For months the scene at a soldier's Florida home was a wild one: People and cars coming and going constantly, dogs running around unleashed, noise, strange characters — and a big cage of chirping birds to boot.
Army Spc. Michael Sharkey (Image source: WFLA-TV)
Thing is, the solider — Army Spc. Michael Sharkey — and his wife haven't lived in their New Port Richey house since Sharkey was deployed to Afghanistan two years ago. Now the couple lives in Hawaii where Sharky is stationed.
So what's been going on at their mainland digs?
Squatters apparently broke in, changed the locks, and refused to leave.
Julio Ortiz and his girlfriend, Fatima Cardoso, told WFLA-TV in Tampa that they had a verbal "contract" with a friend of Sharkey's — who agreed to look after the house — to do work on the property in exchange for staying there. Lisa Pettus, Sharkey's friend, denied Ortiz's claim, saying she hired him to do work, never agreed to let him live there, and never left them alone in the house.
"I don't want problems," Ortiz told WFLA-TV earlier in the week. "We're not doing anything wrong."
Julio Ortiz (Image source: WFLA-TV)
The sentiment never moved Sharkey a bit, especially after learning Ortiz spent a dozen years in prison in New Jersey for robbery, car jacking and selling drugs on school property; Cardorso spent more than two years in prison on drug charges.
What's more Ortiz was arrested three times in Pasco County last year on minor charges while Cardoso got busted there seven times on drug charges since 2011.
"They are criminals," Sharkey told WFLA. "I am serving my country, and they have more rights to my home than I do."
Indeed Sharkey tried going through law enforcement to remove Ortiz and Cardoso, but that turned out to be in vain — sheriffs said it's a civil matter and would take a court order to evict them since they established residency.
As you might guess, all of this has made other veterans and supporters of Sharkey absolutely livid.
Lauren Price of Veterans Warriors told WFLA that Ortiz picked the wrong house to squat in, adding that she's heard from veterans around the world who want to help. An attorney was secured who would handle the eviction process for free. Volunteers have since come forward and agreed to keep a close watch on the property to deter vandalism.
Then WFLA reported that two Tampa motorcycle clubs filled with veterans were planning to ride over to the Sharkey residence on Sunday "and peacefully make the squatters uncomfortable."
With that, Ortiz started packing up, noting the planned biker visit was one of the reasons he and Cardoso were leaving, WFLA said.
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Early Thursday morning the house seemed unoccupied. A few belongings were scattered on the front yard and two dogs were barking in the house. One of the animals jumped out of a broken window and ran around the yard. A Pasco County Sheriff's deputy responded to the scene waiting for the animal control to get to the house.
When Animal Control trappers arrived they eventually captured both dogs. Ortiz's friends came over and took the animals. Duke Energy crews came to the house to investigate how the squatters got electricity at the house.
Price said Veteran Warriors is organizing a cleanup and remodel of the house.