Man accused of stealing St. Petersburg home is granted permission to evict tenant

Better Call Behnken

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A St. Petersburg man facing felony charges, accused of stealing several homes with fake deeds, has seen one victory in court.

Ernest Peterson was charged with scheme to defraud in February, and the state attorney’s office alleges he is part of a scheme, uncovered in several Better Call Behnken reports, to acquire homes without the permission of the real owners.

In a surprising twist, while he awaits his day in court, Peterson has been granted permission to evict the tenant in his home on 32nd St. North and take back possession of the home.

The deed shows Peterson bought the house for $0 from a woman named Phyllis A. Williams. The state attorney’s office says that deal never happened and that Williams says she never sold her home to anyone and doesn’t know Peterson.

The state has charged Peterson, along with a man named Jonathan Blue and a notary, Brittany Varner, with scheme to defraud. While the group await the slow judicial process, Better Call Behnken has found that another judge, Edwin Jagger, who is not involved in the fraud case, granted Peterson’s request to evict his tenant for not paying rent.

That tenant, Sharon Cummings, says she stopped paying rent after the arrest so she could save the money to find a new place to live.

“I don’t think he should make money from someone else’s house,” she said. “I don’t think he should have been able to evict me because it’s not his house.”

A spokesman for the Sixth Judicial Circuit send this statement:

“Ms. Cummings was served with a residential eviction summons on April 24, alleging she hadn’t paid $700 a month in rent from February through April. In all eviction proceedings such as this one, the tenant has five days to, among other things, file with the clerk of court a written explanation as to why he or she shouldn’t be forced to move. Unfortunately, Ms. Cummings didn’t respond to the summons, nor do any of the other things typically required. In a case in which the tenant doesn’t respond, a landlord is free to ask a judge to have the tenant evicted. This is what Mr. Peterson did. Had Ms. Cummings responded, the case might have had a different outcome.      

Cummings says she doesn’t recall receiving any summons and that she came home one day to find a notice of eviction on her door giving her a deadline to get out.

Peterson’s attorney, Jay Herbert, says there is more to this story and a much bigger picture that explains this. He said his client is cooperating to the full extent of the law.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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