Three arrested in Florida for squatting in vacant homes

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. a March 6, 2012 a Three people, including a man who ran for mayor in Jacksonville last year, were arrested Sunday on charges of grand theft after five vacant homes were illegally taken over to be lived in or rented to others, according to the Jacksonville Sheriffas Office.

Former mayoral candidate Warren Lanorris Lee, 46, was arrested at 7:30 p.m. on a warrant for organized fraud, grand theft and operating as a real estate broker without a license, according to the Sheriffas Office. Also arrested Sunday evening were Rhonda Petite Johnson, 52, of Tori Lane and Cleveland Xavier Stephens, 36, of Milnor Street, both on grand theft charges, according to the Sheriffas Office.

One more suspect a Marcellous Dunbar a remains at large in what the sheriff called a avery complicateda case.

aThey rented property that they never really owned,a Sheriff John Rutherford Monday during a news conference on the arrests. aThey were living in them, or presenting them as their own. They squatted there, changed the locks, and in some instances rented these properties to other people.a

The problem of illegal squatters is also being investigated in Clay and Nassau counties, with cases pending there, State Attorney Angela Corey said.

aWe understand there are legal means by which some people can take over property. It is called adverse possession,a Corey said. aThat is not what this is about. This is about getting around the law and basically stealing, and we will not tolerate it.a

Rutherford said the arrests should be a signal to home renters everywhere, that if they think their landlord or homeowner doesnat aseem to have their business squared away,a check with the property appraiseras office website. (To find a local property appraiser, visit the Florida Department of Revenue website.

aYou can ... type in the address (on a property appraiseras website) and get the owner of record,a he said. aIf it is not the person you are paying, you need to call us.a

Rutherford also warned other squatters that it is just a amatter of time before we get you.a

Leeas address wasnat released because he is a former state Department of Juvenile Justice employee, police said. The Times-Union reported last March that Lee was fired from his job there because he approached co-workers on the job to ask for their signatures so he could quality for the ballot.

Copyright A(C) 2012 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.), Dan Scanlan. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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