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.