Embezzlement and eviction: A nightmare for townhome residents
ST, MARTIN, Miss. (WLOX) - Dozens of residents of the Southwind Townhomes in St. Martin are trying to piece their lives back together again. This comes after the former property managers were arrested on embezzlement charges. The residents said the managers collected their rent, used the money for themselves and then sent out eviction notices for lack of payment.
The residents gathered in the Southwind Townhomes business office, with their tales of despair. Ex-managers Mariette and Eric LeFort were arrested last month on embezzlement charges.
The owner of the complex Wayne Breaux estimated the total money missing is at least $50,000 and probably more taken from those who live there, including Jamie Jensen.
“Thank God I have my check stubs," Jensen said. "I mean, who steals somebody’s rent? You’re basically stealing money out of my kid’s mouths. I was worried I was going to have to pay my rent again, was my biggest fear.”
Residents said there were indications that something was not quite right.
“I saw something coming, but it was a real shock that is was to this extent," said Justin Herbst. "I thought it was more just one or two units, not 10 or 12 units that were affected by this.”
Breaux and the Leforts parted ways after something happened in his office.
“The three folks that had received eviction notices that came into the office with proof of payment was the beginning of the end that particular day. Because I clearly told him that there are more problems and these three folks are only the tip of the iceberg,” Breaux recalled.
Other residents, like Robert Hawthorne, had questions of their own.
“When we got the eviction notice, we came up here and we simply asked him why do we have an eviction notice, and his answer was, ‘It’s OK, don’t worry about it. I’ll have everything taken care of,'” he said.
Some of the residents ended up going to justice court where Breaux asked Judge Sheila Osgood to dismiss all the evictions. The judge was sympathetic.
“It was very traumatic. The people that came in, they were very good people, and they actually came in in support of the owner. But they did state when they first got the eviction notices, they were in shock. They really didn’t know what was going on," Osgood said.
Even though they all still have a roof over their heads, for many the impact of the ordeal remains.
“There’s a lot of people in here who lost a lot more than I did, and they were put in a lot worse places than I was," said Sharon Arreguin. "But it’s scary when you don’t know what’s going to happen when you have people that you don’t know where you’re going to take them tomorrow.”
The turmoil has left a bitter feeling for Herbst.
“When a person shakes your hand, to me, that means a lot, and when someone cheats you out of your money and steals it, it’s a slap in the face," he said.
Despite his own personal losses that may never be recouped, Breaux remains committed to his tenants.
“I don’t believe in taking advantage of folks. I want to be able to sleep at night. I have three other businesses that I’ve been involved with for the last 27 years. I’m not perfect, but right is right and wrong is wrong, and that’s the way I run not only my business but my life," he said.
The LeForts are free each on $50,000 bonds, and the case will be presented to the next grand jury in Jackson County.
WLOX News Now tried contacting the LeForts to get their side of the story, even stopping by the couple’s St. Martin home, but they were not there at the time.
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