When a U.S. Army specialist was deployed to Afghanistan, he never could have predicted that two years later he would end up in a legal battle to return to his own home.
Spc. Michael Sharkey was deployed in 2012. When he returned to the U.S., he was stationed in Hawaii, where he lived temporarily with his wife. The couple owned a home together in New Port Richey, Florida.
In the time the Sharkeys were away from their Florida home, a couple allegedly broke in the home, changed the locks, and decided that they were staying put.
Julio Ortiz and his girlfriend, Fatima Cardoso, told WFLA that they were hired under a verbal “contract” by a friend of Sharkey’s to renovate the soldier's home in exchange for room and board. Lisa Pettus, Sharkey’s friend who is looking after his house, denied the claim, saying she never hired them to do work and never let anybody stay in the house.
“I don’t want problems,” Ortiz told WFLA. “We’re not doing anything wrong.”
According to WFLA, Ortiz and Cardoso are both ex-cons. Ortiz spent 12 years in a New Jersey prison for selling drugs on school property, robbery and car jacking. He was also arrested three separate times in Florida's Pasco County in 2013 on minor charges.
Cardoso has served more than two years in prison on drug charges. She was arrested seven times on drug charges between 2011 and 2014, reports TheBlaze.
Sharkey attempted to have the couple removed from his house by law enforcement, but was told by sheriffs that because the couple established residency in his home, it was a civil matter and would require a court order to have them evicted.
Needless to say, Sharkey was outraged by what he learned.
“They are criminals,” Sharkey told WFLA. “I am serving my country, and they have more rights to my home than I do.”
As the word about Sharkey’s situation got out, his fellow veterans became furious. Lauren Price of Veteran Warriors said she heard from veterans all over the world who were willing to help Sharkey. An attorney even offered to handle the eviction process free of charge.
Local volunteers offered to keep an eye on the house to prevent vandalism.
Two motorcycle clubs from Tampa, with a high percentage of members who are veterans, said they would be stopping by the house to “peacefully make the squatters uncomfortable.”
Sharkey’s house was reportedly found in terrible shape, with broken windows, destroyed floors and garbage all over the house.
Detectives eventually discovered that Ortiz was siphoning electricity from other homes in the area, so he was charged with grand theft, KHON 2 reports.
Cardoso was charged with violating her probation because she has 21 arrests, including several felony charges. Both Ortiz and Cardoso were arrested.
Veteran Warriors led an effort to renovate Sharkey’s home after the couple was arrested. They enlisted volunteers from the community to help out and used supplies donated by local businesses.
Sharkey and his family were stunned to see what their home looked like when they returned.
“They’re clean, they’re beautiful, the kids have their own rooms back,” Shakey told KHON 2. “This is the house that I raised my family in. My boys grew up here. My daughter grew up here also. We lived here for 16 years.”
Thanks to some generous friends and supporters, Sharkey can live in his own house once again.