St. Pete woman discovers she is renting stolen house

Better Call Behnken

Sharon Cummings was stunned when she saw her landlord on News Channel 8 last week. He was arrested, accused of fraud related to using fake deeds to steal homes in St. Petersburg. 

Making it even more shocking, her landlord, Ernest Peterson, is also her cousin’s husband. 

“It was shocking to me because I thought he was getting the houses legally.

“I had asked around and she said, ‘Ernest has a house you could rent and stuff like that’ and I said, ‘Okay!’ and that’s what I did,” Cummings said. 

The state attorney’s office claims Peterson is part of an elaborate scheme involving notary Brittany Varner and that a group of people falsified deeds and filed them in county records to make it appear that they bought the homes. 

In many cases, the homes were vacant at the time and owners didn’t realize their homes were stolen until after other people had already moved to rent the homes. They were told it was a civil matter.

Police started their investigation into these homes two years ago, but it stalled until our Better Call Behnken report highlighted a man’s quest to get his house back. 

The state attorney’s office reponed the investigation, and since then, the notary and two “buyers” have been arrested, including Peterson.

Cummings says she received a text message from Peterson shortly before his arrest saying that something had come up, and she needed to move out by April 1.

After the arrest, she says her cousin demanded rent money and told her the house was legally owned by her husband. Text messages show she threatened to change the locks on March 16, unless Cummings either pays her $700 in rent or moves out. 

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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