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Warrant out for ex-condo rental agent

Authorities say agency's closing cheated tourists and property owners.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published January 10, 2007


More than a year ago, Lorraine Blackwood abruptly closed her condo rental agency, Gulf Front Retreats.

In doing so, authorities said she left tourists who had already paid for their vacation rentals stranded, and cheated condo owners out of more than $150,000 in rental fees.

Now, a warrant has been issued for her arrest on a charge of grant theft, a second degree felony that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

"This has been a wide ranging investigation. We didn't complete it until last October," said Rick Adkins, an investigator for the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Affairs.

Adkins started investigating Blackwood in March 2005 when tourists and condo owners began reporting that Blackwood had taken money from tourists for condo reservations, but had not paid condo owners.

Adkins said he received more than 50 complaints and fully investigated more than 20. Those cases were reviewed by the State Attorney's office and formed the basis of the arrest warrant, issued Dec. 29 but not yet served.

Blackwood, who authorities believe is living in Seminole, could not be reached for comment. In 2005, Blackwood said she closed her agency because of her husband's failing health. Her husband, County Judge William Blackwood Jr., is now deceased.

According to Adkins, tourists and condo owners lost more than $150,000 in rental fees collected by Blackwood. In some cases, the fees were deposits, in others they were full payments for a week or more at rental condos up and down the Gulf beaches. Tourists didn't realize they had been cheated until they arrived and found they had no place to stay.