March 17, 2020
WALTON COUNTY, Fla— An Oklahoma man is awaiting extradition to Walton County after an investigation reveals a racketeering scheme involving a property management company stealing thousands from more than two dozen victims.
Beginning in December of 2019, multiple victims contacted Walton County Sheriff’s Office to file complaints against Sunburst Companies, LLC manager Stephen Edward Shafer, 49, of Oklahoma City.
Victims include property owners, renters, vendors and former employees of Sunburst.
During the investigation, it was found Sunburst was hired to manage more than 200 properties and in doing so would take a commission fee and other liabilities. The remainder of the money was held in a trust fund on behalf of owners. In addition, Sunburst collected security deposits from guests wishing to rent the properties for vacation, which were also collected in the trust.
Beginning in October, Shafer stopped paying property owners and in December of 2019 created a separate company, Southern Sands, in an attempt to persuade them to switch companies under a “no-cancellation” contract for reduced fees.
During that time, a former Sunburst employee indicated to investigators Shafer continued to take security deposits while refusing to pay employees, reimburse renters deposits, or pay property owners.
Florida Department of Revenue provided copies of state tax returns indicating Shafer failed to pay sales tax to the State of Florida beginning June 2019 in excess of $100,000.
Walton County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Bureau filed a warrant and Shafer was arrested by Oklahoma City Police Department. He is currently awaiting extradition on charges of racketeering, organized fraud, and failing to remit sales tax of more than $100,000.
Additional charges are pending in this case and additional victim monetary losses may be noted in the future.