“Did anything ever happen to any of those people?''
I get that question all the time, with "those people'' meaning the appraisers, title company owners, shadow buyers and Realtors who cooked up about a dozen apparently fraudulent real estate deals in Hernando Beach.
More than six months after I wrote about these sales, the answer, regrettably, is still "no." And nothing I learned from talking to Barbara Quist last week convinced me that will change anytime soon.
But I think I have a better idea why nothing has happened, why no one has lost a state license, and why no Realtors have been booted from the Hernando County Association of Realtors.
See, Quist, owner of RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Spring Hill, first brought evidence of suspicious sales to the association about 18 months ago.
Even then, Quist realized fraud had poisoned the Hernando Beach market with artificially inflated sales prices. Boarded-up windows and neglect showed the owners had never planned to live in the houses they bought.
She had started investigating after her office received several suspiciously high offers for listings. And she and seven other concerned Realtors presented their findings to association executive director Ed Carr and the association's attorney, David Carter, during a meeting at the Olive Garden in Port Richey.
She has since met with the association's board of directors two times, repeating that she had evidence of fraud and asking for Carter to be fired.
In challenging members of her own profession, she's a lot braver than I am.
Otherwise, we have a lot in common.
We're disgusted with the misplaced professional courtesy that seems to be protecting the tainted Realtors. Though we've both heard that the FBI is looking into the sales, we're disappointed no criminal charges have been filed.
We're outraged that Lance Sutter and Ruth Hersh, who helped arrange many of the deals we investigated, are still agents in good standing with Exit-Success Realty in Spring Hill.
And we both think Carter's roles as attorney to both the association and several local real estate agencies, including Exit-Success, has created an obvious conflict of interest.
Nowhere was that clearer than at the Olive Garden, Quist said. Before the meeting was even over, she said, Carter called the owner of a title company listed on the closing documents of some of the suspect sales.
"We were all sitting and looking at him with our mouths wide open,'' she said.
Carter didn't return several calls to his office last week.
Carr wrote in an e-mail that he forwarded the evidence that Quist gave him to appropriate agencies, including the Florida Real Estate Commission, which has the power to revoke state licenses. It has taken no action.
The association has made no move to oust Hersh and Sutter, Carr wrote, because it has never received a formal complaint.
Seems to me that Quist's report should be enough to generate some action.
It would be, she said, if the association had a lawyer more interested in rooting out corruption than protecting clients.
"I know there are steps they could take if they could get legal advice about what to do,'' she said.