While the law enforcement investigation continues into why a businessman killed his family, torched the Avila mansion they rented, then killed himself last month, the tragedy has prompted a second, less macabre inquiry into a wealthy professional athlete's property taxes.
Retired tennis star James Blake has improperly claimed a homestead exemption for at least two years on the house that went up in flames May 7 after deputies say Darrin Campbell executed his family and shot himself, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez confirmed Tuesday.
The Campbell family had rented the home for two years from Blake, who lives in Connecticut. People who read news reports about the triple murder-suicide contacted his office and urged an inquiry, Henriquez said.
"Obviously, with the tragedy we didn't want to make a big deal about it," Henriquez said. "But we need to treat everyone fairly."
Henriquez's office sent Blake a letter May 27 informing him he owes $5,700.13 in taxes and penalties on the 5,900-square-foot home going back to 2010. An agent for Blake contacted the office Tuesday and contested the taxes for 2010 and 2011, according to Sue Reynolds, director of administrative service for the Appraiser's Office.
Blake's agent may be right, Reynolds said. The Appraiser's Office suspects Blake has lived in Connecticut since 2010, but is only certain he improperly took the exemption in 2012 and 2013. Reynolds expects followup conversations with Blake or his agent to determine how long he has been renting the Avila home but claiming he lived there.
Blake and his spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He has 30 days from when the letter was sent to pay the taxes and penalties before a lien will be placed on the house.
Florida homeowners are permitted to deduct $50,000 from the assessed value of their primary residences before paying property taxes. In 2013, for example, Blake's home at 16223 Sierra De Avila was assessed at $963,163, but Blake paid taxes only on $913,163. The exemption saved him roughly $800 per year on his tax bill.
Blake, 34, bought the five-bedroom, five-bathroom home for $1.6 million in 2005, property records show. He first claimed it as his primary residence in 2009, the Appraiser's Office said.