This week the Tampa Bay Times published a bonkers story that is so exceptionally Floridian that I have to share it with you all. It features partying, foreclosures, drugs, The Undertaker, racketeering, and a cosmetic surgeon, among other things.
Robert Lauby is the CEO of SupplementWarehouse.com, and has been renting out a St. Petersburg-area waterfront mansion for $999 a night on Airbnb. Renters have praised their experiences on Lauby’s Airbnb page, but neighbors and cops tell a different story.
The Times discovered 17 separate domestic disturbance reports at the address in 2016:
Between Jan. 30 and June 13, Pinellas sheriff’s deputies responded to 17 reports of domestic disturbances and what one neighbor called “loud and obscene” parties at the home on Seventh Street E. Deputies made nearly 20 “house checks” on their own in just the two months between April 9 and June 8, logs show.
Dr. O. Suliman, who lives across the canal, said “large numbers of guests” regularly arrive to spend Friday and Saturday nights or three-day weekends. At times as many as 20 cars have been parked in the driveway and nearby.
“They start at 6 or 7 p.m. and go to the next day — one went to 11 a.m.,” he said of the guests. “I have no problem if people are quiet and courteous and cordial, just not going on all night with the loud music and foul language.”
Scott McEwen, father of 4-year-old twins, moved his family from Tampa to what he thought would be a peaceful, safe neighborhood.
“It’s turned into a real party zone,’’ he said. “They’re partying hard at all hours of day and night. They are still partying at 9 a.m., and these guys are getting wasted and come ripping out of there. You don’t have to hit one of my kids at more than 10 mph to kill them.’’
(Dr. O. Suliman, a cosmetic surgeon, goes by the single-letter name for understandable reasons.)
Anyway, Lauby—who was arrested on a felony charge of possessing a controlled substance last year—doesn’t even own the house, which has been in foreclosure for years.
Lauby said other noise was due to “socializing,’’ not partying, and that neighbors were exaggerating any problems. “The neighbors here are very fussy,’’ he said. “I’ve had them yell at me at 3 in the afternoon. If there is any noise coming off that porch, no matter what time of day, they’re going to call police.’’
Sheriff’s logs show that more than half of the calls and house checks were after midnight.
How did Lauby even get the keys to this foreclosed property? In 2000, The Undertaker sold it to Timothy Walters, a former college football player who founded Big Tim’s Bar-B-Q restaurant in St. Petersburg—and who, according to cops, had a few side businesses:
Walters was known for more than his demeanor and barbecue sauce. Rumors of criminal activities persisted like a bad stain, fueling the Walters legend.
Last month, the rumors turned into charges. Law enforcement authorities accused Walters of running a chop shop, extorting people and even soliciting murder. He faces a racketeering charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.
In 1979, Willie Cox aspired to open a fried chicken restaurant in the 800 block of what Ninth Street S (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street). Cox was close to opening when his kitchen equipment disappeared in the night. The thieves loaded two fry vats, a stove, a sink and a stainless-steel table into a rental truck.
Police quickly traced the truck to Walters. He received a five-year suspended sentence.
Two years later, he went to prison for 16 months for violating probation after police found a loaded .41-caliber Magnum revolver in Walters’ office. An investigation also revealed that a wire laid in a trench carried unmetered power between the office and the restaurant, saving Walters $4,500 a year in electric bills.
Walters died in 2009. The house went into foreclosure, and Walters’s elderly wife signed a quitclaim deed that handed control of the property to a Tampa real estate broker—who started renting it to Lauby for “around $3,000 a month.” Neighbors claim Lauby is pulling in far more than that in Airbnb rentals, and I can speak from experience in telling you that $3,000 a month for that property is ridiculously cheap in the St. Petersburg rental market.