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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Crime & Courts

Trailer park owner wins another delay during 8th court appearance

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— Tampa landlord Ross Copelliti, whose East Tampa trailer park was condemned by the city two years ago, has asked Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Dick Greco Jr. to recuse himself from a municipal court case in which Copelliti faces dozens of city code violations.

Copelliti, who also goes by Ross Scopelliti, didn’t appear in municipal court Wednesday. When Judge Lawrence Lefler, sitting in for Greco, called Copelliti’s name, attorney Ryan Schoeb stepped forward and asked for another delay in the case.

Schoeb said his client was waiting for Greco’s response to a call to recuse himself from Copelliti’s case. He didn’t specify why his client was seeking the recusal.

The motion for recusal was filed April 25, court records show.

Lefler pushed the case ahead to June 11.

The brief hearing was Copelliti’s eighth appearance in municipal court on code violations stemming from conditions at his Greenpark Residences trailer park. Last month, Copelliti’s trial attorney, David Fernandez, quit, telling the judge he and his client couldn’t agree on a strategy for handling the code case.

Copelliti has since hired Clearwater attorney Luke Lirot, who has represented night clubs and strip clubs at city hearings in recent months.

Copelliti was written up in 2011 for 24 housing violations at the trailer park on North 19th Street. The 18 single-wide mobile homes were in various states of disarray, prompting city code officers to condemn 17 of them as unfit for human habitation.

City officials cited Copelitti six times each for providing unfit rental housing, failing to provide electrical heat, failing to provide smoke detectors and letting floors, ceilings and walls fall below safe standards.

The property has been in bankruptcy since September 2012, about a year after Copelliti bought it. Court records show the latest bankruptcy hearing, on April 24, produced no rulings or orders in the case.

Soon after Copelliti bought the trailer park in 2011, city code enforcement officers opened eight violation cases against Copelliti regarding eight of the 18 single-wide mobile homes on his property. Those eight cases remain unresolved, though some are being appealed.

Two years ago, city officials forced nearly two dozen people living in the condemned trailers to move. Since then, Copelliti has boarded up the empty buildings but little else has happened with the property.

A single trailer there remains occupied by one person.

The city has issued demolition permits against eight of the trailers, some of which are also being appealed.

After more than an year of hearings at the city’s Code Enforcement Board, Copelliti has accumulated nearly $5 million in fines on the eight unresolved violation cases.

On April 22, Copelliti — this time under the name Ross Scopelliti — sued the city of Tampa in federal court alleging violations of his tenants civil rights when they were forced out of Greenpark.

kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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