Land Grab

We ask questions and a historic land battle is won

Three messages New Times left at House's last known address in Naples, Florida were not returned. House's lawyer for the case, Helio De La Torre, said he had "no recollection" of either House or the suit. Public records indicate the founding member of De La Torre's law firm — Steven M. Siegfried — and House formed a company together in the early Seventies called House Realty Incorporated. Four additional corporations spanning four decades also link House, Siegfried, and De La Torre, including the Everglades Preservation Society, formed just months after House sued Jones.

Almost two years after being banished from Duck Camp, House and De La Torre formed another Florida for-profit corporation, ironically called Duck Camp Inc. The duo dissolved the company in September 2001. De La Torre declined comment.

Approximately four weeks ago, acting on a whim, Jones's new boyfriend, a stocky, sandy-haired man named William Farson, decided to check on the property. He was astonished to find evidence that someone was still using the dwellings: The beds were made, oyster shells blanketed the floor, the generator was up and running, and coolers lined the interior walls. Further investigation revealed that in 2003, the South Florida Water Management District had issued a lease to the Jones's property. The name on it was Hugh House. It stated for an annual rent of $1800, the land was his.

For the next twenty years.

"I was so mad," spits Jones. "Why are they leasing out land that doesn't belong to them?"

The answer lies with the director of land stewardship for the South Florida Water Management District, Fred Davis. "Since the mid-Forties people with airboats have gone out there and built camps without permits, without knowing whose land they were on," says Davis. "Over the years the State tried to find out a way to regulate them but nothing ever worked.

"There are about 80 camps out there with no addresses. About 40 percent are owned by the district, 40 percent by the state, and 20 percent by private parties." According to Davis, a 1999 law states any hunting camps the district owns can be leased out for twenty-year periods.

"It appears we misplaced a camp and identified it as being on district-owned land. Apparently it's on a parcel of land that Miss Jones owns," Davis says.

Damien Garramone, an environmental specialist from the Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed the error. "It seems the GPS tracking devices were off by about 1000 yards," he says, "which means the lease will be canceled."

But if Jones wants House off Duck Camp, she must file a civil lawsuit, Davis explains. Thus it seems she will have to pay for a lawyer, again, if she has any hope of removing the man whom a Miami judge once ordered to stay away: "I just want him to get the hell off my property."

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