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Woman regains property she lost in a roofing scam

The roofer involved in the case has pleaded no contest to a charge of grand theft.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000

LARGO -- Patricia L. McMullen on Monday finally got back a valuable piece of property from Garry Raymond Watson, the roofer prosecutors accuse of stealing the land from her.

Only time will tell if the 84-year-old Clearwater woman ever gets her second wish.

"I wish Mr. Watson a long life," Mrs. McMullen said. "And when he turns 84, I hope somebody comes along and does to him the same thing he did to me."

Mrs. McMullen's words came after Watson, 32, of Pinellas Park pleaded no contest to a grand theft charge in the theft of a $110,000 property off McMullen-Booth Road that the woman has owned for more than 50 years.

Pinellas prosecutor Bill McLeod said Watson fooled the woman into signing a deed transferring the land to him in late 1998.

At the time, Watson was doing roofing work on a house Mrs. McMullen owns and, McLeod said, the woman believed she was signing documents relating to that work when she actually signed over her land.

Watson then used the property as collateral to obtain a $64,000 loan from a bank.

In a plea agreement, Watson was sentenced to eight months' house arrest, to be followed by three years' probation.

The time will be served concurrently with a sentence he is serving for several unrelated convictions, including heroin possession and dealing in stolen property.

McLeod said prosecutors agreed to the sentence only because Mrs. McMullen wanted her land back. Without the plea deal, she might have been forced to sue Watson in civil court. And even then, her prospects were uncertain.

Watson provided AmSouth Bank with a second piece of property to replace Mrs. McMullen's land as his loan collateral, the prosecutor said.

Watson refused comment after his plea when asked how he obtained the new property.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin told Watson he was lucky the victim and prosecutors agreed to the plea.

"I certainly hope this is never repeated," the judge told Watson. "I find that taking advantage of elderly people is one of the most-reprehensible and underpunished crimes in Pinellas County."

Absent a plea deal, Laughlin said she would have no problem sending him to prison for the maximum 15 years the law allows on the charge.

Watson told investigators that he paid Mrs. McMullen $30,000 for the land transfer. He even provided a receipt that he said the woman signed.

But the signature was either a fake or Mrs. McMullen was fooled into signing it, prosecutors said.

"I never got $30,000," said Mrs. McMullen, who suffers from colon cancer. "What does he think, that I buried the money in my back yard?"

The property is less than a mile from the home Mrs. McMullen currently lives in. It's on a heavily wooded, undeveloped lot. A dilapidated home sits on it. Mrs. McMullen lived in the home 43 years before moving out in the 1990s.

"I'm going over right now to count all the trees," she said. "If I find any missing, I'm going to sue Mr. Watson."

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