Danielle put her key into the front door and was shocked when it wouldn’t turn the lock. The wife knew she and her husband had been gone for quite some time, but why would the locks change? Suddenly a suspicious-looking figure filled the doorway.
The squatter stared at her from inside her home, and she could already see the damage to the walls and floors. Danielle couldn’t help but burst into tears. “There’s nothing we can do now” – she sobbed. Suddenly, the idea came to her mind. There was hope, and it was now crucial to act fast until it wasn’t too late…
U.S. Army Specialist Michael Sharkey has an impressive career serving his country. He had always felt driven to this line of work and when he met his wife was relieved she understood his career goals.
The couple would move frequently but were finally able to develop a home base in Florida. It was a relief no matter where they needed to be for Michael’s work they could always return home. How far would one man go to protect his house and what would his country do for him?
Michael received a two-year assignment and let his wife know they would be leaving Florida the following week. The couple made plans with friends and neighbors to check on the property especially after any storms and to collect any mail.
When Michael locked his house’s front door he never imagined the state he would find his home in two years later. After being a decorated war hero, this man was about to lose his home due to a legal loophole.
Michael and his wife had a comfortable life and even though their home was tiny it was theirs. They had chosen to put down roots in New Port Richey, Florida. The couple always looked forward to finally returning home.
This last assignment had Michael based in Afghanistan and Hawaii. He was exhausted. When the couple found out his term was almost done, Michael’s wife flew back to their home to get it ready. When she drove onto her driveway, she entered a nightmare of civil law.
When Michael’s wife Danielle got to their house, she was shocked to see other people’s trucks and belonging in the driveway. In fact, she realized the house looked like it had permanent tenants.
Danielle walked up the driveway to the front door and knocked. A woman came to the door who was equally as surprised to see her. When Danielle asked what she was doing in her house, the woman laughed and slammed the door in her face. Suddenly it dawned on Danielle exactly what was going on.
Danielle got back in her car and called Michael immediately. While the couple had heard horror stories about squatters, they never thought it would happen to them and didn’t even know where to turn.
Michael tried to console his wife, but his blood was boiling. Who were these strangers living in his home and how had this even happened? It was time to get the police involved, but the boys in blue also had no answers.
Danielle called the local authorities and had them come to the house. She assumed when these squatters saw the police they would quietly leave to avoid facing charges. Instead, the squatters doubled down.
When the police knocked on the door, Danielle found out their names were Julio Ortiz and his partner, Fatima Cardoso. They were confused why Danielle was upset and said they had to contract to live in the house while doing renovations. A harsh reality almost knocked the wind out of Danielle.
Danielle knew that Michael hadn’t agreed to any renovations and wanted to know who Julio had spoken with. The man said this wasn’t a good time for the conversation and asked Danielle and the police offers to return.
The poor wife was shocked! Her husband was in a different country and strangers were living in her home. The police needed more evidence that she owned the property so everyone agreed to return the next day. Danielle and Michael spent the entire night in shock trying to piece together what had happened.
Julio Ortiz told the police he had been verbally contracted by Michael and Danielle’s friend Lisa Pettus to renovate the house. In exchange for the work, he could live in the house for free. The couple had changed the locks and now viewed the property as their rental home.
When Michael and Danielle reached out to Lisa she vehemently denied all claims about the contract. Ortiz had no physical contract and said this was a verbal agreement. It was turning into a “he-said, she-said” situation but why were the odds stacked against the original owners?
The couple’s friend Lisa Pettus spoke to the authorities and told her side of the tale. She had paid Mr. Ortiz to perform some repairs and even bought him supplies to perform the work.
When Mr. Ortiz dropped off the key to the property Lisa had not thought anything else besides the work was done. Now with damage piling up by the week to the one-story property Michael and his wife had no idea how to take back their home.
Mr. & Mrs. Sharkey, unfortunately, could not force the tenants out due to a small legal loophole. Instead, they would be forced to pay thousands in legal fees and take the matter to civil court.
Michael Sharkey was livid. He couldn’t believe after years of service to his country there was nothing to be done and someone had essentially stolen his home. The couple shared their battles and frustration on social media and an unlikely hero stepped forward.
Michael found out both the squatters had previous experience finding legal loopholes and had been in and out of jail for years. They had performed similar crimes before and usually always stayed until there was a legal payout.
All the utilities in the house were still turned off from when the Shakey’s had left for Michael’s term. Since Julio and his partner didn’t have a lease they were catching rainwater on the front lawn. It was clear they were not the correct owners but it would take a community hero to help the couple’s plight.
Michael and Danielle’s story attracted a lot of media attention and people emphasized the military soldier feeling powerless after dedicating years of service. One person, in particular, became fascinated with the case.
Lauren Price was the founder of the Veteran Warriors foundation. She had already served in the military and was appalled at the conditions and hurdles that many veterans faced after serving for their country. While Michael was not a veteran, Lauren knew she needed to help her military brother.
Lauren had contacts with many local veterans, a few of which belonged to a specific biker club. The members of the club did charity work in the community that included driving victims to court for protection or fundraising for causes close to the heart.
All it took was a message from their founder and the group was getting ready to ride to the Sharkey household. While Julio and his partner had been in jail for petty crimes, the combined members of this group were familiar with every weapon in military services.
Lauren did an interview with a local newscast in Florida that let the squatters know her troops were coming. She felt very strongly that this was the patriotic reaction. How can one man dedicate his life to serving his country and have people come and steal his home?
It wasn’t happening on Lauren’s watch and the bikers were scheduled to arrive at the house a few days later. While their tactics remained vague, the audience and neighborhood understood that you wouldn’t want to be home when they showed up.
Lauren referred to the event as a parade and said hundreds of the club members, all retired veterans, would be riding towards the Sharkey residence. News crews gathered to watch and see how Julio would respond to this company?
When the ride was scheduled to begin, Danielle decided to go to the house and stay close by with a locksmith. As she pulled onto the street, her eyes went wide and she squealed in the car. It looks like she could call off the reinforcements and eagerly dialed Michael’s number.
Danielle called her husband and excitedly told him the squatters had disappeared. Neighbors reported the couple packing up during the night and Danielle didn’t waste any time.
She called a locksmith and finally had possession of her home again. After she hung up with a grateful Michael, she realized the effects of the squatters would not disappear overnight. Everywhere she looked was damaged or dirty from the uninvited house guests.
Julio and his girlfriend had started an eclectic bunch of projects while squatting in the home but nothing had been finished. The unfortunate result was the house looked more like a construction site than a home fit for a family.
While hesitant to hand over the keys to anyone the couple knew they would need to hire a contractor to finish the work. They found a reliable recommendation and did daily visits to ensure no one was at the house after certain hours.
The community is still amazed that there was nothing the couple could do to save their home. It put a spotlight on a startling fact about the American legal system that left many homeowners nervous.
You need to be extra careful when you trust someone in or around your home for extended periods of time. The couple found a bright side by getting more involved with the Veteran Warriors and by also making this big decision about their future.
Michael and Danielle want to take the time to fix up their home and put it on the market as a rental property. Until they find someone they can trust, Danielle will no longer be traveling with Michael to avoid another disaster.
The couple is grateful to Lauren and Veteran Warriors for their fast response and hope to never see Mr. Ortiz or his girlfriend around their home in the future.