TAMPA — A St. Petersburg landlord who has been in the doghouse over nuisance properties now faces the prospect of a bigger doghouse: federal prison.
Michael Moshe Shimshoni, 55, admits in court papers that he falsified lead paint disclosure forms, making it appear that renters knew of a risk before moving into contaminated apartments along St. Petersburg's 17th Avenue N.
He did so to throw off a federal grand jury investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency, court records state.
"The documents produced by the defendant were intended to deceive the EPA into believing that the defendant had been complying with federal law," according to a plea agreement filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.
The penalty for such a crime? Up to 20 years in prison.
Shimshoni's name is known to St. Petersburg officials. His nuisance abatement fines — assessed for chronic illegal activity on commercial properties such as the Mosley Motel, which he co-owns — have exceeded $40,000, or one-fifth of all such fines paid since 1997, a city official said Sunday.
The federal case started after investigators found lead paint chips on the ground and in the soil of apartments at 1075 17th Ave. N, a neighborhood west of Crescent Lake, during a renovation and painting project in 2011.
Lead is harmful to humans, especially children. By law, lessors of pre-1978 homes must disclose any known lead paint to prospective tenants, share inspection reports, distribute lead-hazard pamphlets — and then document those steps when a lease is signed.
Shimshoni backdated seven forms and presented them to the EPA in May 2012 after being subpoenaed by the grand jury, the plea agreement states.
He's charged with altering or falsifying records in a federal investigation, a crime that also carries a fine of up to $250,000.
His initial court appearance is set for Aug. 5 before Magistrate Judge Thomas G. Wilson, at which time he is scheduled to enter a guilty plea.
He has no prior criminal record in Florida, records show, but has been fined for code violations and in the nuisance abatement actions.
City officials link him to more than 100 properties.
Elizabeth Ledbetter, St. Petersburg's nuisance abatement coordinator, says he turned away few paying customers at one of them, the Mosley Motel — leaving fertile ground for drugs and prostitution.
"Anybody who would come in and pay for the room, would get a room," she said Sunday.
"There was no check to see if they were drug dealers or people previously arrested along that corridor for prostitution activity. That affects the entire area around the property because it would draw a certain crowd."
Shimshoni took over the Economy Inn Express, 701 34th St. N, in early 2009 and remade it into the Kenwood Village Inn — remodeling it, surrounding it with a security fence and imposing new rules. Neighbors at the time said it had gotten better.
He also vowed to turn around the nearby Mosley Motel, 401 34th St. N, but was having trouble making good on that promise a year later. Police were being called there almost daily.
Court records identify Shimshoni as property manager and lessor of Pinellas Properties Inc. and Affordable Realty and Property Management Inc., among other entities.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382.