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St. Pete landlord changes mind on federal plea deal

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Michael Moshe Shimshoni Michael Moshe Shimshoni
Apartments where Michael Shimshoni falsified lead contamination disclosures Apartments where Michael Shimshoni falsified lead contamination disclosures
ST PETERSBURG, FL -

One of St. Petersburg's most notorious landlords has backed out of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and will not plead guilty to falsifying records related to an EPA investigation of lead contamination at one of his many rental properties.

Michael Moshe Shimshoni was supposed to enter a guilty plea Monday morning but notified the court just hours beforehand that he had changed his mind.

Shimshoni couldn't be reached for a response and his attorney wasn't talking.

"No comment," said Matthew Farmer, the lawyer who helped forge the plea deal and signed it July 8 along with Shimshoni and federal prosecutor Matthew Mueller.

After Monday's canceled hearing a federal court clerk said it is now up to prosecutors to seek a federal grand jury indictment if they want to move the case forward.

Federal prosecutor Matt Mueller has filed an "information" in the case but has not formally charged Shimshoni with the offense outlined in the proposed plea agreement signed in July.

If charged and convicted Shimshoni could spend up to 20 years in prison and faces a possible $250,000 fine for his crime.

In the now-defunct plea agreement federal prosecutors said they wouldn't oppose a sentence "at the low end of the applicable guideline range." It would be up to a federal judge to impose a sentence.

Shimshoni is in trouble for backdating disclosure forms he submitted under subpoena to a federal grand jury. 

According to court records, the documents falsely made it appear he had warned tenants about the danger of lead contamination before they signed lease agreements with him at the aging multi-unit building he owns at 1075 17 Ave. N. in St. Petersburg.

According to federal court records Shimshoni "spoke with his tenants and had them sign the disclosure forms only after he became aware of the EPA investigation and was served with the Grand Jury subpoena."

Stephanie Lowney isn't part of the case because she moved into one of Shimshoni's apartments at the 17th avenue property with her two-year old toddler only five months ago, long after the EPA first began investigating lead contamination found on the ground and in the soil of Shimshoni's property in 2011.

Lowney said last March a representative of Shimshoni's property management company showed her pamphlets about the danger of lead but said it was not a concern at that location.

"I asked her if there was lead in the house because I couldn't live somewhere with my baby that had lead and she said there's nothing to worry about, it's already been removed from the house," said Lowney.

"Just recently I found out there is lead all over the apartment and I've been here since March, " Lowney said. "That's not cool." Lowney said she never would have moved into the apartment had she known.

Shimshoni did not return calls for comment at his property management companyAffordable Realty.

Neighbors have long complained about the condition of the 17th avenue apartments they consider an eyesore on their street. "It's embarrassing to actually have people come over," said Suellen Glover who lives across the street.

"When he bought it he made some promises that he was going to fix it up and what not and obviously that has not happened,"said Glover.

Shimshoni's troubles with federal prosecutors comes as no surprise to city authorities who have been pestering him for years to maintain his properties and eliminate rampant drug use and prostitution activity involving tenants in a number of his properties.

"He has paid over $41,000 worth of fines," said Elizabeth Ledbetter, St. Petersburg's Nuisance Abatement Coordinator. The fines stem from problems with drugs and prostitution at some of the 120 or so properties that Shimshoni owns or controls in or around St. Petersburg.  

Ledbetter said Shimshoni's properties are responsible for 20% of the cases handled by the city's nuisance abatement board. Some of the violations go back as far as 1998.

"Usually when someone is brought before the nuisance abatement board it's a one-time thing," said Ledbetter.  Not so with, Shimshoni. "You can't claim lack of knowledge when you've been warned and warned and warned," said Ledbetter.

The city's code enforcement workers also have thick files on many of Shimshoni's properties because of his failure to properly maintain them.

In a letter to the federal prosecutor handling the EPA violation, City Council member Steve Kornell points out that Shimshoni has faced city liens totaling $66,861 for numerous code enforcement violations at his properties ranging from his failure to obtain proper permits and required inspections to property maintenance.

Kornell says the city has also assessed Shimshoni $19,000 for grass cutting and landscaping work to "avoid rat and snake infestations" on his properties.

"The reoccurrence of code violations and nuisance activity has a direct negative impact on our community" Kornell said in his letter.

The city council member asked that his information be provided to  Federal Magistrate Thomas Wilson who was supposed to accept Shimshoni's guilty plea before Shimshoni changed his mind.

Whatever happens now, homeowner Suellen Glover hopes that something will change with the property Shimshoni owns across the street from her house.

Glover says fights and drug dealing abound among some of Shimshoni's more transient tenants and the rundown rental units have created a blight on the neighborhood.

"If you went a block over you'd find it's a completely different world, said Glover. "They don't have an eyesore like this."

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