A soldier returned from a two-year deployment in Afghanistan to find two strangers living in his Florida home, but they refused to leave for months.
Michael Sharkey said he had asked a friend to look after his New Port Richey house, reported WFLA-TV, and Julio Ortiz and girlfriend Fatima Cardoso claim that friend gave them permission to live there.
The couple know Sharkey doesn’t want them in his home, but they didn’t leave until their case became widely reported this week.
Ortiz claims Sharkey’s friend, Lisa Pettus, made a verbal agreement to allow the couple to live in the home while they made repairs and improvements to it.
Then they would work out an agreement to rent the home from Sharkey, who is currently living with his wife in Hawaii, where he’s stationed.
But Sharkey and Pettus both said no such agreement was ever made.
Pettus said she met Ortiz through another friend, and he agreed to help her make some repairs while Sharkey was deployed.
She supplied Ortiz with materials for the work but says she never left the couple alone in the house, but she found them living there about two months after the work was completed.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Pettus said. “And now they’re using my name to justify this. It’s wrong.”
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office told the soldier they couldn’t do anything about the squatters, describing the situation as a civil matter.
They told the soldier to file for a formal eviction through the court system because Ortiz and Cardoso had established residency in the home.
“I don’t think I should have to pay hundreds of dollars and go through that aggravation,” Sharkey said. “I work hard, long hours, and these people never had permission to live in my home. They should be thrown out.”
He’s also concerned the couple might have damaged to the home if they’re evicted.
Ortiz spent 12 years in New Jersey prisons for robbery, carjacking, and selling drugs on school property, and Cardorso served more than two years in prison on drug charges.
Both have been arrested multiple times in Pasco County since 2011.
“They are criminals,” Sharkey said. “I am serving my country, and they have more rights to my home than I do.”
But the couple abandoned the house Wednesday night, leaving behind two dogs and some personal items in the yard.
Dozens of volunteers have offered to help clean up and remodel the home through the Veteran Warriors organization.
Watch this video report posted online by WFLA-TV: