The ad for a puppy had appeared on Craig’s List. Steven Collins, 51, saw it and decided to buy two of the puppies for $400 each. He met with the seller, Carissa Sarno, paid her $800, and arranged with Sanders for a pick-up on Oct. 5. Collins’s wife would drive to a designated location. When she did, Sarno didn’t show up. When Collins’s wife went to Sarno’s home, at 55 Village Drive in Flagler Beach, the place was vacant.
The next day, a Flagler Beach Police Department detective took Collins’s complaint–and four more almost identically like it, from residents in Flagler Beach and in other counties. Three had been taken for $200 each, a fourth had been taken for $600 after agreeing to buy two puppies.
They all provided text messages, emails and screen shots of the same Craig’s List ad, along with receipts written and signed by Sarno. They each identified Sarno from a picture lineup. At least two additional alleged victims have come forth since.
Sarno, 34, is a felon who, when she was living in Pinellas County in 2015, was sentenced to three years in state prison for grand theft, exploitation of the elderly or the disabled, and organized fraud. She served almost two years of her sentence and was released on April 1, 2019.
On Wednesday, Sarno was charged with two felony counts–organized scheme to defraud and theft, and four misdemeanor counts of petit theft. She was booked at the Flagler County jail and released hours later on $7,000 bond.
According to Sarno’s arrest report, she admitted to taking the seven individuals’ money, knowing at the time that she had just four dogs, having given one away to a person she knew. She said she “stopped responding to the victims, because she was having personal issues and had to move,” the arrest report states, and that she’d lost her phone (it had been disconnected). She castigated herself and said she intended to repay her victims but didn’t have the money to do so.
As she spoke to the detective, she showed him evidence of the transactions, using her phone, and at one point showed him evidence of yet two more fraudulent transactions she assumed the detective already knew about. He did not.
The detective concluded that Sarno had “engaged in a systematic, ongoing course of conduct.” Additional charges are pending.
“Plainly put,” Police Chief Matt Doughney said, “the suspect in this case pulled on the heartstrings of her victims. People love puppies because they spark joy. This suspect preyed on her victims by taking their money and their hopes of owning a loveable puppy. I’m extremely proud of the teamwork displayed by Detective Vinci and our Patrol Officers who worked in unison in order to hold this suspect accountable for her unlawful actions.”