The story of Andrea and Helene is mysterious, messy and missing crucial facts.
This much is known: They're businesswomen who have been a couple for about 24 years. They drive around Clearwater in a black Hummer and live in a half million dollar home.
They made news last fall when more than 50 people — including 22 children and babies — were displaced after the women, without notice to tenants, stopped paying water bills at all three of their Pinellas and Hillsborough mobile home parks.
Andrea and Helene also have a history of not paying their debts.
Records in courthouses from the Florida Suncoast to North Carolina show they and their companies owe a total of more than $400,000 in unpaid judgments, code violation fines and delinquent property taxes.
On top of that, circuit judges in Pinellas this month entered more than $2.75 million in foreclosure judgments against the women and their companies and scheduled two of their mobile home park properties for sale.
A state attorney has said they tried to "swindle'' a prominent Pinellas builder, although neither he nor any other prosecutor has successfully pressed criminal charges.
That frustrates creditors, who have lots of questions about Andrea and Helene, beginning with:
Who are they?
• • •
Given that they have been dragged into court in Durham, N.C., and in Hillsborough, Citrus and Pinellas counties, you would think establishing the women's identities would be no problem. Their names must be all over the official record.
And so they are. But that, as it turns out, is the problem.
Helene has gone by at least seven different aliases, Andrea no fewer than 10. Andrea has used at least two Social Security numbers, Helene at least three.
The women's aliases, combativeness and evasiveness have made it hard for creditors to track them down, or even figure out who they dealt with in the first place.
In 2001 in Hillsborough, for instance, a process server approached Andrea Trani, who refused to accept the suit, saying she was Andrea St. James.
In that case, a Hernando pool company sued Andrea Trani to collect money for a pool installed at her Valrico home.
"We went back and tried to'' collect our money, said pool company owner, Curtis Prystupa, "and we found a ghost."
• • •
Here's what Andrea and Helene say about who they are.
Andrea, 59, said under oath she was born Andrea Velez.
In November 2006, during a sworn deposition in a Citrus suit, Helene said she didn't know her birth name. In that same case, Helene, 46, also said she was born in New York City and that the digits in her Social Security number sometimes "get turned around from dyslexia."
In court in August 2005, Andrea explained her aliases this way: "We come from a large family with, between two moms, 13 stepdads, and so we have quite a few family names."
• • •
Andrea has also had trouble with the IRS. The agency won't comment on the specifics of her case, but public records show that:
• In 1996, the IRS filed a $375,000 tax lien against Andrea Velez in New Jersey.
• In 2002, Andrea filed for federal bankruptcy protection for herself and her company, Proud Mary Marina Corp., which operated a 10-acre mobile home park in Homosassa. As part of her personal bankruptcy, the IRS said she owed $1.1 million in back taxes, penalties and interest from 1984-2001.
• In August 2005, in her corporate bankruptcy case, Andrea admitted under oath she hadn't filed a tax return in a decade. The following month Andrea's $375,000 tax lien in New Jersey was released.
Speaking generally, IRS spokeswoman Gloria Sutton said the release of a lien indicates it has been satisfied.
• • •
Andrea and Helene, directly and through their lawyer, refused to be interviewed for this story. But the Times pieced together an imperfect portrait from public records, earlier interviews with them, and interviews with former friends and business associates.
The latter say Andrea is the brains of the duo. She's about 5 feet 8 and has a crop of curly chestnut hair. She's a smooth talker, a yeller at times, and has a thick New York accent. She says she and Helene are "two gay, Italian gals from New York.''
Helene, a wavy-haired blond with a husky voice, is about 5 feet 2. Before she met Andrea, Helene was married to a man named Adrian Pera.
By some accounts, Andrea and Helene are difficult to deal with.
Helene Provenzano displayed a chrome revolver on Aug. 31, 2001, when a process server tried to serve Andrea Trani with a suit, according to a sworn statement by the head of a private investigation firm.
Six years later, during a deposition, Andrea Trani flew "out of control," according to Largo's city attorney, Alan Zimmet.
Said Zimmet: "She started screaming and yelling and pointing her finger in my face and ranting and raving.''
And tenants at one of their parks, No Go Largo Village in Largo, said they weren't happy with their treatment, either.
After their water was cut, residents lugged gallons of water from a vacant trailer nearly a quarter mile away so their families could drink, wash and flush toilets.
For days, Helene told the park handyman and his wife, Cheryl Combs, she was working to get the water back on, Combs said.
"She basically strung us along for a week when I don't believe she ever had any intention of turning the water back on," said Combs, 38.
• • •
Andrea and Helene first settled in Clearwater in the early 1990s.
Helene went by the last names Provenzano and Pera. Andrea used Lanzar and Val Sant.
Helene ran the Hot Rod Diner in Clearwater. She sold it around June 1993, and the women moved to Durham, where they set up shop as home improvement contractors. In 1994, they registered to vote as Andrea Lanzar and Helene Lanzar. (In Pinellas in 2004, they registered as Andrea Trani and Helene Provenzano.)
In 1995, Helen Mary Provenzano was arrested in Durham on three counts of obtaining property under false pretenses.
Durham residents claimed she took their deposits but failed to provide apartments or return their money, according to Durham police reports and a North Carolina newspaper.
The charges were not prosecuted because, without admitting guilt, Helene agreed to return the money, the Independent Weekly newspaper said.
In 1996, according to a civil judgment in Durham, Andrea Lanzar evicted a tenant at gunpoint. Then she sued him for back rent. He countersued. The judge found Andrea's allegation to be false and awarded the tenant a $100,000 punitive judgment. The tenant said he has never been paid.
A year earlier, Helen Provenzano sued a former business partner. The woman, Nancy Rizzo, countersued, claiming she had not been compensated for debts she incurred as a result of their partnership. In 1998, a judge awarded Rizzo $108,000, finding Andrea Lanzar, Helen Provenzano and their company "engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity." Rizzo is still trying to collect.
Today, there's an active order for Andrea's arrest related to a misdemeanor charge that she allegedly threatened Rizzo, according to the Durham County Office of Clerk of Superior Court.
• • •
In 1998, Andrea and Helene returned to Florida, where they each used the last names Cavanagh and St. James.
Andrea's company bought land in a subdivision near Crystal River and a mobile home park in Homosassa, according to public records. They told people they were sisters and pitched plans to develop subdivision lots.
In 2002, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office looked into allegations that the women executed mortgages in other people's names without their knowledge.
The case was referred to the State Attorney's Office based in Ocala, which didn't file charges because the mortgages were executed in other jurisdictions.
That same year, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office began investigating Andrea and Helene.
The case involved prominent St. Petersburg builder Gale "Jack" Apple. In 2001, he loaned Helene Provenzano $105,000 to buy a house in the subdivision near Crystal River.
The seller was Andrea's company. It owned the land, but, unbeknownst to Apple, it did not have title to the mobile home that sat on the property.
After three months, Helene stopped making loan payments. Apple foreclosed and got possession of the land — but couldn't sell it because he lacked title to the home.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office spent four years on the case. In March 2004, criminal investigators shared a bulletin with the Bay Area Organized Crime Intelligence Group warning of a "property flipping" scheme. Related documents identified Andrea and Helene as suspects and noted Andrea's use of multiple aliases, one of which was odd: She had a New York driver's license in the name of Andrea St. James. New York officials had no record of it. But the license number matched one for Helene's mother, Helene Cavanagh.
In June 2004, an investigator with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office recommended charging Andrea with theft and Helene with mortgage fraud. Two years later, unable to prove a crime occurred in their jurisdiction, prosecutors decided not to file.
But, said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, "It was pretty clear to me it was all part of the same process to swindle this guy out of his 100 thousand bucks."
Apple sued and finally got the title to the home after agreeing to say neither Andrea nor Helene did anything wrong, a decision he now regrets.
Said Apple: "The fact that people can do this in the United States and walk away clean, or even make a profit on it, is terrible."
Andrea and Helene are still in business. Just last month, for example, they paid off about $14,500 in delinquent property taxes in Citrus County. Meanwhile, their company is seeking an agreement with the county to develop 190 lots in their Citrus subdivision.
Times researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.