Attorney General Charlie Crist News Release
April 1, 2004
Media Contact: Jenn Meale
Phone: (850) 245-0150
$300,000 "Swampland" Scam Leads to Arrest
TALLAHASSEE – Attorney General Charlie Crist and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell today announced the arrest of a Citrus County man on a fraud charge stemming from the sale of flood-prone Everglades property to buyers who were falsely led to believe they would be able to build homes on the land. Dudley Cohn, 72, of Hernando, was charged in Miami-Dade Circuit Court with one count of first-degree organized scheme to defraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
"This is reminiscent of the classic scam of selling Florida swampland to unsuspecting buyers," said Crist. "It is important to ensure that modern-day versions of this type of fraud are not allowed to continue."
Cohn conducted his business through Florida corporations named Moving West Corp., Dudco, Inc. and Westwood-Ho, Inc. He is accused of pressuring buyers into making accelerated payments to him in order to collect the money before the federal government moved to acquire the property for much less than the original selling price. Victims reported a combined loss in excess of $300,000.
In the late 1980s, Cohn sold vacant land to 13 individuals in an area known as the East Everglades. The victims allege that Cohn misled them by claiming roads would be built to their property and that it was suitable for building. They further claim that Cohn did not disclose that Dade County codes would not have allowed construction of single-family homes on lots as small as 1-1/4 acres in that area. Cohn also failed to provide the required county disclosure indicating that the land was subject to periodic flooding and that no new roads would be constructed.
As early as 1982, the federal government began making plans to acquire the East Everglades as an addition to the Everglades National Park. Starting in 1999, the National Park Service began notifying some of the victims that the federal government intended to acquire their property for $1,000. Around this same time, Cohn began contacting some of the victims with an offer to deed the property in exchange for an accelerated payoff. Only after these victims sent additional money to Cohn in exchange for the deed to the property did they receive the federal government’s notice of taking the property.
The case will be handled by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.