JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Action News has learned a scam targeting some of the city's most vunerable is becoming more common throughout the state.
On Friday, Barry Smith was arrested for operating an assisted living facility without a license. He is currently being held on a $50,006 bond.
Neighbors of one of the homes where sick and senior patients were living under Smith's care tell Action News the conditions in and around the home were quickly deteriorating.
Smith was arrested on two counts for repeated violations at two homes, while Vanita McCray and Joseph Bell are co-defendants in a similar case at two more Westside properties. Both McCray and Bell each face one count and were arrested Friday as well. Both have bonded out of jail.
Assistant State Attorney Mike Weinstein says the state's Medicaid Fraud Unit found all four homes in disrepair and notified his office of possible violations. Weinstein says the suspects were collecting money from the government to pay for care of the patients, but did not maintain liveable conditions. It's a taxpayer scam that Weinstein says is happening in neighborhoods of all kinds, all over the state.
"When we close up one shop, they tend to open up somewhere else, still recruiting people and literally get some of the same people back...In a state with many retirees, like Florida, we're seeing this happen more and more. It's a problem."
Justynn Sykes says he has walked by one of the homes operated by Smith hundreds of times. While he noticed the house needs work, he never imagined what was happening inside.
"Outside it's not too bad, but if you walk around the premises and look in the windows, you'll see cracks and and mildew."
A neighbor of one homes operated by McCray and Bell tells Action News he used to live there, until the ceiling of the front room caved in. He says he and his mother quickly moved, but he's aware that senior citizens moved in days later. The resident of another home operated by the pair says major renovations were completed before she moved in two months ago. She said she's heard rumors of elderly living there before her, but she's not familiar with McCray or Bell.
They are instances that leave Sykes appalled, and wondering how it could happen so close to his home.
"You're taking advantage of people that can't necessarily do anything. To know that it's going on around the city - not just here - that's kind of disturbing."
Weinstein says he believes Smith, McCray and Bell targeted their victims as they were leaving local hospitals and doctors offices.