Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas couple plead guilty to real estate scam

The Hummers, the lavish parties and the thousand-dollar wine bills are all in the past for the owners of a once-booming Palm Harbor title company.

Instead, it looks like a spartan future for Cheryl and John Wehlau, whose Gulf Coast Title company was doing such a good business a few years ago that it turned out not to be true.

The Wehlaus pleaded guilty this week to siphoning money out of the Palm Harbor business, ultimately draining it of $7.9 million.

Cheryl Wehlau, who authorities said was the mastermind of the scheme, agreed to a sentence of eight years in prison. John Wehlau, who faced fewer charges than his wife, will be sentenced to time he already has served in jail.

The couple also will be ordered to pay back the $7.9 million.

In the good years before the company closed down in 2006, Gulf Coast Title handled hundreds of real estate closings a month. That meant plenty of money flowed in, month after month.

Essentially, the Wehlaus were accused of scooping the cash that came in and spending much of it.

They spent it on fancy company cars, on jewelry, art, designer shoes, a million-dollar country club home, a condo for their daughter — and plenty of other things that had nothing to do with the real estate transactions it was meant for, authorities said.

Among the company's purported business expenses: $3,713 for women's designer shoes, $2,308 for Disney World tickets, $5,139 for jewelry and $1,125 for wine from a California vintner.

"It was a float scheme, where tomorrow's closings fund today's expenses,'' attorney Marty J. Solomon said after the couple's arrest in 2007. "I guess maybe they thought they'd never get caught or that they'd be able to put all the money back."

But that never happened. Solomon represented Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co., the underwriter that wrote title policies for Gulf Coast and discovered the misappropriations. It covered the losses, making good on hundreds of checks that bounced all over Florida.

Cheryl Wehlau "masterminded a scheme to funnel funds held in escrow for real estate closings into a business operating account, then spent the cash on a lavish lifestyle," the Florida Attorney General's Office said in a news release this week.

Her attorney, Michelle Florio, declined to comment.

Company insiders said Cheryl Wehlau ruled the company with an iron fist, demanding employees work long hours. But the perks were sweet — once the company paid for the staff to go to Stein Mart to buy new clothes, just to impress an important client.

Cheryl Wehlau, 44, pleaded guilty to 21 counts of misappropriation of $100,000 or more in funds. Her eight years in prison will be followed by 15 years of probation, and she will not be allowed to work in real estate.

John Wehlau, 44, pleaded guilty to misappropriation of escrow funds and 20 counts of petty theft of $100 or more.

Sentencing is set for November in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, but the terms were announced this week.

Information from Times staff writer Kameel Stanley and Times files was used in this story. Staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at or (727) 893-8232.

Pinellas couple plead guilty to real estate scam 08/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 11:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Father and brother of alleged bomber detained in Libya


    The father and younger brother of the man who British police say bombed an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester have been detained in Libya, where anti-terror authorities said the brother confessed to knowing "all the details" of the attack plot.

    Hashim Ramadan Abedi appears inside the Tripoli-based Special Deterrent anti-terrorism force unit after his arrest on Tuesday for alleged links to the Islamic State extremist group. Abedi is the brother of Salman Abedi, who has been identified as the man behind the bombing that killed 22 people and wounded scores at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester. [Ahmed Bin Salman, Special Deterrent Force via AP]
  2. Marijuana extract Epidiolex helps some kids with epilepsy, study shows


    A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

    An employee checks a plant at LeafLine Labs, a medical marijuana production facility in Cottage Grove, Minn. [Associated Press (2015)]
  3. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill


    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    President Donald Trump held a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House with members of the GOP on May 4 after the House passed legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act. [Cheriss May | Sipa USA via TNS]
  4. Tarpon Springs psychic charged with defrauding veteran, widow out of $155,000


    TARPON SPRINGS — A psychic was arrested Tuesday after police said she scammed two clients out of more than $150,000.

    Gina Wilson
  5. St. Pete Economic Development Corporation lures marketing firm MXTR to town

    Economic Development

    St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation has lured its first big catch to St. Petersburg — MXTR Automation. The digital marketing company announced Wednesday that it will fill 20 "high-wage" creative positions within the next 18 months, as well as open an office in downtown St. Petersburg this year.