After mounting a successful restaurant business, Chicago native Katie Logan finally had the money to splurge with her extended family on what she called the “trip of a lifetime” in Miami.
The Logans, 14 people and a baby, planned to take a cruise first over the Christmas holiday last year and then spend Christmas Day in Miami at a nearly 8,000-square-foot home on Alton Road from short-term rental site HomeAway. The price tag for three nights was $7,000, and included a one-day yacht trip and Jet Skis.
But late on the night before the family flew to Miami, the homeowner, a woman they knew as Eudele, sent an email saying that the home wasn’t available anymore and that she’d set them up with another place in Miami Shores, Logan said.
That place, they found out on the day they arrived back from their cruise, also wasn’t available, so Eudele offered an alternative on Palm Island.
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I made her write me a check because I knew it was going to be a fraudulent check.
Katie Logan, Chicago business owner who was allegedly scammed by Vivian Ortiz
When the family arrived, the house was in shambles. TVs were ripped from the walls, the only two rooms in the house had no beds, and electricity didn’t work. A man in the home, who claimed to be Eudele’s brother, handed Logan the phone to talk with someone whose caller ID read “Vivian,” Logan recalled, even though Eudele responded.
“She said, ‘Oh yeah, we can fit 25 people in here, get blow-up mattresses,’ ” Logan said. “I said, ‘Look I did not pay $7,000 to have a slumber party for Christmas.’ ”
Then Eudele suggested yet another alternative: condos at an apartment building she managed. By then, Logan realized that Eudele was trying to scam them and asked for her money back.
“I made her write me a check because I knew it was going to be a fraudulent check,” Logan said.
And it was.
Eudele, whose real name is Vivian Ortiz, was arrested Friday in Miami Beach on charges of fraud, theft and burglary of an unoccupied structure.
Vivian Ortiz, police say, didn’t own the 2232 Alton Road home she had originally rented to the Logan family. The address of her company, I Love Miami Concierge, listed on her website, is actually Cybr-Caffe on Washington Avenue.
That’s because Ortiz, police say, didn’t own the 2232 Alton Road home she had originally rented to the Logan family. According to the police report, she also tried to swindle another group of unsuspecting tourists out of thousands of dollars by renting the same house. The home is listed as belonging to Gleason Properties LLC, based in Miami Beach, according to the county property appraiser.
And the address of her company, I Love Miami Concierge, listed on her website, is actually Cybr-Caffe on Washington Avenue, where co-owner Carlos, who declined to give his last name, said she was once an employee.
The case bolsters the city’s argument that sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO are turning Miami Beach into a short-term rental wild, wild west, with hosts who scam visitors and renters who pose safety threats to residents and hurt local quality of life. It is a complex battle that has pitted Miami Beach, one of the top short-term rental markets in the country, against rental companies that have to face the city’s steep $20,000 fines against violators.
Short-term rentals are banned in single-family homes on the Beach, like the one Ortiz was renting, and in some multi-family buildings. Ortiz and her company have been fined $60,000 for multiple violations between May and early February. The property on Alton Road has amassed $385,000 in fines in that time period, according to Miami Beach’s Code Compliance department.
“We want everyone who visits this international hot spot to have a wonderful experience, and poor experiences like the one these families became victim to are detrimental to Miami Beach’s image,” said city manager Jimmy Morales, in a statement.
Miami Beach added in a statement that the city “encourages visitors to steer clear from booking on the unregulated, shadow market.”
Ortiz and her company have been fined $60,000 for multiple violations between May and early February. The property on Alton Road has amassed $385,000 in fines in that time period.
HomeAway said fraudulent transactions on HomeAway are “incredibly rare” and the listing for the Alton Road home has been removed from the site.
“The overwhelming majority of bookings on HomeAway.com result in positive experiences for both owners and guests,” said spokeswoman Christina Song.
The Logans, who ultimately stayed at a hotel on Miami Beach for the remainder of their trip, expect to get their money back through their bank next month.
But Atlanta groom Randall Green, who was also allegedly scammed by Ortiz, is still in limbo.
He had planned a bachelor party for a group of 20 longtime friends at the same Alton Road home for this June, with a larger yacht that Ortiz had promised to secure the group. The rental came out to $9,500 for three nights. The group paid a portion of it after falling in love with the property during a December 2016 visit to Miami.
It’s just kind of heartbreaking. What do we do now?
Randall Green, Atlanta groom who was allegedly scammed by Vivian Ortiz
At that time, Ortiz briefly let them in — despite not owning the home. But after she stopped answering emails and phone calls, the groom realized something was up. When Ortiz made an unauthorized charge on the group’s card for $2,470, they called police.
Green said that while the experience didn’t deter him from short-term rentals altogether, it did leave him and his group — whose members had already booked trips to Miami in June — scratching their heads about what to do next.
“It’s just kind of heartbreaking,” he said. “What do we do now?”
Miami Herald writer David Neal contributed to this report.