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Families left homeless on Thanksgiving after police say property manager pocketed deposit fees

Families have hired an attorney
Posted at 8:35 PM, Nov 21, 2018

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Families are without a home on Thanksgiving after investigators say a leasing agent stole money from them, promising them apartments that weren't available. 

Sabrina Long and her 4-month-old have been living in a shelter for the past two weeks after she lost thousands of dollars in the scam.

"I can say right now, even though I have nothing, I'm grateful for what I do have," said Sabrina Long. 

Pinellas Park Police arrested Tonya Johnson for allegedly stealing money from at least 12 families at two apartment complexes including Garden Trail Apartments in Clearwater and Parkside Commons Apartments in Pinellas Park. Police charged Johnson with scheme to defraud.

Related: Police: Families left homeless after property manager pockets deposit fees

Attorney Chris Brown represents Long and nearly 15 other families. He sent a letter to the management company, Cambridge Management. He's fighting to get victims' their money back. 

"My goal is literally to get people back in homes. I want to find them temporary housing, not shelters or living on someone's couch," said Chris Brown, attorney.

Investigators said Johnson would collect deposits and fees by asking people to give her blank money orders. Victims thought they were getting a place to rent. 

"She gave us a lease, just about everybody had a lease for the apartments, but it's for the same apartments that are already occupied by other people," said Long.

"She took advantage of people who really needed a home. I'm angry. frustrated and disappointed," added Long.

We reached out to Cambridge Management on Wednesday but did not hear back.

A spokesperson sent us the following statement on Wednesday:

"We want to reiterate that our management team is actively identifying and doing the make-ready work on available apartments at local CMI communities so those affected by this situation may apply for occupancy. We are also working to verify the qualification of the affected families for our programs. We are committed to continue to work with the families and the police to verify the claims and come to an equitable resolution for all parties.

We have confirmed that the previous criminal record for our employee was not made available to us during the background screening process which was conducted by a third party background screening company. 

We encourage anyone affected by this incident to contact our management team at 253-534-7200 so that we may collect their information, connect them with law enforcement investigating the case, and assist with finding alternate housing options at one of our communities, if at all possible."

Brown said he has not received a response from the management company likely because of the Thanksgiving holiday, but he will follow up next week.

"It makes you kind of feel like you failed your child even though you know you didn't," said Long.