St. Augustine City Commissioner JOHN OTHA VALDES is under investigation by the St. Johns County Property Appraiser for possible homestead tax fraud concerning the $139/night AirBnB rental of "THE TREE HOUSE," with a fake address of 344 Charlotte Street, which is actually a part of the homesteaded property at 343 St. George Street.
On AirBnB, VALDES is also committing possible unfair and deceptive trade practices, inter alia falsely claiming his garage apartment rental is in "Lincolnville," "THE neighborhood," and is "beachfront."
These material false statements in interstate commerce are in apparent violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, and Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), sections 501.201-.213, Florida Statutes, which is intended to "protect the consuming public and legitimate business enterprises from those who engage in unfair methods of competition, or unconscionable, deceptive, or unfair acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce."
On April 5, 2015, the Property Appraiser wrote Valdes et ux, asking questions about rentals. A response is due in 30 days.
At the April 22, 2019 City Commission meeting, as the first public commenter, I thanked St. Johns County Property Appraiser Eddie Creamer for his efforts to "make rich guys pay their damn taxes." Commissioner JOHN VALDES seethed. Later, Mr. Creamer made a great presentation about a proposal for a homestead exemption audit -- first ever audit of exemptions, proposing it be done with outside assistance of a third-party contractor, to be chosen by a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) bid process.
Like a proverbial "hog caught under a gate," VALDES showed his behind in public last night, April 22, 2019 on homestead fraud penalties.
After Mr. Creamer's presentation on the proposed RFQ and eventual contract, in response, by way of non sequiturs, a seemingly baffled, confused or conflicted Commissioner JOHN VALDES' asked a series of self-serving public questions to Property Appraiser Eddie Creamer during the City Commission meeting, without revealing this letter and his personal interest.
Self-described "fixer" Commissioner JOHN VALDES wanted Mr. Creamer to explain whether:
- the Property Appraiser needed approval of all taxing authorities,
- this were the last time Commission could stop the process,
- property owners who made innocent mistakes, who are "probably violating the homestead law but were not aware of it," saying the penalties were "quite severe," with "very significant impact," wondering if there was "a way around it" for such people, e.g., whether they could be forgiven penalties and interest out of "sensitivity." (Mr. Creamer said no, that's not what the law provides, as written by the legislature, which uses the word "shall." )
Watch VALDES on video here:
Item 7AGENERAL PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS
Property Appraiser Eddie Creamer will make a brief presentation detailing
the attainment of a third party auditing service. These efforts are pursuant
to enhance homestead compliance and ensure qualified business owners
pay proper tangible personal property taxes with the use of a third party
firm, while staying ahead of the county’s growth curve to generate a tax
roll that is fair, equitable and accurate. (J. Regan, City Manager).
Third generation Florida construction contractor JOHN OTHA VALDES moved to St. Augustine in 1992, having sold his construction company in the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to his Saudi and British partners. Elected in 2018, he described himself in a WSOS radio interview as "I'm a 'fixer' -- I 'fix' things."
At an April 3, 2019 City Commission meeting, VALDES spoke of wanting to abolish the elected position of Mayor because it causes "turbulence," and "confusion" to people moving here from Chicago or New York. He also stated that he wanted to allow nonresident property and business owners to vote in City elections.
Three heaping helpings of hypocrisy?
- VALDES fancies himself an advocate for affordable housing, saying his construction workers can't afford to live in the City, while renting his garage apartment for $139/night to tourist.
- VALDES has positioned himself as an advocate for regulating AirBnB rentals. Under Florida Statute 112.313(7), VALDES has a probable conflict of interest on AirBnB, being an AirBnB landlord himself.
- VALDES has also positioned himself as a member of the board of the Visitor and Convention Bureau, which promotes tourism and spends bed tax revenue.
- rapid response to information it received earlier this month, issuing an April 5, 2019 letter to the property owners, and
- rapid response to my Open Records request this morning.
One of the best-run government offices in our county!
I await a response and interview with JOHN OTHA VALDES.
Here is JOHN OTHA VALDE$ AirBnB listing, falsely claiming rental is in "Lincolnville," "THE neighborhood," and is "beachfront."