BROOKSVILLE — Out of work for nearly a year, with a wife and three children, Michael Lander was in desperate need of money. So he started buying and selling kitchen appliances on Craigslist, hoping to turn a quick profit.
Over time, authorities said, Lander, a 37-year-old former Pasco County teacher, found that wasn't profitable enough to feed his family and pay the bills.
But his solution wound up sending him to prison.
Authorities said that over the course of a year, Lander and his wife broke into dozens of homes in northwest Hernando County and burglarized them or stole copper from air-conditioning units, then sold the goods online.
Lander pleaded guilty Monday to four counts of burglary of a dwelling and a count of dealing in stolen property, a plea agreement that sends him away for the minimum-mandatory sentence of seven years and keeps his wife and co-defendant, Jennifer Lander, out of prison.
"This is horrible," said David Bauer, Lander's public defender. "But people do whatever they can to support their family when the economy goes down. And all they do is dig a hole for themselves."
Jennifer Lander, 36, agreed to plead guilty to a charge of dealing in stolen property. She was given a sentence of 15 years of probation and restitution, which prosecutors estimate could reach as high as $40,000 after all the appliances are accounted for.
The couple's case was resolved only a month after arrests were made in an investigation that had befuddled the Hernando County Sheriff's Office for about a year.
In mid March, the Sheriff's Office issued a news release aimed specifically at residents of the Royal Highlands section of Hernando County, warning them of thieves who were plundering foreclosed homes.
A total of 81 homes had been burglarized, with losses estimated at $64,990.
Within days of the release, authorities got a break in the case: Lander broke into a vacant home on Sandpiper Avenue and stole a refrigerator and stove. The refrigerator had been outfitted with a Global Positioning System.
Detectives didn't know it at the time, but Lander had already put the refrigerator on Craigslist, and an unsuspecting buyer went to Lander's home at 4051 Longbranch Court. Deputies tracked the appliance to the home of the buyer, who told investigators he'd paid $225 and did not know it was stolen.
Detectives went to Lander's house, found the stolen stove and arrested him.
Lander admitted burglarizing dozens more homes in Royal Highlands, specifically targeting kitchen appliances, authorities said. Lander told deputies he was selling them on Craigslist.
He told detectives he had supported his family for at least the past year by selling appliances. Investigators checked Craigslist and found 35 appliances that Lander had listed in March alone.
"It was a quick way to make money," prosecutor Erin Daly said. "But it was illegal. And it leads to this kind of situation."
At his sentencing hearing Monday, Lander burst into tears and whispered his responses to Circuit Judge Jack Springstead. His eyes still watery, Lander nodded at his wife — who was preparing for her sentence — as he was led out of the courtroom.