October 12, 2011

Tavernier man arrested for vacation rental fraud

A Tavernier man who fraudulently rented out properties in the Upper Keys has been arrested on multiple fraud related charges.

Detectives say 52 year old John Williams set up multiple internet rental sites, used multiple business names and multiple identities while fraudulently renting the properties to people wishing to visit the Keys on vacation. He started out with a company called Vacation Rental Properties. He legitimately managed several homes at the 96 mile marker, renting them out through the internet. According to the owners of those homes, though, at some point he began double booking the properties and the owners began to get complaints from people who said Williams had taken their deposits. When they showed up to stay, though, the properties were already rented to someone else. When they tried to get their deposits back, Williams would blame the “mistake” on other fictitious employees; he would sometimes refund some of their money. Sometimes he would just stop talking to them at all and avoid their calls and emails.

The home owners and some of the victims made complaints to the Sheriff’s Office. At that point, officers spoke with Williams and warned him about what he was doing. “At that point, we just thought it was poor bookkeeping or that he was just really disorganized,” said Det. Sgt. David Carey. “We talked to him about it and he said he would make it all good.”

After the home owners canceled their business relations with Williams, he continued to rent their properties without their knowledge using four other business names and four other internet web sites: Resort Property Management, Tropical Resort Vacation Home Rentals, Keys Dreams and Keys Realty. At one point, he even rented out a property at Keys RV Park which was lived in by a couple year-long. “We figure at some point he just began pulling pictures off the internet of properties and was renting them,” Carey said.

When complaints began to come in involving some of the same properties as before, detectives began investigating the case as a crime. Because there were multiple web sites, multiple business names and Williams was using a number of different names in his dealings, it took a while to connect all the dots.

“We suspected it all might be connected because the same phone number was used on several of the web sites,” Det. Sgt. Carey said. “But we had to have more than that.” When victim Kenneth Beauvias reported being scammed by someone named David Osborne, who rented him a property fraudulently, detectives finally had what they needed to connect those dots. Beauvias had actually met face to face with “Osborne” on several occasions. When he viewed a photo lineup, he identified John Williams as “Osborne”.

The case is still very much under investigation and detectives suspect there may be many more victims they haven’t heard from yet. As of now, Williams has been charged with four cases which carry five criminal counts each; one count of grand theft each, and four separate counts of fraud each, relating to his use of the internet to advertise the properties falsely; his use of the telephone and email to defraud people; his fraudulent claim that he was the legal manager of the properties in question and the use of a computer to defraud the victims. Each charge carries a $10,000 bond for a total bond of $200,000.00.

“Even though we are still investigating, we felt it was important to stop this guy from defrauding any more people,” said Sheriff Bob Peryam. “The victims we have spoken to unfortunately have very negative feelings about the Keys, understandably. We want to let them know that this is a terrific place to visit and that we don’t tolerate this kind of activity. The vast majority of rental businesses in the Keys are completely legitimate, but the actions of just a few scammers like Williams make it much harder for them to do business and that hurts everyone in Monroe County,” he said.

Anyone who has information about this case, or who also believes themselves to be a victim should contact the Plantation Key Sheriff’s Detective Division at 305-853-3211.

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