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    Land sliver's buyer makes noisy landing

    The investor thrusts himself in his neighbors' faces, arriving in a helicopter to reach land behind their condos that he bought at a tax sale.

    By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 16, 2003

    LARGO -- Anthony Tocco says he bought a sliver of property at a tax sale to enjoy life's simple pleasures, like throwing a Frisbee, sunbathing and picnicking.

    His new neighbors at the Shadow Lakes condominiums suspect he is up to something more devious: gouging money from them.

    So last week when Tocco tried to cut through condominium property to get to his land, a strip of communal lawn at the condo complex that has no access from the street, Largo police gave him a trespassing warning. They also cautioned him against reaching his land by motoring across a nearby retention pond on a personal watercraft, which is against city ordinance.

    With no access from land or water, Tocco and a pilot buddy dropped into the condo complex by helicopter Saturday morning to hang a clothesline, spray-paint his phone number on the grass and taunt the neighbors.

    Inside the condominiums, one woman heard the chop of the helicopter rotor and thought terrorists were attacking. Two men said the sound reminded them of their Vietnam days.

    But it was just their new neighbor, flying in for a visit.

    Meet Anthony Thomas Tocco, 35, who weeks ago bought a 25-by-300-foot piece of land the condominium board hadn't paid taxes on. County property records say the land has no value, but the condo manager says Tocco paid $750 for it.

    Another investor in such properties, Don Connolly, became a household name around Tampa Bay last summer by employing a variety of tactics to get neighbors to buy the properties back at exorbitant prices. His land speculation infuriated property owners, who questioned how the county could let such parcels be sold.

    Tocco has a name for the practice: "Gumball machine real estate," he said, adding that he owns four or five of the properties. "Something small, inexpensive, really sweet, easy to get, no big closing statement. Put that in the paper."

    Pinellas County sent Shadow Lakes management a notice in August, saying the condos owed taxes on some communal property. Thomas Kapper, 65, who developed Shadow Lakes and runs its management company, said he called county officials and was told the notice was a mistake.

    Shadow Lakes recently got a second notice from the county. Kapper again called the county and asked how much tax money was owed. "They said, 'We don't know. We'll call you back,' " Kapper recalled. "When I called the next morning, the thing had already been sold at 8 in the morning."

    County Property Appraiser Jim Smith said Saturday his office has done all it can to let surrounding property owners know when a deed is for sale.

    "Sometimes people have to take responsibilities themselves," Smith said. "It's not fun when this happens to you, but gee-whiz."

    Kapper said Tocco offered to sell the property back to the board for $14,000.

    But when asked, Tocco was less specific. "I'm accepting offers," said Tocco, reached on his cellular phone Saturday as he rode a personal watercraft around the Intracoastal Waterway. "It is for sale. Isn't everything for sale?"

    Tocco said he lives in Clearwater and makes his living as an independent contractor who does odd jobs. According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, he was arrested seven times and convicted twice: once in 1995 for carrying a concealed weapon and once in 1996 for assault on a Clearwater police officer.

    "We all learn from our mistakes," Tocco said, "and I've got a lot of experience."

    He could be headed for even more problems. Largo police investigated the helicopter landing Saturday, noting that the chopper landed 22 feet from a residential building. Largo police Sgt. George Edmiston said the information will be forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration for investigation.

    Kapper, the Shadow Lakes manager, is advising condo residents to ignore Tocco, even if he resorts to publicity-grabbing stunts.

    "My advice to the association is to sit tight. Just sit and wait," Kapper said. "This guy's harassing everybody and he's looking for attention, but he can't do anything on that land. He'll go away someday."

    -- Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and photographer Carrie Pratt contributed to this report.

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