Authorities in Florida have announced the arrest of Stephen E. Shafer of Oklahoma City for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from dozens of victims and failing to turn over $100,000 in sales tax to the state.
Shafer, 49, was arrested in Oklahoma City on March 13 on charges of racketeering, organized fraud, and failing to remit sales tax. He was extradited and booked into Walton County Jail on Saturday. The press did not name an attorney for him.
According to the arrest affidavit, Shafer was responsible for managing vacation homes on the Gulf Coast through Sunburst Companies LLC. He purportedly managed more than 200 properties in exchange for commission fees and other liabilities. The money paid for property rentals was to be held in a trust fund on behalf of the owners. Shafer also collected security deposits from renters, which was also to be kept in the trust.
Shafer allegedly stopped paying the property owners what they were owed from rentals in October 2019. He then stopped paying Sunburst employees in January 2020 before completely shutting down the company’s operations. He also reportedly didn’t return security deposits to renters.
Beginning in December 2019, multiple victims, including property owners, renters, vendors, and former employees of Sunburst filed complaints against Shafer with the sheriff’s office. Almost two dozen property owners have reported losses totaling $189,730 and 18 renters have reported losses of $55,179, according to the affidavit.
Investigators believe the total financial loss will increase as more victims come forward. The affidavit claims as much as $3.4 million may have been illegally transferred from Sunburst bank accounts between December 2017 and November 2019.
Shafer purportedly started a new management company called Southern Sands in December 2019 and attempted to persuade the property owners to switch to this new company under a new contract for reduced fees, the affidavit alleges. During that time, a former Sunburst employee told detectives Shafer continued to take deposits even though he wasn’t paying employees or property owners. He also still wasn’t reimbursing renters, sources say.
Records from the Florida Department of Revenue show Shafer also failed to pay sales tax to the state from June 2019 in excess of $100,000.
Shafer was extradited to Florida and booked into Walton County Jail on March 21. He was released on bail the following day. He may face additional charges in this case.
In cases like this one, assets are often seized by authorities and used to cover unpaid taxes and other expenses. The press did not state whether Shafer’s assets were seized or what those assets may include. It is not clear whether the victims, including renters, property owners, and others, will be able to recover any of their lost funds.
Organized fraud is a felony offense with serious penalties. Anyone under investigation for organized fraud in Florida should immediately consult an experienced attorney who can review the case and determine the best course of action.
South Florida Fraud Attorney