CORAL SPRINGS (CBSMiami) – Coral Springs Police say a con man promised people places to live but instead stole their deposits and strung them along for weeks, leaving them wondering where they would live.
Rico Cox, 26, is charged with several counts of grand theft, organized fraud and operating as an unlicensed real estate broker.
Victoria Penagos says Cox stole her deposit on a Coral Springs apartment near Riverside Drive. Penagos says she met Cox in August after seeing his ad on craigslist.com.
Penagos says Cox told her he owned the apartment. She says the asking price — $850 a month — and the chance to provide each of her children with a room of their own was perfect.
“Oh my God, this was the apartment, the blessing I was waiting for for me and my kids,” Penagos told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
But Penagos says the blessing turned out to be a curse. Investigators say Cox doesn’t own the apartment, isn’t a licensed real estate broker or realtor and has no right to rent the apartment.
Cox is accused of stealing Penagos’ cash deposit while she is left asking friends for a place to stay.
“Right now, we don’t have nothing,” she said. “Nothing. So that’s very sad for us.”
It’s sad for others too. Police say Cox pulled the same scam on at least two others.
Arrest reports show Cox asked the owners of the property — Controltek Corporation — for permission to show the apartment to prospective tenants. The reports say the company advised Cox that he had to send the client to the company for approval and that Cox could be eligible for a commission.
The company official also told police that Cox was not authorized to collect any money on behalf of the company, the arrest reports show.
Penagos kept records. She showed CBS 4 the rental application she says Cox asked her to fill out and the check she says Cox gave her to pay her back.
She says the check bounced.
“I learned my lesson,” she said.
During a court appearance Friday, Judge John Hurley reminded Cox that there are similar charges against him in Palm Beach County. Jail officials say Cox bonded out Friday.
We tried to pay him a visit at his Coral Springs apartment, however, a woman at his apartment said he wasn’t available.
Meanwhile, Penagos is in transition and keeps many of her belongings in her car. She says Cox took more than her money — he tore apart her family.
Her daughter was crushed not to finally have her own room and her grades have fallen, Penagos says. Plus, she says her 22-year-old son was forced to move in with a friend.
“We never split up,” she said. “Never. So this is very very hard for us.”
Cox’s attorney, Sam Gershon, says his client has never been in trouble before the arrests in Palm Beach County and Broward.
“His intention was never to defraud anybody,” Gershon said.
Experts say it’s not a good idea to use Craigslist.com or other online classified ad websites to find real estate to rent or buy.