This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

Brandon Frere was a man with grand plans for his various student loan debt relief companies. Combining bravado and relentless determination, the Ameritech Financial CEO envisioned expanding his primary company from a single office in Rohnert Park to an industry giant with branches around the country.

The 41-year-old Sonoma County native viewed himself as a confident and daring entrepreneur. He aspired to become a leader blending the business skills of executives like Jack Welch, the acclaimed former General Electric CEO, with the passion of renowned life coach Tony Robbins.

A former employee, who asked to remain anonymous given the federal criminal case swirling around his former boss, Friday described Frere as a “dreamer.” By 2021, Frere told employees, his companies would have many kiosks or brick-and-mortar branches in U.S. strip malls, much like tax preparation services H&R Block or Liberty Tax Service.

Instead, Frere was in federal custody Friday and a court-appointed manager has been placed in control of Ameritech Financial, the Rohnert Park student loan servicing company he started in 2015. Federal prosecutors charged Frere with wire fraud this week, accusing him of masterminding a criminal scheme that bilked $28 million from student loan borrowers the past four years through Ameritech and a string of related companies.

Officials took Frere into custody Wednesday night at San Francisco International Airport, where he was preparing to board a plane to Mexico. He is scheduled to appear Monday in federal court, where he faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

Frere could not be reached for comment Friday and his attorney, Nicole Healy of the Redwood City law firm Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

At a Sebastopol home just east of Camp Meeker, where public records list Frere and his parents as residents, a woman who answered the intercom at the entry to the property hung up on a reporter seeking comment Friday morning.

On his personal website, Frere describes himself as an entrepreneur, a revolutionary and consumer advocate who emerged from a working class background.

As a boy, Frere sold mistletoe and candy door to door, saving up his money to buy a motorcycle.

He cites a pivotal moment in his childhood: a serious dirt bike racing crash that left him with a broken vertebra in his neck.

That experience, he wrote, helped him develop his unwavering pursuit of success, even though doctors gave him little chance of recovery. But he bounced back stronger than ever, he wrote.

Since that experience, he wrote, he became “undeterred” about who he was and what he aspired to be: a dynamic leader in business and industry.

After graduating from Piner High School, Frere attended Santa Rosa Junior College and went on to earn a degree in construction management from California State University in Chico in 2002.

For the next five years, he worked as a construction manager for Centex Homes, invested in real estate, ran a Bay Area spa franchise, then moved into student loan financing.

Frere used social media, internet press releases and a self-promotional website to bolster his reputation. His blog, “The Latest from Brandon,” features headlines describing Frere as a “digital transformation expert” and “leader in the financial services industry.”

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

His Twitter and Facebook accounts are filled with upbeat, inspirational posts about business and life.

“What traits do you think entrepreneurs need to have? I think being vulnerable, open, present, aware and honest are the most important. However being relentless, flexible, resourceful and quick is also very important,” declared a post from his Twitter account published Nov. 26 — three days before he lost control of his company.

Some former employees described a different man from the image presented to the public, according to sworn written statements taken earlier this year and submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, a federal agency that has sued Frere and his companies in a civil action for alleged deceptive business practices.

“Over time, I got the impression that Brandon was sleazy and didn’t genuinely want to help people,” said Kelly Cretcher, a former employee. “For example, during my interview with him before I started, he was telling me how after the economy tanked, he had to get out of the construction business and find a new way to make money. He said that the student loan debt relief industry was ‘an easy way to make money.’ ’’

Cretcher wrote that Frere described the student loan debt relief industry as a “wave” of financial opportunity.

“Based on my interactions with Brandon, I got the feeling that he was doing very well for himself,” Cretcher wrote. “He was able to build a 5-bedroom house on many acres of land in Sebastopol, California. In addition, he bought what appeared to be a very expensive pickup truck. He would also buy his girlfriend stuff all the time and lived somewhat of a lavish lifestyle. He struck me as someone that would one day end up on the show ‘American Greed.’ ”

When visiting the Rohnert Park office of his primary company, Ameritech, Frere often dressed in shorts and T-shirts, said the employee who requested anonymity.

“He’d come in shorts and just a white T-shirt, like he’d been to the gym,” he said. “But he expected us to dress professional.”

When investigators began looking deeply into his businesses early this year, Frere’s demeanor changed completely, the employee said. Frere would come into the Rohnert Park office much less frequently.

“We kind of knew that things were being investigated,” he said. “He was at the office way less in 2018. He would go to his office, close the door.”