Former island real estate agent indicted on fraud charges

A former Anna Maria Island real estate agent accused of bilking vacationers of $200,000 was indicted Sept. 1 and now faces a federal mail fraud charge and trial.

The U.S. District Court arrested Michael Perry Carleton of Bradenton Sept. 3 when he turned himself in the day after a federal clerk issued a warrant in connection with a grand jury indictment, according to U.S. Postal Inspector Alexandra Papageorge.

Mail fraud carries a maximum 20-year federal prison term and up to $250,000 in fines.

The indictment against Carleton seeks forfeiture of all proceeds he’s acquired from an alleged mail fraud scheme for over-booking and refusing to provide $200,000 in refunds to more than 70 prospective tourists.

The scheme to defraud and obtain money from would-be Anna Maria Island vacationers began before or about April 2012 and continued until at least July 2013, according to the indictment.

Carleton posted a $200,000 signature bond and was released on a release order.

According to U.S. District Court public affairs specialist Amy H. Filjones, the bond involves no security — it requires only a signature.

The release order requires Carleton to remain in the Middle District of Florida and not change his Bradenton address unless approved by the court. It also requires that he appear at court dates, not commit a crime, maintain employment and report to a court officer during the pre-trial period.

Carleton’s trial is set for October, but Filjones said it likely will be continued.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Deb Wing estimated Carleton’s practices negatively impacted hundreds of people.

She described how the business community came together for victims of the alleged scheme.

When visitors told the chamber they arrived to find their accommodations already booked or never for rent, Wing issued an all-points bulletin to members seeking accommodations for stranded vacationers.

Agencies and vacation property owners stepped up to provide free accommodations to displaced tourists, she said.

About the indictment, Wing said, “It goes to show you that it’s been a two-year investigation and they’ve banded together to catch this guy. This kind of situation is unbelievably rare.”

Visitors should consider AMI a “good and safe island,” with honest people “except for this guy.”

She warned people not to rent from Craigslist and to call the local chamber for recommendations  “when in doubt.”

Wing said she referred complaints about false rentals to the Holmes Beach Police Department.

In May 2013, the HBPD turned over more than 60 cases against Carleton to the federal authorities, according to Chief Bill Tokajer.

The state revoked Carleton’s sales associate license in September 2013.

In December 2013, the 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney initiated a case against Carleton on one count of unlicensed real estate activity, which it dropped in June 2014.

According to a state attorney’s memo, the prosecution was dropped and the matter referred to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service because of the ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice.