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The jailed man says he improved the house with an ex-commissioner's full approval.

Michael Scott Gary says he's the one who was scammed.

The 46-year-old man was arrested last week on charges of fraud and grand theft after former Hillsborough County Commissioner Rubin Padgett said Gary unlawfully took residence in a house Padgett owned.

Gary, released on $2,000 bail, says when he moved into the vacant house at 801 N Oregon Ave., he did so with Padgett's permission. And when Gary wanted to have a roommate, he said he got Padgett's permission again.

"My only error in this matter is trusting Mr. Padgett at his word and not putting things in writing immediately from day one," Gary wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

Gary said he planned to buy the house because it's close to the University of Tampa, where he is a student. While trying to get his credit in order, he started working on the house so it might pass inspection for a Federal Housing Administration mortgage.

"I bought a brand new water heater," he wrote. "I bought a brand new refrigerator. I paid to have seven broken window panes replaced. I paid to have the AC system re-installed."

He says he fixed the toilet, calked the bathtub, cut the grass weekly and sought estimates with 12 contractors for plumbing, electrical and security issues.

"Does that sound like someone trying to swindle the seller of a house?" he asked.

An arrest report says Padgett, 78, told police that Gary talked him into handing over keys to the boarded up house, moved in and stole a refrigerator and stove valued at $600. He said Gary charged a tenant $1,000 to move in.

Gary says that the refrigerator was filled with mold and that someone had cut the cord off the stove. Both, he said, were effectively worthless. He said he received Padgett's permission get rid of the appliances.

Padgett, who now serves on the Tampa Housing Authority board, has his own side:

Though he let Gary move belongings into the house as closing neared, Padgett says he didn't intend for Gary to move in until the house was his. Gary did mention roommates, but Padgett expected that to happen only if Gary bought the house.

Gary said he thinks Padgett is forgetful. Padgett disputes that.

Gary said he talked with Padgett regularly on the phone and that Padgett dropped by the house at least eight times.

Padgett said Gary had recently become hard to reach and had missed an appointment to sign paperwork.

Finally, Padgett heard from a salesman demanding payment for a water heater installed at the house. Padgett found another UT student living there and decided to call police. He also boarded up the house again.

In e-mails to the Times, Gary described himself as homeless.

He said he has obtained an attorney and plans to fight the felony charges. Records show no other Florida arrests.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at or (813) 226-3383.