When a U.S. Army specialist was deployed to Afghanistan, he never thought two years later he’d wind 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, living with his wife.
In the time the couple were away from their New Port Richey, Florida, home, a couple allegedly broke in the home, changed the locks, and decided that they weren’t going anywhere.
Julio Ortiz and his girlfriend, Fatima Cardoso, told WFLA they were hired with a verbal “contract” by a friend of Sharkey’s to renovate the home in exchange for room and board. Lisa Pettus, Sharkey’s friend who agreed to look after his house, denied the claim and said that she never hired them to do work and never let them stay in the house.
“I don’t want problems,” Ortiz told WFLA. “We’re not doing anything wrong.”
Both ex-cons, according to WFLA. Ortiz spent a dozen years in a New Jersey prison for selling drugs on school property, robbery and car jacking. Cardoso served more than two years in prison on drug charges. Ortiz was also arrested three times in Florida's Pasco County in 2013 on minor charges and Cardoso was arrested seven times on drug charges between 2011 and 2014, reports TheBlaze.
Sharkey made an effort to have the couple removed from his house by law enforcement, but sheriffs told him that because the couple established residency, it was a civil matter and would require a court order to have them evicted.
“They are criminals,” Sharkey told WFLA. “I am serving my country, and they have more rights to my home than I do.”
As word got out about Sharkey’s situation, other veterans were furious. Lauren Price of Veteran Warriors said she has heard from veterans all over the world who were willing to help. An attorney offered to handle the eviction process free of charge. Other volunteers offered to keep an eye on the house to prevent vandalism.
Two motorcycle clubs out of Tampa, with many members who are veterans, said they would pass by the house to “peacefully make the squatters uncomfortable.”
Sharkey’s house was reportedly in bad shape, with broken windows, torn up floors and trash all over the house.
Detectives eventually found out that Ortiz was siphoning electricity from other homes in the area, reports KHON 2. He was charged with grand theft. Cardoso was charged with violating her probation because she has 21 arrests, including felony charges. Both Ortiz and Cardoso were arrested in April 2014, according to KHON 2.
Veteran Warriors led an effort to renovate Sharkey’s home after the pair left in April 2014, enlisting volunteers from the community to help out. Local businesses donated supplies and materials for the renovation.
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 the house once again.