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Rental scam victimizes snowbirds

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

After driving all the way from Ottawa, Canada, Larry and Carmen Malham were so eager to see their winter home that they swung by two days early.

The mobile home at 1066 Flamingo Lane was the same blue and white place they had seen on the Internet and paid $1,500 to reserve. But when William Ray Hunter opened the door on Dec. 30, the place was still loaded with his furniture, computers and clothes.

"Don't worry," Hunter said. "Tomorrow I'll have everything out."

The next day he was still there, so they demanded a refund and went to wait in the office at the Tarpon Glen Mobile Home Park. Then a couple from Maine walked in. They, too, had rented 1066 Flamingo. More followed.

At one time or another, at least eight individuals or couples showed up expecting to move into Hunter's mobile home, Pinellas County sheriff's officials said Friday.

Hunter, 41, was arrested this week and charged with defrauding at least 19 snowbirds aged 55 to 74 of more than $33,330. He was being held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail.

The victims hailed from Canada, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, Alabama, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois and Kentucky.

Deputies say Hunter advertised his mobile home on the Web as available for January through March. To secure their leases, people sent Hunter cashier's checks ranging from $500 to $3,000.

"I don't think he thought too much about what would happen when everybody showed up," said sheriff's Sgt. Bob Hart.

Investigators fear additional victims are likely. Hart said anyone with information should call Detective Russell Dunning at (727) 582-6437.

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