Friday, November 11, 2011

Alleged Tampa Bay Florida Real Estate Scams Resulting in Criminal Prosecution

St. Petersburg Criminal Attorney and Former State Prosecutor Melinda Morris of the Morris Law Firm discusses recent arrests in Tampa Bay Florida for Scheme to Defraud.


The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office recently began to crack down on alleged real estate scams in the Tampa area and charge individuals who had no intent to commit a crime with criminal offenses.

These alleged offenders claim they simply moved renters into homes under Florida’s adverse possession laws that allow individuals to take possession of abandoned or unoccupied property as long as they actually and continuously occupy the land and pay taxes associated with the property.

The statewide prosecutor of the Florida Attorney General’s Office has asserted these individuals are allegedly removing items that belong to the rightful owner in these homes that are vacant or unoccupied, and changing the locks on the doors.  The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office initially claimed the issue was a civil matter, but later decided to arrest these individuals for engaging in an elaborate scheme to defraud solely after more people began to make complaints.

The Office of the State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County has decided not to prosecute these types of cases, but the Florida Attorney General Statewide Prosecutor has elected to criminally prosecute these alleged offenders.

Why This Matters To You:

Individuals in Tampa who are not intentionally committing a crime, but are engaging in acts that they believe are legal are being prosecuted for criminal offenses, including perpetrating a scheme to defraud, grand theft, breaking and entering, and other organized white collar crimes.

These types of criminal offenses generally involve a required element of a mental state to intentionally or knowingly commit a crime to defraud another person.  The individuals in Tampa arrested for allegedly engaging in this real estate scheme did not intentionally or knowingly commit an illegal act; they believed what they were doing was legal under Florida’s adverse possession laws.

The adverse possession laws in Florida do not provide criminal penalties for a person making a claim under adverse possession.  If an individual attempts to adversely possess real property, the person who actually holds title to the property can only recover through a civil action.

This situation demonstrates that police officers and prosecutors in Florida can be aggressive when trying to make arrests and achieve criminal convictions.  If there is ambiguity or confusion with the laws in the state, changes should be left up to the legislature as to what constitutes a criminal act or lawful act, not police investigations and prosecutors seeking to create a questionable criminal offense.

What To Do Next:

If you have been charged with allegedly committing a white collar crime in Tampa, contact a St. Petersburg White Collar Crime Lawyer to discuss possible defenses and specific strategies that may exist in your case. Call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736 to discuss you case directly with an attorney, or fill out our Online Form to be contacted for a Free Initial Consultation.  The Morris Law Firm can help.  Attorney Melinda Morris has specific knowledge and experience in defending white collar offenses and representing alleged organized criminal offenders throughout Pinellas County the entire Tampa Bay, FL area (St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota and Bradenton).