He's French, goes by Chris or Christian, and might just be the ballsiest criminal on South Beach. Last month, he hacked into a lockbox outside an apartment that was available for rent, took the keys, and plastered his cell phone number on signs near the building.
Then he rented the place out ... to four different people ... in two days.
"It's probably one of the craziest things I've ever seen," says Mike Benmeleh, the real-life realtor hired by the owners.
The first hint that something was amiss came in early July, after Benmeleh listed a South Beach apartment at 826 Euclid Ave. on Craigslist. Soon a very confused young woman phoned: "I saw your ad, and it's kind of weird, but I put down a deposit on that apartment yesterday and haven't heard anything since."
Benmeleh quickly agreed to meet her at the peach, two-story Art Deco building. Peering through the windows, they saw furniture, a TV set, and many other signs that someone was living there. Indeed the realtor soon learned the Gallic villain had even promised to hand over the TV set "for free" to a renter.
Most of the stuff belonged to Alexander Dutko, a Ballet Gamonet dancer who was among the first to buy into Christian's con. "He seemed totally legit, and I even toured the place with my parents," says Dutko, who is 21 years old. "He said, 'I'll try to speed this along to get it for you, and it's great that you came with parents.' He even made a fake background check credit report form for us."
Dutko filed a police report, but claims Miami Beach PD showed little interest in the scam. He never got back the $2,500 he gave Christian, but unlike the other ripped-off would-be tenants, Dutko worked out a deal with the real landlord to keep the apartment. "We're 99 percent sure he's flown back home to France," says Dutko, who tried for weeks to track the Frenchman down and turn him over to the cops.
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It's not an isolated case. In South Miami-Dade, on a quiet street near SW 127th Avenue and 208th Street, realtor Maggie Dokic knew something was very wrong when she pulled up to a house for rent to find the lockbox missing and a car in the driveway. When a woman answered the door, Dokic could see furniture and other homey touches around the allegedly uninhabited residence. "Why have realtors been stopping by all day trying to give tours of our house?" the baffled woman asked Dokic.
The couple told Dokic they had "rented" from a well-dressed Latin-looking fellow named Eddie.
"It was just awful to have to tell them to move out," she says. "It's a devastating crime, really."
All of this convinces Riptide of one thing: Even amid a painfully burst bubble, too-good-to-be-true is alive and well in the Miami real estate market.