After more than three months on the run, a Largo couple accused of scamming 18 families out of $28,000 by renting them the same home have finally been found — in Las Vegas.
Nicole and David Johnson were arrested early Wednesday at 12:32 a.m., authorities said.
They were found with their three young children on the casino floor of the Linq Hotel and Casino along the Las Vegas strip, authorities said.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said the couple was detained by hotel security, which suspected them of fraud. When Las Vegas police officers showed up, they discovered arrest warrants for the couple from Pinellas County.
It's unclear what fraudulent activity tipped off hotel security and led to the family being detained.
Nicole Johnson's parents, Christopher and Lisa Dominick of New York, had hired a private investigator to track down their grandchildren. They had just met with him in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and were riding the train back to Long Island when they got a call from Las Vegas police.
Nicole Johnson gave the officers her mother's phone number.
"We were hysterical," Christopher Dominick said. "It's a horrible nightmare, it's beyond heart wrenching."
The Largo scheme unraveled June 19 when four families showed up at the home for move-in day at the same time, police said. One of those families drove down from Indiana with all their possession in a U-Haul trailer.
Two weeks later, Largo police obtained arrest warrants for David Johnson, 32, and wife Nicole, 30, who were believed to have fled to New York just days before the families attempted to move in.
The Las Vegas police say the children, a 6-year-old and 2-year-old twins, were with their parents in the casino when they were arrested. They have since been turned over to Child Protective Services where they are still in custody.
The grandparents flew to Las Vegas on Thursday evening. They had to get ready for a court hearing Friday to gain custody of their grandchildren. Christopher Dominick said the kids were separated because of their ages.
"The only good thing out of this is that they're found," the grandfather said. "Hopefully tomorrow will be a good reunion."
Here's how Largo police said the Pinellas scam unfolded: the Johnsons solicited 1091 Lexington Court for rent to prospective tenants via Craigslist and Facebook and signed multiple lease agreements. Each family paid the couple a deposit ranging from $1,000 to $4,300, police said.
Some families did everything they could to make sure they were signing legitimate leases. Instead, they signed documents forged with the names of Nicole Johnson's parents, the real owners of the 1,400-square-foot home. Police believe the family drove to New York in the grandfather's car, which was then reported stolen.
Back in Largo, the families who thought they had found a new home to live in were left to pick up the pieces. Some struggled to make ends meet.
Melissa Colon, a single mother with three children, found her family crammed into a single hotel room indefinitely.
The Indiana couple was Hannah Nelson, 27, and Tyree Higginson, 25. They got married 24 hours before they intended to move into the home. They traveled from Indiana and had to borrow money from the Johnson's next door neighbors so they could have enough gas money to return.
The Johnsons were booked into the Clark County Detention Center where they are being held without bail. Authorities there expect that it will take a month for Nicole and David Johnson to be extradited back to Pinellas County.
Contact McKenna Oxenden at email@example.com. Follow @mack_oxenden