Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Carmel on the Case: Ellis Sentenced
7 News Exclusive first exposed a real estate practice aimed at taking possession of foreclosed houses without buying them. Now, the first guy to get caught and charged has learned the price he'll have to pay and it's a big one. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- Judge Jeffrey Levenson: "We're here for the state of Florida vs Fitzroy Ellis."
It was sentencing day for a man who is convinced. He knows Florida law better than prosecutors, the judge and the jury that found him guilty of grand theft.
Fitzroy Ellis: "No person in the United States can be sentenced for a crime you did not charge them for and I'm asking you for acquittal sir."
That got Fitzroy Ellis nowhere. He found himself facing decades behind bars based on his attempt to take properties without paying for them.
Pauline Hite: "I went to open the lock box and a lady opened the door and I asked her 'Well, who are you' and she said 'I live here.' I said 'That's impossible.' I said that's 'My house."
7 News first exposed Ellis's actions last year after he claimed to own a house that belonged to someone else.
Pauline Hite: "He made some threats about the house and told me that the bank had fleeced me and that this was his home."
Ellis claimed an old law adverse possession allowed him to take vacant or foreclosed properties, but experts say that law applies only to abandoned properties, and takes seven years of paying for upkeep and taxes before ownership can be changed. Ellis took the stand in his own defense during his trial last month.
Fitzroy Ellis: "There was never a statute on the books in Florida for arrest under adverse possession."
He was found guilty of first degree grand theft in connection with this Plantation home, which was in the process of being sold. At sentencing, the state asked that Ellis get the maximum 30 years arguing the courts need to send a message to Ellis and others that they can't go around claiming property they haven't bought.
Don Tenbrook: "There have been claims of adverse possession in property takeovers not only in this county but other counties of this state and in other states."
Judge Jeffrey Levenson didn't give Ellis 30 years, but he did give him serious prison time.
Judge Jeffrey Levenson: "And you be sentenced to a period of incarceration of 60 months Florida state prison that shall be followed by two years of community control, followed by eight years of probation."
The 65-year-old Ellis turned away from the judge and toward our camera.
Fitzroy Ellis: "I am an innocent man. Channel 7 look at me smiling. I'm smiling for your camera. I am an innocent man."
Before he could be locked up, Ellis had one last thing to say. He wants a former judge in his case and two prosecutors arrested.
Fitzroy Ellis: "In open court sir, I'm charging these three persons with falsifying of public recordses through adverse possession and broke the law in the process."
Carmel Cafiero: "Ellis has more than that and more than his appeal to worry about. He is facing six more felony cases based on charges he tried to take home."
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