FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. - Some of the 1.8 million people who flock to the sand at Fort Myers Beach every year nearly lost their vacation after a local agency scammed them out of thousands of dollars.
Erik Ruhs from Norway has been planning his family vacation to Fort Myers Beach since September of 2011. The family had a beautiful beachfront home rented for a week. Or at least they thought they did.
"It's not a happy situation when you're in Norway, halfway across the world, and we don't have a house and we didn't know why," said Ruhs.
Ruhs booked a home through Fun in the Sun Rentals, a local company operated by Erik Prescott. Ruhs paid the $800 deposit on September 26th, 2011. In April, he paid the remaining balance of $2,164.
But ten days before they were about to leave Ruhs received an email from Prescott, saying the reservation could no longer be honored and Fun in the Sun Rentals could not help them find another place to stay.
Prescott promised to pay Ruhs back, but that hasn't happened. The Fun in the Sun office on Estero Boulevard is closed. The website no longer accepts reservations and the phones go unanswered.
But WINK News discovered this rental agency ripoff goes much deeper than one family. Erik Prescott took the Ruhs family's money and waited until June to tell them they couldn't stay in the house on Estero Boulevard. But WINK News found out that Prescott hasn't had the right to rent that particular house for the last seven months.
The home at 3770 Estero Blvd is owned by a Chicago man. He told Lee County Sheriff's Detectives that he ended his relationship with Fun in the Sun Rentals in November of 2011. The owner claims Prescott owes him nearly $14,000 in back rent payments.
Same story with Donald and Linda Swain, owners of a different beach property who used Fun in the Sun to find tenants. In February, a Lee County Judge awarded a default settlement for $24,000 in back payments. Their lawyers tells WINK News that Prescott never showed for any court dates and he hasn't paid the Swain's a dime.
Prescott also owes the Florida Department of Revenue nearly $30,000 in unpaid taxes.
WINK News spoke to Prescott briefly last week. He has left town, but insists he'll pay everyone back. Though he couldn't provide a timetable. He agreed to do a phone interview with us the next morning, yet when our crews called him back there was no answer.
Erik Ruhs hasn't been able to get ahold of Prescott either, and he doubts he'll ever get his $3,000 back. But he has some things he would like to say to Prescott.
"Don't you think about people who are coming here, who have been planning this vacation for 10 months," Ruhs said, "don't you have a conscience."