He had a convincing story about being a veteran, going back to college and wanting to become a homeowner.
But Michael Scott Gary, 46, was a con man who promised to buy a vacant home near the University of Tampa and then rented it out without ever paying up, said former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rubin Padgett.
Gary of 401 W Kennedy Blvd., Apt. 1965, was arrested by Tampa police Thursday, taken to the Orient Road Jail and released after he posted $2,000 bail.
Padgett, 78, who now serves on the Tampa Housing Authority board, said Gary contacted him in August about a house at 801 N Oregon Ave. that Padgett used to rent out but boarded up after the last tenants moved.
"I wasn't looking to rent it out again, but I hadn't posted a 'for sale' sign," Padgett said.
Then Gary called him, interested in buying the house because of the proximity to the University of Tampa, where he said he would be going to school.
They had several conversations, and Padgett said the smooth-talker gave him a "strong line" and assured him he had a lender lined up. All he needed was for the lender to inspect the home.
Padgett turned over the keys and had the grass mowed for the "lender's inspection," and a satisfied Gary told him he would be closing on the house in two weeks.
"What he was asking me for was pretty much legitimate," he said. But when Padgett returned from a trip to visit his son in Hampton, Va., Gary became hard to reach.
Padgett's calls went unanswered, and after a missed appointment to sign paperwork for the house, the retiree got an unexpected visitor.
On Monday, a salesman came to his door demanding payment for a new water heater installed at the Oregon Avenue home. Otherwise, he was going to put a lien on the house, Padgett said.
"I was shocked," he said.
He went to the house with police and found the windows unboarded and a foreign UT student living there, confused about who Padgett was.
Gary had charged the young man a $500 deposit and $500 for his first month's rent in the house, Padgett said.
Police found a box filled with paperwork on a table indicating this wasn't the first lease Gary had issued, Padgett said.
Gary didn't return to the house Monday, but on Thursday police found him there packing up a U-Haul truck.
He was charged with organized fraud and grand theft, jail records show.
Padgett said Gary took advantage of his giving nature and desire to help others.
"I was a public servant, and I spent my whole life helping people. That's how I got onto the County Commission," he said. "He was convincing that the mortgage people were coming, but certainly I should have known better. I'm not going to do that anymore. But I won't stop helping people."
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or email@example.com.