ORLANDO — The Florida Real Estate Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to revoke the license of Michael Schaffer, a Pinellas County real estate agent who failed to disclose two felony theft convictions.
"He should not be working with consumers,'' commissioner Guy Sanchez Jr. said.
Somewhat unusually, Schaffer did not appear nor was he represented by an attorney at the all-day commission meeting where dozens of other Realtors and license applicants showed up in person to answer questions about their criminal pasts. Schaffer, an agent with Realty Resource in St. Pete Beach, did not return a call for comment.
The revocation will not take effect until a final order is filed, probably around the end of October. Until then, Schaffer can continue to work as an agent. Records show that he has one active listing, a vacant lot in Marion County, and that he has been involved in several transactions this year including the $1.54 million sale of a unit in the ONE St. Petersburg condo tower.
The commission began investigating Schaffer after the Tampa Bay Times reported on some questionable real estate dealings, his ties to a disbarred lawyer and his criminal background.
Schaffer, 53, obtained his Florida real estate license in 2001. A year later, he was indicted in Illinois, where he once worked, on charges of stealing nearly $40,000 from a clothing store. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts and was sentenced to 30 months probation. Florida officials said there was no evidence that he ever disclosed his crimes to the state’s Real Estate Commission as is required.
The seven-member commission, which meets monthly in Orlando, takes an especially hard line on thefts and other financial crimes. Realtors handle clients’ escrow funds and often enter homes when no one is there.
"People leave money around,'' commissioner Patti Ketcham said Tuesday as the panel considered whether to approve a license for a man with a petty theft charge. "Stealing is a big deal and people need to be able to trust us.''
Those who’ve had recent dealings with Schaffer say his thefts and criminal past should have been a warning.
Last year, Samuel Buck of Seminole filed a complaint with the Real Estate Commission after he lost out on the purchase of a villa that Schaffer had listed. Schaffer accepted a lower bid — from a Realtor in the same office — even though Buck’s bid was considerably higher. That Realtor relisted the villa for nearly $75,000 more than he had paid five days earlier.
Retired Gulfport teacher Marsha Warner said Schaffer and lawyer Andre Keith Sanders talked her into using $114,000 of her retirement funds in 2012 to help a buyer who needed downpayment assistance on a Tierra Verde townhouse. Warner received some monthly interest payments but was eventually told that all of her "investment'' had been lost.
In fact, the men had used Warner’s money to pay off the mortgage on the townhouse, which had belonged to one of Sanders clients. It was then sold to Schaffer’s roommate and business partner, who flipped it — for a $163,000 profit.
Gulfport lawyer Dianne Griffith wonders why it took Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the Real Estate Commission, such a long time to learn about Schaffer’s felony thefts. Griffith, who represents Warner and another woman who have filed complaints about him, quickly found the cases from 2002.
"If I can find these facts in minutes, why can’t the DBPR?,'' she asked.