Monday, April 23, 2018
Public safety

Brooksville man faces more charges in scheme involving home purchases, sales

BROOKSVILLE — A Brooksville man accused of trying to sell foreclosed properties he never legally owned to unsuspecting buyers is facing more charges.

Three more victims in Hernando County have come forward since Gaetano Antonelli was arrested June 27 and charged with three counts of organized fraud, the Hernando Sheriff's Office said Tuesday.

Antonelli, 62, faces three more fraud charges here. The case has also crossed county lines.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Antonelli targeted home owners facing foreclosure, telling them he could relieve them of their mortgages by suing their mortgage company. Antonelli told them they could walk away and maybe even get money back if they signed their deeds over to him by a power of attorney agreement, said Hernando sheriff's Detective Dustin Mormando,

Then, authorities say, Antonelli would list the houses for sale on Craigslist without the knowledge of the homeowners.

But Antonelli's scheme was based on a false premise, Mormando said: Once the foreclosure process begins, as it had in these cases, the owner has no legal right to sign over the deed to him.

"(Property owners) thought he was the relief to their problems," Mormando said. "In every case, the foreclosure is still going through or has gone through."

According to Mormando, Antonelli told investigators that he has the right to sue banks and mortgage companies because mortgages are not legally binding contracts.

There were victims on both sides of the transactions. In one case, according to an arrest affidavit, an unsuspecting couple who thought they were buying a house in Spring Hill from Antonelli spent $3,400 fixing up the property, purchased insurance and moved in before investigators contacted them.

Mormando said he received about 20 phone calls from people in Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties after they saw news reports about Antonelli's initial arrest on June 27. The Citrus property appraiser also issued a warning.

Four potential cases have been identified in Citrus County and at least one in Pasco County, Mormando said.

Antonelli was arrested Friday, booked into the Hernando County Detention Center and released about 2 1/2 hours later after posting $32,082 bail, records show.

People who suspect they may be victims of Antonelli are asked to contact Mormando at (352) 797-3728 or [email protected]

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

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