SARASOTA COUNTY, FL - The video of one of our vehicles being stolen while working on a potential rental scam story has gone viral. Lost in it all was the actual scam story.
Multiple issues we have since learned are not new to the Siesta Key home and it's owner.
Advertised as a 12 bedroom home says Venice resident Mary Ellen Christman. She and her 91-year old mother dreamed about using it for their upcoming reunion with family members from around the country. Even her daughter who is in the Air Force coming in from Germany. "It had two kitchens and plenty of bathrooms. A pool. It sounded perfect."
In November she says they got in contact with the owner Dr. Craig Siegel of Siesta Resorts/Vacations and sent off a check for half the money owed. Nearly $2,500. Then recently Mary Ellen decided to check the reviews again. "Stay away from this. It's only a four bedroom now. It's all the upstairs. The downstairs has been completely gutted."
The reviews on TripAdvisor suddenly got bad. Real bad. "Called the fire marshal" "Do not stay there" another says "He destroyed the home and wont give money back. Only a four bedroom when we paid for 11". An email exchange between Siegel and Christman ended with a "sorry" but no money. Even though the contract clearly states they are entitled to it.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office says they are currently working other potential rental fraud cases involving the property at 6537 Sabal Drive. A Google search including documents courtesy of The Sarasota News Leader show results of lawsuits, building without permits, endangering lives, and code violations, dating back to 2012. "In my eyes that is definitely fraud. He had a contract given to me when he knew full well that there were all sorts of things going on with that house."
We talked to Siegel over the phone Friday who said he is "Trying to make it right but they simply don't have the money".
That part may be true. Turns out, after working on the story with Mary Ellen, we had her mother who is in a nursing home double check that check. We are told it had not yet been cashed and a stop payment order put in place. Thankful but still left looking for rooms. "I still have family coming in to town in August and I have to find a place."
Left without a place to stay but left with one whopper of a tale. That goes for the both of us.