Update: A previous version of this story stated that Monique Price met Ortiz at the property in Miami Beach. This is false and the story has been edited to reflect this change.
Vivian Eudele Ortiz of Miami Beach, Florida is accused of allegedly scamming a total of $16,400 from two women from Ohio and Illinois who wanted to rent a mansion in south Florida that they thought belonged to Ortiz.
Ortiz, 31, was arrested on March 10 and faces charges for participating in an organized scheme to defraud, burglary of an unoccupied structure, and third-degree grand theft. News sources did not name an attorney for Ortiz.
According to the arrest report, Ortiz allegedly rented out a property in the 2200 block of Alton Road using the online property rental site HomeAway. She is accused of fraudulently accepted two deposits from Monique Price of Toledo, Ohio, and Katie Logan of Hinkley, Illinois. Both women reportedly saw pictures of the property on HomeAway, which has over one million listings in 190 countries.
Price, 50, reportedly paid $9,500 to Ortiz on behalf of clients who wanted to throw a bachelor party in June, and Logan, 49, paid $6,900 in fees to rent the property for a family Christmas vacation in Miami Beach.
When the Logans, a family of 14 and a baby, arrived in Florida on Christmas Day, Ortiz reportedly told her that the mansion was no longer available and tried to set her up in a one-room apartment in South Beach. Logan declined the offer and asked for a refund of her deposit, which Ortiz purportedly paid with a fake Bank of America check. Price’s clients reportedly learned of the alleged deception before their planned party in June.
Miami Beach city officials told the press on Thursday that they feared rental scams of this kind will negatively affect “the brand” of the city. “Not only do these rentals negatively impact the quality of life in residential neighborhoods, they are also damaging to the local economy and the Miami Beach brand,” said public relations manager Melissa Berthier in a statement.
City Manager Jimmy L. Morales echoed Berthier, saying, “We want everyone who visits this international hotspot to have a wonderful experience, and poor experiences like the one these families became victim to are detrimental to Miami Beach’s image.”
According to Berthier, the city has plenty of hotels, motels, and legal short-term rentals. She encouraged tourists to stay away from properties listed on the “unregulated shadow market.” Approved vacation rentals in the city must have proper authorization with zoning approval and a business tax receipt. Listings of properly zoned rental properties and business tax receipts can be found on Miami Beach’s government website.
Third-degree grand theft is the most common type of grand theft in Florida. It is defined as the intentional and unlawful taking of property valued between $300 and $20,000. All third-degree felonies are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or 5 years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
The penalties for organized scheme to defraud are based on the aggregate value of the property obtained by the scheme. Organized fraud of less than $20,000 is classified as a third-degree felony punishable by any combination of 5 years in prison, 5 years probation, and a $5,000 fine.