Mark found a new accomplice one night out on the docks. Mark said Terry Backs told him they could make good money collecting wooden shipping pallets and selling them back to pallet yards for two or three bucks apiece. Another friend, Willie Lofton, told them about a place where there were hundreds of pallets just waiting to be hauled away. One night in April 1994, behind Central American Produce in Pompano Beach, they backed their truck up to the loading dock. On their second trip around, they got busted by the cops and arrested on charges of grand theft — later reduced to petty theft. Broward County Circuit Judge Bernard Bober sentenced Mark to community service and six months of probation.

"I had to make a living for my family," said Mark. "If it hurt someone, I really didn't care."

The arrest record, the constant drinking, and a stupid job making telemarketing calls pushed him into a self-indulgent hole. Angie moved out in 1996 and took their two young children with her. Mark had drunk and fought and sold his way into his mid-30s. He took a bunch of pills in his squalid apartment on Young Circle, closed his eyes, and waited for the end.

When he woke up under the harsh lights of the inpatient ward, Mark says he decided it was time to look for God. He said he found Him a few weeks later at the altar of a Spanish-language church in Hialeah, and it felt like wind was blowing through his hair.

Now Mark needed a respectable job and a good woman. He found both at the American Express debt collection offices on Oakland Park Boulevard. In 1997 he got a job making calls there, and when one customer named Marlene paid her bill, Mark called back and asked her out on a date. They went to see Titanic. One-hundred-and-ninety-four minutes later, they knew they would be together.

After he moved in with Marlene in February 1998, Mark set his sights on real estate. His internet research led him to start a credit-improvement consulting service, and he worked part-time from home until a friend with a mortgage-lending business let him set up shop at an empty desk. By 2004, Mark was ready to open a mortgage business of his own in Coral Springs, called Mortgages for America. Finally, in 2006, Mark sent away for the "Real Estate Investor's Success Packet" from the website cashflowinstitute.com. There, buried among the lessons on refinancing and survey markers, was a strange concept: adverse possession.

The law has been in the Florida statutes since 1869, mixed up with other remnants of frontier litigation that are mere trivia in the modern world of subdivisions and mortgage fraud. It says that if you take over somebody else's land, let the county know, and pay the taxes, it's yours to keep after seven years. If the rightful owner comes to kick you off the property before the seven years are up, you'll be forced to leave.

In 2008, when Mark read about adverse possession, the South Florida dream of accessible luxury had ripened in the sun for half a century. Almost overnight, South Florida was filled with foreclosures and overbuilt, empty developments. Mark realized there might be a way he could put people in foreclosed houses, sidestepping the banks, and it would all be legal. He could even charge rent, and make enough money to support himself, Marlene, and their two children. He would call the business Saving Florida Homes.

He remembered the doctrine of biblical tithing: Ten percent of one's income should go back to the Lord. Mark said he made a promise: "Lord, for every ten houses that I get, I'm going to take one house and give it to someone you need to be there." He prayed.

"It's one of the hardest things I've done in real estate, and the biggest part is, it's uncharted territory," he said later. "Adverse possession has been on the books since time, but no one has looked at it the way I happened to look at it, and do with it what I did."


Ed and Shelly Nichols had nowhere to go.

They had three kids between them, and Shelly was pregnant with a new baby. Ed lost his job in construction, and Shelly's complicated pregnancy forced her to leave her job at Royal Caribbean. With no other option but homelessness, the couple put their things in storage and moved into their mothers' houses.

The living arrangement, her hormones, and his bruised ego threatened to split them for good. Sometimes they would all pile onto the couch at Ed's mom's house to watch cartoons on the big TV, but they could never relax there.

One night during the week before Thanksgiving in 2009, Ed and Shelly went down the street to visit their friends, Fabian Ferguson and Juslaine Charles. This couple was also on the dark verge of homelessness: They were being forced out of their home at the end of the week. After talking with Shelly, Juslaine called a pastor she had met in church once, who said to call if she was ever in financial trouble. Pastor Jerry said he knew a man who might be able to help.

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17 comments
SHINDIG
SHINDIG

MARK SAID THAT HE HAD TO MAKE A LIVING AND IF IT HURT ANYONE " I REALLY DO NOT CARE" U CALL THAT ' A LIVING"????? HE SITS IN A FORECLOSED HOME,HAS A CONDO AND YES SIRRY BOB" HE  DRIVES AROUND IN A HUMMER LOOKING FOR MORE VICTIMS!!!! ONLY IN FLORIDA!!!!! HE SHOULD BE HANG BY HIS BALLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

JUST WHO DOES MARK THINK HE IS,GOD??????????????????????? HE SHOULD BE IN A DARK,COLD CELL,TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

HE STANDS PROUDLY,HANDS ON HIPS ,DARK SUNGLASSES,READY TO PRAY ON INNOCENT PEOPLE,JUST LIKE HIS SISTER OR  SHOULD I SAY :SWINDLER" HE SHOULD BE IN JAIL,WHO DID HE PAY OFF??????????????????????????????????

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

MARK IS A THIEF,LIAR,SWINDLER AND GOES TO CHURCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

Steve Dibert
Steve Dibert

If anyone gets a sales pitch where the salesman talks about finding God after doing drugs or alcohol for decades, run, run fast and far. Most of the clients I get who are victims of foreclosure ripoff schemes tell me they get the same pitch.

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Sam
Sam

Sadly, there is enough blame to go around, the banks, the developers, the complicit planning boards, the home owners, the mortgage companies, the squatters. All play their part.

EndAdversePossession
EndAdversePossession

Adverse possession needs to be abolished. It is an outdated, arcane, unnecessary and unjust law that needs to end. People like Mark Guerette pervert it as an effort to take something for nothing. This is why it is called "legalized land theft." Legislators should be ashamed for not doing anything about this horrible law.

Chsnttb
Chsnttb

Guerette made $30,000 a month working for some shady mortgage company before the bust... he should be investigated for mortgage fraud, which is more offensive than his more recent activities.

guest
guest

How typical.... the family lives rent free for 6 months and is offered thousands to move out and they are still complaining that they have nowhere to go....

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

U MUST BE HIS PAL,DICKHEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

MARK IS STILL AT IT AND SO AIN'T THE SWINDLER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHO IS BIG ENUOGH TO STOP HIM,CERTAINLY, NOT THE COPS,AFTER ALL,THEY PROTECT SCUMBAGS LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tostupid
Tostupid

Before you throw stones maybe you should find out the truth. This story is incorrectly written and leaves out many pertinent facts. Mr. Guerette help the Smiths out with a place to live after Mr. Smith keep getting turned down due to his poor credit and his criminal record of drug dealing. If what Mr. Guerette was doing was so criminally wrong, why did Mr. Smith stay living on the property, why didn't he pack up and leave. Mr. Smith and his family were warned that a day would come when they would have to move. So they decided to stay anyways for over 12 months which they aid no rent to any body. He claims he spent 10 grand on living there which is odd due to the fact that he sided with the state to accuse Mr. Guerette of wrong doing then he stays in the house and spends 10 grand to fix it? Mr. Smith show the receipts...What did you do with all the money you saved by living rent free off the back of Mr. Guerette?

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

THIS MUST BE MARK TALKING ABOUT HIMSELF,IF NOT,IT MUST BE HIS SWINDLER SISTER OR HIS WIFE,MARLENE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

007 U AIN'T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SHINDIG
SHINDIG

FUCKING LIAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 
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