LAND O'LAKES — George Ola walked into Bay Vista Realty one day in January 2010 with a big proposal. He said he was taking over 100 distressed houses and he wanted to rent them out.
"That was his pitch," said Gary Depury, owner of Bay Vista.
Depury verified Ola's ownership, found suitable tenants and got five of the houses rented for $875 to $1,275 a month — full market value.
But a few months into dealing with Ola, Depury became suspicious and uneasy. He said Ola never gave straight answers when asked specific questions.
According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Ola was a fraud.
He was arrested Friday on a charge of scheme to defraud. Detectives say Ola, 43, of Land O'Lakes selected homes in various stages of foreclosure and forged the owners' signatures on quit claim deeds indicating they were now owned by his company, called Fifth Third Equity Group.
Those deeds were notarized and recorded with the Pasco clerk's office, which is why they appeared legitimate to Depury.
But Ola's arrest report says neither the homeowners nor the lienholders were informed that Ola had assumed ownership. The tenants sent their rent directly to Ola: a total of more than $30,000.
The report says Ola admitted collecting the rent, but denied forging the deeds. He was released from jail on $10,000 bail.
Depury, who cut ties with Ola last June, said the incident has cost him money. Ola asked Depury to sell a house last year. When the deal fell through because Ola wasn't the owner, the other broker sued Depury. He now has to fight that suit in court.
And Ola still owes him money for two of the houses Depury rented for him.
The tenants, though, may be coming out ahead, Depury said. He thinks they haven't had to pay rent since September, and it could be a year before the banks that are foreclosing force them out.
Detectives are looking for other possible victims.
Anyone with dealings with Ola or Fifth Third Equity Group should contact the Pasco Sheriff's Office, said spokesman Kevin Doll.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.