'Bittersweet ending' for families, police say, were defrauded out of thousands by property manager

Attorney: Victims reach settlement with property owner, CMI
Posted at 4:06 PM, Dec 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-24 18:32:16-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This holiday season several Bay-area families are homeless after authorities say a property manager pocketed their rental deposits. And while the victims just won a legal battle, they say it doesn't quite feel like a victory this Christmas.

"It's been a nightmare," Sabrina Long said. "I'm missing a lot of firsts with my daughter."

It's Christmas Eve and Long has no place to call home.

Her fiance and toddler are one of at least 13 families Pinellas Park Police say a former property manager defrauded.

"What she did was messed up," said Long. "Wrong and I hope to God she makes it right herself."

Investigators say Tonya Johnson tricked people out of thousands of dollars in security and deposit fees at Parkside Commons and Garden Trails. Investigators say Johnson was stealing the money while offering apartments that weren’t available. It was her employer, CMI, who contacted Pinellas Park Police after realizing she may be behind some criminal activity.

With no home Long was forced to turn to a shelter, but others were worse off.

“We had a mother that was living in her car with her three children," said Chris Brown, who represents multiple victims in this case.

Now this Christmas there's encouraging news.

"It's a gift, it's definitely a gift from God," Long said.

Apartment owners, Cambridge Management Inc. have settled. According to Brown, the company is offering these families their money back and then some.

"That helped me make up my mind to go out and buy my daughter some Christmas presents which I thought I couldn't do," said Long.

However, she'll have to wait until next month for the check meaning this Christmas her family doesn't have a home to call their own.

As for Johnson, ABC Action News called her and knocked on her door but she didn’t answer.

It's not the Christmas anyone wanted, but they have their family and a promising new year.

“I’d call it a bittersweet ending," said Brown.