Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Prominent Pinellas lawyer Robert Tankel charged with molestation

For years, Robert Leon Tankel has been known as one of the most aggressive lawyers representing homeowners associations. Ownership groups had no stronger ally. Those who fell behind on their homeowner's maintenance fees or assessments had no stronger foe.

On Tuesday afternoon, authorities delivered Tankel to a new home, at least for the moment — the Pinellas County Jail.

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BACKSTORY: Pinellas lawyer takes foreclosure fight to ethical edge, experts say
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Tankel, 57, faces a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child. The incident occurred as part of a Big Brothers Big Sisters outing to Bright House Field, 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater, authorities said.

According to an arrest report from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Tankel touched the genitals of a boy younger than 12 years old over the boy's clothing and also rubbed the boy's thigh.

"Big Brothers Big Sisters makes child safety our priority," Susan Rolston, the chief executive officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County, said to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday in a prepared statement. "We have zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. Big Brothers Big Sisters has designed a child protection system in collaboration with experts all over the country."

"This is really hard for our agency," she added. At the Big Brothers Big Sisters national convention, the Pinellas chapter recently won the "highest quality award," Rolston said.

Although he was along for the outing, Tankel was not currently matched with any child, she said. A previous match had ended.

Tankel is known as one of the state's fiercest advocates for homeowners associations. On his website, he assures associations that "We understand that it is hard to get blood out of rocks," and urges clients not to "let delinquent clients bulldog your business."

Born in Chicago, he graduated from the University of Florida's law school in 1981, and went to work for Becker & Poliakoff, which represented community associations. Four years later, the firm put Tankel in charge of opening branches in Clearwater and Fort Myers.

He founded his own law firm in 1995, and quickly gained a reputation as a zealous advocate for associations. When homeowners don't pay their fees, Tankel told the Times in 2011, they set off what he called "the race to the courthouse steps," trying to get their money before banks can foreclose the properties.

Tankel's slash-and-burn tactics got him suspended for 15 days in 2003 over what the Florida Bar called "harassment and intimidation" and making false statements to board members who had been removed from a Tarpon Springs homeowners association. He served 18 months' probation after he served the suspension.

According to his website, Tankel lives in Dunedin "with his wife of 28 years, Terri, and their Golden Retriever Roxie."

Times staff writer Laura Morel and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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