St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Connolly's hearing is delayed

Charges against the land speculator will come before the judge again on July 19.

By JEFF TESTERMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2002

Charges against the land speculator will come before the judge again on July 19.

TAMPA -- Land speculator Don Connolly will have to wait at least a month to find out if violation of probation and perjury charges will land him in prison.

In a hearing Thursday, Connolly's attorney, Norman Cannella, asked for a delay because the perjury charge had been filed only a day earlier. The perjury accusation stems from Connolly's failure to disclose his criminal record on a May 2001 state application for a notary license.

Connolly, a Valrico businessman who has made headlines with the practice of pressuring homeowners to pay top dollar for his tax deeds, pleaded not guilty to the new charge. Circuit Judge Debra Behnke allowed Connolly to be released on his own recognizance and rescheduled the probation violation hearing for July 19.

Connolly's legal problems stem from a 1997 tax fraud case in which he was accused of underpaying $512,713 in sales taxes at his Kinjite Motors used car company. State investigators wanted to charge him with a string of felonies, one for each month he had cheated on his tax remittances.

A plea deal enabled Connolly, 44, to plead no contest to a single count of grand theft and to agree to pay the Florida Department of Revenue $124,378 during a 15-year probationary term.

Days after being sentenced in 1997, Connolly bounced a $4,700 check to the state. State investigators asked that he be arrested on the bad check charge, but Connolly avoided jail by covering the check.

In July 2001, corrections officials took Connolly to court for violating probation by missing his $750-a-month restitution payments, but no action was taken.

Last month, after he made news by putting a fence around a lake he had bought in a $1,000 tax deed sale and demanding that adjacent homeowners buy the property for $450,000, Connolly was charged with violation of probation again, this time for falling behind on his restitution. In the next two weeks, he made five payments totaling $19,427 to get caught up.

Probation officials then charged Connolly with violation of probation a third time, for missing monthly restitution payments, failing to report to his probation officer, failing to report that he was employed lawfully and lying on a state notary application.

Until last month, Connolly had kept his real estate business concealed from his probation officer, listing his occupation as auctioneer even after his state auctioneer's license expired in November.

While he was missing restitution payments this year, Connolly borrowed $650,000 to fuel his real estate ventures but did not report it to his probation officer.

Conviction on the perjury charge carries a maximum five-year sentence. Judge Behnke could give Connolly 5 1/2 years on the probation violation charges.

"We've had him to court three times now," said Department of Corrections regional director Joseph Papy. "We'll just have to see what happens."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.