I-Team: Couple accused of renting rooms in foreclosure house to criminals
Same Couple Charged With Abusing Elderly Man
11:26 PM, Aug 30, 2013
8:16 AM, Sep 3, 2013
SAFETY HARBOR, Fla - They were arrested last month after investigators say they neglected an elderly man living in their garage, but the I-Team has discovered that's not the only instance in which a Pinellas County couple has been causing trouble in residential neighborhoods.
The I-Team has learned that the same people have been operating flop houses in foreclosure homes located in an upscale subdivision.
"This has just created a disaster around here," said Edward Lafaye, describing the house next door.
The home, according to court documents, first went into the foreclosure process back in 2007.
"The inside is an absolute disgrace. There's mold and all sorts of problems.They went for weeks and weeks without water. They occasionally have their electricity turned off," Lafaye said.
But Lafaye says the home is not only occupied, there are often big crowds there.
"He's obviously renting out property that really isn't even his," Lafaye said.
The house technically now belongs to the bank of New York Mellon, which serves as a trustee of the series of mortgage backed securities to which the homes belong.
A Pinellas County circuit court judge issued an order for Thomas and Melissa Diez to vacate more than three years ago.
They were arrested last month for an incident in another Safety Harbor neighborhood, charged with abusing a disabled man they were supposedly caring for.
Detectives say the victim spent the hot summer living in a make-shift room in the Diez's garage with no running water and he lost 15 pounds in four months.
Somehow, the Diez's bought their current home after the other two houses they owned in Safety Harbor a couple of miles away had been foreclosed.
Neighbors say rooms are currently being rented in those homes.
"It seems like an endless stream of them in and out," said a neighbor who didn't want to be identified.
Thomas Diez took our picture when we tried to talk to him.
"Get the hell out of here," he said, when we asked him about his rental practices.
Neighbors say there many reasons for concern.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, there have been 29 calls for police service to the house on Westborough Lane since November 2010.
On one call, police charged Sandra Brown with assaulting another woman.
She has since been convicted.
Anthony Capetti was charged with possessing oxycodone.
He pleaded no contest to the charge, which was referred to a drug court program.
Five times, police were searching for suspects.
"We've had several knocks on our door showing us pictures of people, asking us if we've seen these people in the neighborhood," Lafaye said.
There's a new tenant in the other house on Haverhill Lane.
Orest Soltiwsky is a registered sex offender, convicted in 1993 of lewd and lascivious behavior with a 15 year old girl.
Last year, he was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender.
"They don't have to worry about me. They can look my name up and talk to whoever they want to talk to. I don't get in trouble," Soltiswsky said.
"This is seemingly typical of the profile of people who have come in and out of here," said the unidentified neighbor, who is fed up.
"It's simply not acceptable. It's against the HOA rules, which is one thing, but it's formally against the code of the city and it shouldn't be allowed to continue," he said.
We contacted the mayor and city manager after identifying multiple violations of the city code, including broken windows, junk in the back yard and deadbolt locks on bedroom doors.
Officials inspected both homes issued citations for several code violations, but don't think that will completely solve the issues.
"It's just unfortunate we've got one bad apple in there. We're just trying to do everything we can," said Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.
As neighbors wait for the bank to take the homes for good, tensions keep rising.
"We don't need that in this neighborhood. No neighborhood needs that," said Lafaye.
In the meantime, Thomas Diez continues to collect rent.
"He couldn't care less," said the unidentified neighbor.
Investigation is still ongoing in Thomas and Melissa Diez' abuse case and no court date has been set.
Thomas Diez has already begun the process of cleaning up his foreclosure homes to avoid fines from the city.