Men charged with defrauding Florida school shooter's brother

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, center, stands with members of his defense team as jurors enter the courtroom during the penalty phase of Cruz's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — The head of a Virginia company accused of exploiting immigration detainees seeking bail has now been charged with defrauding the brother of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz.

The Augusta County Sheriff's Office said Mike Donovan, the CEO of Nexus Services in Verona, Virginia, was arrested Wednesday after being indicted on fraud charges. The indictment states that the victim is Zachary Cruz, 22, who for several years has lived with Donovan and his spouse, Richard Moore, in Fishersville.

Moore, who is a part owner and executive with Nexus, and three others are also facing charges along with Donovan.

Donovan denies that Cruz has been defrauded. He said the charges are retaliation for efforts he has undertaken to expose corruption in the sheriff's office and hold it accountable for two police shootings last year.

“I want to go to a jury. I will call witnesses and expose these people,” Donovan said in a phone interview Thursday.

Donovan and Moore took Zachary Cruz in nearly four years ago. Donovan said he became acquainted with Zachary Cruz after learning he was facing $500,000 bail on a trespassing charge for skateboarding at the high school where the shootings occurred.

After getting to know him, they offered him a home in Virginia and Donovan said he considers Cruz to be part of the family.

“When you see what he's gone through, and what he's been able to accomplish, it's pretty inspiring,” Donovan said.

He said he's offended by authorities' suggestion that Zachary Cruz is mentally incapable of making his own decisions.

A search warrant affidavit filed in May 2021 states that Shenandoah Valley Social Services launched an investigation last year after receiving a report that Zachary Cruz was being financially exploited by Donovan and Moore.

The affidavit alleged that Cruz lacked the mental capacity to make his own financial judgements, even though he is an adult, and that a $428,000 inheritance he received after his mother's death was transferred into other accounts.

Donovan said federal prosecutors investigated those allegations and exonerated him. He said that at this point, the inheritance money is spent and that Donovan and Moore are essentially supporting Cruz financially with a weekly stipend.

The county sheriff's office did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

Cruz could not be reached for comment Thursday. His attorney, Amina Matheny Willard, who also represents Donovan, denied that Cruz has been victimized by his new family.

Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three states, including Virginia, sued Donovan and his company, alleging that a subsidiary — Libre by Nexus — has exploited immigrant detainees by charging excessive fees to get them released on bail while they await hearings. That lawsuit is ongoing.

Donovan has vociferously defended his conduct. He says his company has helped tens of thousands of immigrants avoid prolonged detention while they await adjudication in a broken immigration system.

Zachary's older brother, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty last year to fatally shooting 14 students and three staff members at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

A sentencing trial is currently ongoing to determine whether Nikolas Cruz will receive the death penalty. Defense lawyers have argued that Nikolas Cruz suffered brain damage because his birth mother drank during pregnancy.

Zachary Cruz is two years younger and has the same birth mother. Both were adopted and grew up together in Parkland. Testimony during the trial has highlighted the boys' unstable family life.

Zachary Cruz had been listed as a defense witness but was not called to testify.