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EASLEY, SC (FOX Carolina) -
At least seven families will soon be kicked out of their homes.
The Pickens County Sheriff's Office said those families were made victims by 38-year-old Anthony Williams, who was arrested Thursday morning, accused of fraudulently renting homes to them. According to jail records, Williams was charged with seven counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent.
Investigators said he presented himself as a pastor then rented out mobile homes in a park that didn't belong to him.
Williams was released from jail on the promise that he'll show up to court for his charges, but now the real owners of the property have to figure out what to do with all the tenants whom they never signed leases with.
Renter Ashley Baker said she noticed some things were a little off when she first rented from Williams in December. She said he didn't have the keys but figured because Williams said it had been a foreclosed property, she hadn't questioned him.
Baker said that rent at $600 a month, including utilities, was too good to pass up.
Sheriff Rick Clark said if things like that don't seem right, they probably aren't. He said tenants paid rent weekly, or bi-weekly.
"Which a lot of times criminals will set up, the quicker they can get the cash, the better it works out for them. If he was doing monthly rent," Clark said. "The chances of him getting caught before he got the rent would be greater."
Park owner Bill Reeves said he had worked with Williams and his ministry on other projects in Greenville, and asked Williams to stay at the house at the park to keep watch, not to rent them out.
Reeves found out about the illegal tenants when neighbors called him about roaming dogs and kids in the area. He said he called Williams, who denied any knowledge of people there. By the time Reeves showed up at the park, Williams was gone.
Reeves was then left with unexpected tenants and thousands of dollars worth of power bills.
Thursday night, Reeves went to talk to tenants about possible options and warn them that they will likely see notices to leave, soon. Deputies were called to ease the tension between Reeves and tenants.
In the end, the property belongs to the Reeves. Investigators said they have the right to file "right to quit" notices, which would give these renters five days to leave. Reeves said that is their plan. He said he understands that the families may not have better places to go, but that's why he's let them stay and paid their bills so far.
Reeves said if he was to offer leases to the current renters, they would need to pay their own utilities and not have any animals.
Clark said house squatting, or renting foreclosed properties that don't belong to people, is a trend across the country. He said finding property records is easy to do online and important in situations like this.
"Make sure you know who you're dealing with and the person you're giving your money to actually owns the property or has a contract with somebody to take care of the property," said Clark.
Williams has a criminal background. He's been in and out of jail since 1996 on drug charges, domestic violence, fraud, forgery and for writing more than 100 fraudulent checks.
The sheriff's office wants anyone that may recognize him as someone they've done business with or rented from to call them because they could be victims, too.
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