~ Attorney General wins significant damages from 2007 lawsuit ~
TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum announced today that a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand has been ordered to pay $6.4 million for running an elaborate real estate scam that prevented landowners from selling their property to anyone but him. Todd Teal, 63, was found to have recorded fraudulent affidavits claiming he had an interest in the property, thereby preventing the owner from selling to anyone else. The case was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Economic Crimes division.
“Floridians have every right to expect honorable representation from the professionals with whom they do business, and instead the victims in this case were essentially robbed by this individual,” said Attorney General McCollum. “This case should put others on notice that the penalties for such deceptive business practices can be very costly.”
The Attorney General’s lawsuit, filed in June 2005, alleged that Teal used a mail drop box in Marco Island as his “local” address and used the internet to identify land held in Florida, mostly by out-of-state owners.
Testimony from victims and witnesses revealed that Teal used deceptive contracts to induce landowners to contract with him. Teal then would refuse to make the deposit required by the contract, but would record a fraudulent affidavit in the public record against the landowner’s property. The affidavits recorded by Teal “clouded” the title to the property so that the landowner did not have a clear title and was prevented from selling to any other buyer.
The testimony revealed that by clouding the property titles, Teal gave himself an unlimited amount of time to arrange for another purchaser to buy the property. If a property owner objected to Teal’s tactics, Teal threatened litigation. According to the trial testimony, Teal has bought and sold hundreds of properties, turning more than $2 million in profit.
The Court determined that the titles to more than 200 parcels of Florida land were illegally clouded by Teal’s actions. Owners also suffered damages from lost opportunities to sell their land as well as legal expenses incurred while trying to clear their titles. McCollum’s investigators discovered that Teal has operated similar scams in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.
The Attorney General’s Office won the case at trial on September 20, 2007. Leon Circuit Court Judge William Gary ruled that Teal’s actions violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and also constituted slander of title. Earlier, the Judge entered a judgment blocking Teal from using deceptive measures to purchase Florida land and expunging or deleting the fraudulent affidavits from official county records. Describing Teal as a “scalawag,” Judge Gary issued a final judgment today for damages to the landowners, civil penalties and attorney fees and costs in the amount of $6.4 million.