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Want some swamp land?

Apparently there are still people willing and able to fall for one of Florida's oldest con games. The only difference is today they do it on Ebay.

GROVELAND - The eBay ad was hard to resist: an acre of pristine forestland in sunny Central Florida.

Debra Twohig thought it would be the perfect place to build a home with her fianc�. So the 47-year-old Pennsylvania woman cast a winning, $2,700 bid, and by January she had a deed in her hand.

But her acre is in a remote part of the Green Swamp, an environmentally fragile area that helps recharge drinking-water supplies for most of Central Florida.

That means she can't build on it. She can't even see it or find it because no roads, signs or trails lead to her land.

Twohig is not alone. For decades, many others have bought Central Florida swampland from a variety of sellers, not all of them honest.

Lake County maps show Twohig's property sandwiched among hundreds of similar 1- and 2-acre parcels, like a checkerboard for miles around State Road 33 and County Road 474. Some are zoned one home per 20 acres.

"I am just completely blown away," Twohig said last week after learning that she can't use her land. "I am like, 'You have got to be kidding me.' "

I don't have much sympathy for Miss Twohig. Her own stupidity trapped her. If the price sounds too good, and you haven't seen it in person, that should set off buyer beware in a thinking person. The almost non-existent property tax bill should be a tip off, and it is easily verifiable.

Selling swamp land is an age old con down here. One can remember hearing about when I was a kid in New York. Where have these people been? In the 1970's during the Disney World boom, similar cons took place. A sucker is born every minute appears live and well in 2008.

The rest of the Orlando Sentinel article is below the fold.

Property-sales records show that in the past two years, more than 100 Green Swamp parcels of less than 5 acres have changed hands. Frequently, the parcels have flipped more than once, often to buyers across the country who probably don't realize their land is useless. One buyer paid $18,000 for slightly more than 1 acre of wetlands, according to records.

Twohig's annual tax bill on her single acre is 68 cents. She bought her land from Lancorp Investment Inc., based in Pembroke Pines, county records show. Lancorp had bought the land in September for $1,600, according to property records.

Company representatives did not return several phone messages.

Florida has little, if any, regulation of Internet land sales, according to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The department does investigate complaints, but ultimately, buyers must be wary.

"At the end of the day, it's buyer beware," said Sam Farkas, an agency spokesman. "It would really behoove you to hire a licensed real-estate professional from the area to help you."

Hopeful property owners sometimes walk into Lake's Property Appraiser's Office, asking to locate their Green Swamp land. Many explain that decades ago a relative up North purchased a small parcel and willed it to them.

That's when property appraisers pull out maps and give the bad news: Their land is hidden deep in an area with no roads or utilities. Their property is almost worthless.

"With most of them, reality just hits home," said Frank Royce, Lake's chief deputy property appraiser. "If you're paying $1 in taxes, that should be an indication."

The visitors sometimes walk away crying.

People have bought worthless land in the Green Swamp for decades.

In the 1960s, Miami-based Mr. Land hawked hundreds of parcels, divided into 1 1/4 -acre pieces, for as little $199 for the entire tract or $10 down and $10 a month, according to old newspaper advertisements.

Disney opening spurred rush

After Disney World opened in 1971 about 15 miles east of the Green Swamp, buyers began snatching up hundreds of parcels they saw advertised through the mail and newspapers.

Some hopeful buyers headed to Florida and were driven along S.R. 33 to an isolated paved road and empty clearing. Squinting salesmen pointed to the horizon and told prospective buyers their land was just beyond a tree line. Roads, utility lines and subdivisions would soon be built, they promised.

According to court records from lawsuits filed in the late 1980s against one company, Fantasyland Acres, no roads, homes or utility lines were ever built.

Today, some buyers such as Twohig can find properties, including photos, marketed on eBay.

Rita Verma of East Setauket, N.Y., purchased 2.5 acres for $3,000 in a wooded area about six miles east of S.R. 33.

The desolate land is about a hundred yards from the Gen. James A. Van Fleet State Trail, a 29-mile paved bike trail.

Verma said she was told by the seller, God's Land Stewards LLC, that no roads lead to the property, "but that eventually there will be."

County officials said they have no plans to build access roads to the area. Representatives for God's Land Stewards could not be reached for comment. The company's Web site states that many properties advertised there cannot be built upon.

Verma said she likely will hold on to her land for several years as an investment.

'Just get me out of this'

That might be unrealistic, said Robert Lyles, a southLake County real-estate agent for more than 20 years. Once prospective buyers learn that most small Green Swamp parcels cannot be built upon, and they have no access, they shy away.

"I've seen people take $1,200 [for about 2.5 acres], saying: 'Just get me out of this trap,' " he said. "My advice is: If you have a charitable organization, give it to them."

Timber and logging companies, however, are interested in certain Green Swamp parcels.

Using maps and navigation systems, Mike Milliken, a forester and co-owner of Green Leaf Wood Products, often offers free trips in his Jeep through bumpy, sandy trails to show owners their land.

"They soon realize there are no roads to get out there, and they're basically in the middle of nowhere," Milliken said. "Most of them, about 95 percent of the time, they realize they've been swindled and will then say, 'How much are you willing to offer me?' "

Milliken also works for Boyett Timber Inc. of Webster. For years, the companies have purchased dozens of small Green Swamp lots for timber cutting.

"I've got thank-you letters from people all over the country, thanking me for taking their property off their hands," he said. "However, some of them want to keep it because it's all they've got left of dad, and they want to keep it for sentimental reasons."


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Comments (14)

I think the fed govt needs... (Below threshold)
GianiD:

I think the fed govt needs a bailout program for anyone who got ripped off from ebay sellers.

I pray you're kidding!... (Below threshold)
saterp:

I pray you're kidding!

Something needs to be done ... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

Something needs to be done about eBay itself. They make money on these cons but are more interested in making sure that no one can sell a perfectly legal firing pin to a firearm than making sure that their auction site is not used by con artists.

A pox on Ebay's house.

I wonder if they ever tried... (Below threshold)
Spurwing Plover:

I wonder if they ever tried to buy a bridge

Does this mean I may never ... (Below threshold)

Does this mean I may never be able to build on the acre I bought on the moon last year?

These people only have them... (Below threshold)
Russell:

These people only have themselves to blame. If $3,000 was a lot of money for them, they should have researched the property thoroughly before buying. A 1.25 acre dry and buildable lot for $3,000 in Florida? Yeah right. Dream on. Common sense people!

I think the fed govt nee... (Below threshold)
Brian:

I think the fed govt needs a bailout program for anyone who got ripped off from ebay sellers.

I know you're joking, but the correct parallel would be a fed bailout for the sellers.

Probably an Obama supporter... (Below threshold)
Jo:

Probably an Obama supporter. Who else is so easily fooled?

How about publishing the na... (Below threshold)
drjohn:

How about publishing the names of the sellers and the name of their business for us to comment upon and grant gurther publicity?

The other half of P.T. Barn... (Below threshold)
twolaneflash:

The other half of P.T. Barnum's famous quote is: "It is immoral to allow a sucker to keep his money."

Accused Con-Artists F... (Below threshold)
Florida Victim Author Profile Page:

Accused Con-Artists Face Trial in Hampton Subdivision Scam!

Bradford County N. Florida - An old scam with a new twist is back, when you can purchase almost 2 acres of land to build your dream home in a brand new subdivision, but you can't build anything! Developers Stephen F. Smith, Edith Ellen Smith, and Realtor/Developer Wayne E. Douglas Sr. from Douglas Realty in Starke are facing fraud charges, and numerous state & federal disclosure violations from the sale of a lot in their Edith Ellen Estates subdivision on Hampton Lake. The lot they sold is almost 99% restricted property and is in violation of Interstate Land Sales laws and other state statutes! Unlike the olden days of selling swampland that could be developed in some cases, selling restricted government land that is not disclosed to the buyer is illegal. What is it? It's called a Government Restricted State Jurisdictional Wetland, and it is "land that is protected by the government for the bugs, bushes, and animals", you cannot step foot on it! Buyers have no more rights to their property any other person driving down the street looking out their car window would have.

The buyers from California researched the land with the local courthouse, property appraiser, building officials, zoning directors, and everyone said it was "good property", a "good deal"' and "they would buy it themselves", etc. which obviously is not true. After moving cross-country and wasting over one hundred thousand dollars, victims are told "That's Life" and "You Shouldn't Listen To What People Tell You or What You Hear Them Say"? These are from people who drive around town with signs on their vehicle telling everyone to read the Bible?

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the lot in question is not large enough to sustain a required septic system, or any known-recorded architect's design for a house that has ever been published or built in the area. The restrictions were not disclosed as required by State & Federal law, and the maximum dimensions squared along the street that can be developed are 40'ft. x 40'ft. as per survey, which is less than 2% of the total lot size (2.2 football fields end to end along the street). The buyers were emphatically told the entire lot could be cleared without restrictions. The lot is a permitted subdivision Drainage Easement/Jurisdictional Wetland, but NOT a home-site, and was specifically required NOT to be conveyed/deeded outside of the homeowners association according to the subdivision permit and homeowner's association contract. The state agency issuing the permit has not been enforcing permits previously issued, which has caused numerous similar situations throughout North Florida. However, recent talks have already begun and enforcement of previously issued permits should begin later this year according to the SRWMD who issued this subdivision's permit.

Any conceivable defense the defendants could attempt would involve much twisting and contortion of the law, which has never been successfully done before since most people who promote these underhanded frauds eventually end up in jail say legal experts. This is probably one of the most blatant schemes out there right now to rip somebody off of their hard-earned money. Enforcement of the law is an extremely slow process, which explains why most people just quietly put up a "For Sale" sign on their land instead of complaining. The buyers have said that there is absolutely no way they will leave town without their money and are ready to fight. They are even prepared to take this matter to the Supreme Court if necessary. "This is just not right how people can steal from one another and the law expects the victims to spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees and handle everything on their own just because of budget shortfalls, etc." "Then the perpetrators hide behind their church, that's sacrilegious!" " The law must be enforced and the government regulatory agencies better get their act together soon". "They stole our home," says Florence Gata, who is one of the buyers in the lot scam, and is legal guardian of her 82 yr.-old paralyzed mother who lives with her and her husband and now have no home in Florida. "What kind of greedy people do this to one another"? "Now my mother will never realize her dreams, those people should be ashamed of themselves and in jail!"

The honorable judge appears to be connected with a church, the defendants are fellow members, and are wealthy well-known individuals with family resources. This may explain previous rulings that have allowed a counter suit against the plaintiffs for slander, defamation of character, and libel against the plaintiffs who are exposing the wrongdoing? This defense was allowed without reference to the law? Under the guise of a home-site, a restricted jurisdictional wetland that cannot be developed was sold. You cannot even make a campsite! However this point has not been addressed thus far, or zero need for a trial would be necessary should current law be referred to. The plaintiffs did try to amicably work things out with the sellers who were promised another lot or their money back. But the defendants never intended to remedy the situation at all, and the promises were just another lie. This fiasco has been ongoing for over 2 years now, and the trial is set for Sept. 2, 2008.

This material may be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I know exactly where this i... (Below threshold)
diane wagner:

I know exactly where this is.My husband and i almost bought a lot here after my officemate bought a larger lot and encouraged us to to go look.Good thing we did not because my friend found out through her contractor that most of her lot belonged to the state,could not touch it or build on it.Her realtor never told her anything.She was shocked, could not believe it,felt like a fool.I cannot believe the realtor's board lets this happen.My friend's lot now is smaller than where she lives in Gainesville.Now she's up the creek with no paddle

We are still buying lots o... (Below threshold)
Michael Milliken:

We are still buying lots out there for the timber on them. We are a 5th generation swamp logging business. We locate the lots through our GPS Surveying equipment. Once we accumlate 20 acres in an area we go and survey it out and cut it. We bought about half of the lots we now own through Greenleaf/Boyett through County tax sales. Hundreds of people just let them go for back taxes. This is a shame, when we will gladly buy it! We own over 12,000 acres in that area now. If you want to sell your lot, please call me at 863-439-8224. We dont pay much, usually 500/acre, but I'll treat you right. If you want to see your land, I will take you there.

Mike Milliken, Forester
Boyett Land & Timber
Greenleaf Wood Products
863-439-8224
[email protected]

Just so thie ia clear.....<... (Below threshold)
Michael Milliken:

Just so thie ia clear.....
We had absolutely no connection with the scammers who created this mess.

We have a use for swampland. The cypress trees that grow there are what we use to make our mulch, which is used for landscaping/gardening. The big trees are sawn into timber. They also grow back from the stump when they are cut, so we can go back every 7/10 years and cut them again, You can do this with cypress over and over, it is a renewable resource if properly managed.
We are not the bad guys, we are simply offering these people a way out.

I will answer anything anyone wants to know about the Green Swamp in Florida.
Mike Milliken




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