According to The Tampa Tribune, Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Laura Rose said that the scam by Chris McDonald started in the fall of 2010. At one point, McDonald was renting out 20 properties that he didn’t own.
The 50-year-old was found guilty of all first-degree felonies by a Tampa jury on Thursday. McDonald collected rent from tenants on properties he did not own.
“We charged him with three Hillsborough and one Pasco county property that he rented out twice,” Rose said. “He had someone in there who was evicted and then he tried to put another family in almost immediately.”
Rose said that McDonald used a Florida law in his defense that allows people to move into abandoned properties, make repairs and do maintenance. After seven years, that person is eligible to own rights to the property.
“There were all kinds of problems with his defense, and the jury didn’t buy it,” Rose said.
But the houses that McDonald rented out weren’t abandoned, they just happened to be empty.
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The tenants thought they were taking part in a lease-to-own program, and put down deposits before moving in. The monthly payments went straight to McDonald through his real estate company, Chateau-Lan.
Attorney General Pam Bondi explained in a statement on Monday that what McDonald did was unacceptable.
“This man exploited distressed homeowners and defrauded Floridians seeking homes,” said Bondi.
According to prosecutors, McDonald claimed that the properties he was renting out were indeed for sale, or in some form of foreclosure. He changed the locks of each property and rented them out to tenants without knowledge or consent of the actual property owners.