Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Attorney General's Office steps into prosecution of bay area adverse possession schemes

TAMPA — Without permission, he went into vacant homes, changed the locks and rented out properties, authorities say.

And in a odd twist, the Plant City man claimed what he was doing was allowed by an obscure legal concept called adverse possession.

Until now, authorities have battled this unusual practice with local prosecution, but on Thursday — for the first time — the Attorney General's Office announced plans to prosecute two of these cases, both in the Tampa Bay area.

In a statement, Attorney General Pam Bondi called the practice "shameful."

Chris McDonald, 47, of Plant City was charged Thursday with organized scheme to defraud and booked into jail. He owned a company named Chateau-Lan Property Solutions.

In an April interview with the St. Petersburg Times, McDonald defended putting tenants in homes he didn't own. He noted that tenants were improving the properties and paying taxes.

Under Florida Statute 95.18, the "adverse possession" law, people can ask a judge to declare abandoned property theirs if they fix it up and occupy it for seven years while paying the taxes.

But in the meantime, they're trespassing, authorities say.

Deputies also arrested Demetrius Lewis, 37, of Land O'Lakes, on a charge of organized scheme to defraud.

His business — named Help is Here Foreclosure Prevention and Credit Repair — ran a little differently than McDonald's.

Lewis would gather the addresses of vacant homes and for $1,000 teach anyone how to occupy them using adverse possession, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"McDonald and Lewis took advantage of everyday citizens who were simply looking for an affordable home to rent," said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey in a prepared statement. "This was a shameless scam, doomed from the beginning."

McDonald was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail and Lewis was booked into the Pasco County Jail.

Before each man's bail can be set, a judge must hold a hearing to determine where that bail money would be coming from, according to jail records. Funds obtained illegally cannot be used.

Because their dealings spread across five counties, the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution will try these cases. But McDonald and Lewis are not the first two to be arrested in connection with adverse possession.

George Williams, 41, faces organized fraud, burglary and grand theft charges in connection with several Hillsborough properties he rented. He has pleaded not guilty.

Also, Joel McNair, the Sarasota man who told the St. Petersburg Times that it was his idea to take over empty houses and rent them out, was under investigation until he committed suicide in May.

Authorities believe there may be other victims. They ask that anyone with information call their local law enforcement agency or FDLE Special Agent Krystyl Watson at (813) 878-7300.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Florida Attorney General's Office steps into prosecution of bay area adverse possession schemes 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 8:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. A second chance at life, away from the game he loved

    The Heater

    Dylan Delso, a catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays' Gulf Coast League team, displays his scar at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. On June 25, 2016 Delso fell backward down a flight of stairs, suffering a nearly fatal head injury that put him in a coma for eight days. He's finally back on the baseball field after a miraculous recovery.
  2. Behind the Lens: To capture an exhilarating moment, it's better to be lucky AND good

    Travel

    Editor's note: Boyzell Hosey, our Assistant Managing Editor - Photography/Multimedia, shot this image while on a family vacation in Alaska. Below is his description of the shot.

  3. Council candidate James Scott sees a green future for St. Petersburg

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG — James Scott's central tenet is sustainability.

    St. Petersburg City Council District 6 candidate James Scott. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   TIMES]
  4. O.J. Simpson drawing world attention during plea for freedom

    Crime

    LOVELOCK, Nev. — Former football star and convicted felon O.J. Simpson will command the world's attention once again Thursday when he pleads for his freedom on live TV.

    In this June 21, 1995 file photo, O.J. Simpson holds up his hands before the jury after putting on a new pair of gloves similar to the infamous bloody gloves during his double-murder trial in Los Angeles. During Simpson's trial, a prosecutor famously asks him to put on a pair of gloves allegedly worn by the killer. The gloves appeared to be too tight, reinforcing the immortal words of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." [AP Photo/Vince Bucci, Pool]
  5. Florida education news: lawsuits, trans rights, recess and more

    Blogs

    ANOTHER ONE: Palm Beach County may be the next School Board to pick a legal fight with the state over the controversial HB 7069, but they may do it alone. Board members Wednesday seemed conflicted about whether to participate with other school boards, like Broward and St. Lucie counties, in a joint lawsuit or sue on …

    Ya'riah Ellison, 6, of Tampa, works on a pop art self portrait at the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa on Friday, July 14, 2017. On Thursday, July 20th, a new pop art exhibition will open in which children will be able to create self portraits in a variety of ways including screen printing, pointillism and pop art methods