts.

The family burned most of the money on what might be described as lifestyle enhancements — clothes, restaurant meals, cars, motorcycles, guns and jewelry.

DiBruno Jr. alone withdrew more than $1 million in cash from the investors’ accounts, The Charlotte Observer reported at the time.

Then-U.S. Attorney Gretchen Schappert described the DiBrunos as “con men and swindlers.”

All three went to prison, with Joe Jr., who prosecutors said had benefited most from the scheme, getting by far the longest stay — more than 22 years.

In April 2020, however, DiBruno Jr. became one of the very few defendants in the Western District of North Carolina to receive compassionate release from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The custody change was approved by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, not the federal courts in Charlotte.


DiBruno Jr. began home confinement that May. Almost immediately, according to his indictment, he began breaking the law.

Between May 2020 and June 2021, he submitted at least five fraudulent loan applications to two financial institutions seeking more than $120,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte claims.

On his loan paperwork, according to his indictment, DiBruno relied on a familiar technique: He lied about his job history, his income and where he’d been living for the past four years.

He now faces five counts of making false statements to a credit union. Each charge carries up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. If he’s convicted, it’s a safe bet that DiBruno won’t be spending his next sentence at home.

DiBruno was arrested Thursday morning. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler ordered him held at the Mecklenburg County Jail until his detention hearing on Tuesday.

In future stages of his case, DiBruno will reconnect with U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney

During the DiBrunos’ 2008 sentencing, it was Whitney who called the family’s crimes “heinous” and “sickening” before putting the father and sons in prison.

Now, Whitney has been assigned DiBruno’s latest case. When they next appear in court together, the judge and defendant will be covering some familiar ground.

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