The parties continue at Tierra Verde mansion despite drug arrest, county interest

Published July 26 2016
Updated July 27 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Large parties are continuing in a Tierra Verde mansion rented through Airbnb, even as the host faces drug trafficking charges and a Pinellas County commissioner is looking at ways to eliminate abuses of the popular home-sharing site.

Neighbors of the 5,500 square foot waterfront house say groups of as many as 16 people have stayed there all but one weekend since the start of July. That's when Robert Lauby, who has listed the house on Airbnb, was arrested in North Florida after deputies said they found the drug ecstasy and more than $4,000 cash in his Hummer.

Lauby, who also faces ecstasy-related charges in Pinellas, was still in jail as of Tuesday.

"Somebody is providing keys'' to those staying at the house, said Jack Wurzbacher, who lives across the canal. Last weekend, numerous guests arrived by boat while several others parked in the driveway, including one with Texas license plates.

"We are more concerned than ever that the individuals who are here over the weekends may also be connected with (Lauby) and involved with drugs,'' Wurzbacher said.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported in June, the house has been in foreclosure for several years. The elderly widow who lived there deeded the property to Tampa real estate broker Kevin Byrne, who has been renting it to Lauby for about $3,000 a month since January.

Lauby, whose own home is in St. Pete Beach, listed the five-bedroom, five-bath mansion on Airbnb for $1,000 a night.

So far this year, deputies have answered nearly two dozen calls about loud parties, many with foul language, going on well into the night. After the Times story appeared, Lauby pulled the Airbnb listing but the Wurzbachers say the crowds are still coming even though the partying generally moves inside after dark.

With a home in foreclosure, "who do you hold responsible in that scenario?" said County Commissioner Janet C. Long. "People spend their hard-earned dollars to live in a lovely neighborhood and they have to deal with that kind of thing and there's no law against it.''

Long said she has spoken with the county attorney's office "about how we get a handle on this mess.''

"Hopefully, we'll move forward and put it in our legislative package,'' she said of the county commission, "but in the meantime the poor folks have to deal with the drinking and carousing and foul language.''

Last year, the Tampa Bay-Sarasota region ranked third in Florida in the number of AirbnB hosts, with 2,300. It is not known how many of the properties listed on the site are in foreclosure, although rentals of homes facing foreclosure became common after the housing bust.

Airbnb did not respond to calls or emails for comment.

Lauby, 46, who founded one of the nation's largest online sellers of nutritional supplements, had been under investigation for more than a year when Pinellas deputies arrested him in downtown St. Petersburg on July 27, 2015, on a charge of possession of ecstasy, according to the arrest report.

Ecstasy is a popular party drug but it can be dangerous — the deaths of two people at a dance music festival in Tampa in May were caused by ecstasy abuse, autopsies found.

After a traffic stop in Gilchrist County this month, a drug-sniffing dog alerted deputies to a bag of ecstasy pills in Lauby's Hummer, authorities said.

Lauby, who had $4,342 in cash in his wallet, has been charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession with the intent to distribute and trafficking.

Asked if he was taking any steps to end Lauby's lease of the Tierra Verde house, Byrne said in an email Tuesday: "Yes we are. We are trying to work out a peaceful resolution for all parties.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate