Where’s my security deposit? WINK News investigates possible elder financial abuse

Published: November 30, 2021 4:03 PM EST
Updated: November 30, 2021 5:43 PM EST

A Fort Myers veteran battles for his security deposit after moving out of an apartment building in the city. His family reached out for help after he couldn’t get his $3,200 back.

WINK News Investigative Reporter Celine McArthur finds out what happened with the man’s money and why that happened to him.

Eugene Strickland is slowly getting settled into his new waterfront apartment in Fort Myers.

“Homey comfy if you’re looking for just relaxing,” Strickland said.

He moved out of nearby Campo Felice at the end of September. He loved it, but the 55+ living facility was recently sold and transformed into a regular apartment complex.

Strickland said, “They took away all of the perks, so it was basically going to be a rental apartment.”

He moved out, and 55 days later, was still waiting for his $3,198 dollar security deposit to be returned.

“When they stopped answering my calls and such, tell my daughter, I said, Well, we can kiss that goodbye,” Strickland recalled.

Under Florida’s security deposit law, if a landlord plans to return the entire security deposit, it must be done within 15 days. If the landlord wants to withhold some of that money, they have to notify the tenant in writing within thirty days.

Strickland says he didn’t get the check or the notice. We reached out to Campo Felice’s property management several times to find out why. They didn’t return my calls or emails.

So, I went in person. The leasing agent at the front desk would not let me talk to property manager Gary Horlacher. When I asked for another way to reach him, she wrote down an email, which came back as invalid. I then reached out to Westside Capital Group in Miami, the owner of the Fort Myers property, but no one would talk.

Eugene Strickland speaks with WINK News Investigative Reporter Celine McArthur. (Credit: WINK News)

Criminal Attorney Lance Dunford doesn’t represent Strickland, Campo Felice, or Westside Capital Group, but I asked him to weigh in. He said, “It does beg the question, what is the intent here?”

“The knee jerk (reaction) is—is this criminal because of the type of vulnerable class that this gentleman is, you know, being elderly, we do have a charge on the books here in Florida, of exploitation of the elderly,” Dunford added.

“Mr. Strickland has the right to have law enforcement investigate this,” Dunford explained. “This is the type of place that’s used to dealing with elderly people, and knowing how sometimes there might be some challenges that that presents. Why would they not take that into consideration in this case?”

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office investigates financial crimes.

“When in doubt, it’s always best to report,” said Lee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Nestor Montoya. “It’s a lot worse later on down the road to have never filed a report when maybe you could have gotten that help and solved this case a lot faster.”

Florida Gulf Coast University legal expert Pam Seay, who is not involved in the case, thinks Strickland may also have a civil claim. While Strickland says he doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer, Seay says he may not have to pay.

“The statute allows for the tenant to have their legal fees paid for by the landlord if the landlord owes the money,” says Seay.

In the meantime, Strickland gets a call from property management at Campo Felice. They now have a check for him, and we were there as he made the walk back into his old building to get his money.

Eugene Strickland speaks with WINK News Investigative Reporter Celine McArthur. (Credit: WINK News)

Celine: “What do you think, when you see the check?”
Eugene: “I’m thinking it took an awfully long time and some sleepless nights.”

Celine: “How does it feel that it took all of this effort just to get what was already yours?”
Eugene: “Well, I wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for you and yours.”

Eugene hopes sharing his story will help other seniors.

“Well, I think this is the beginning,” Strickland added. “Because enough already, they think that a person, because they are over 60, 70 or 80 is stupid or something, you know, and are treated like well, worse.”

Strickland says when he got the check, Campo Felice management did not tell him why he had to wait nearly two months to get his money. He filed a police report with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, and we’ll keep you posted on what happens next. AARP reports more than 334 thousand cases of elder financial exploitation every year.

If you have something you want me to investigate, email me at [email protected].