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False Homestead Claim Lands Man in Jail

Monroe County charged a man for “knowingly and willfully” providing false information to officials so he could get a homestead exemption on his property tax bill.

KEY WEST, Fla. – Monroe County prosecutors have charged a Miami Lakes man with fraudulently claiming a homestead property tax exemption on a Florida Keys property.

Authorities arrested Yusmel Bocalandro, 39, and booked him into the Monroe County Detention Center on Monday based on an arrest affidavit prepared by State Attorney’s Office Investigator Roy Bogue.

Bocalandro is accused of “knowingly and willfully” giving false information in an effort to receive the exemption, which can save homeowners money on their local tax bills, State Attorney’s Office spokesman Larry Kahn said.

Bocalandro initiated the homestead exemption application process on Nov. 4 in a phone call to the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office, asking what he needed to do to receive an exemption for his newly acquired property on Long Key. For tax purposes, Florida law allows a $25,000 exemption to be applied to the first $50,000 of one’s assessed property value if the property is one’s permanent residence and one owned the property on Jan. 1 of the tax year. The exemption applies to all local property taxes.

During the phone call with a staffer at the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office, Bocalandro reportedly said “What if I lie?” about information he gives on the application, specifically, if he was married, Kahn said.

He then was told if he gave false information on the application certifying all the information on the application was true, that would be considered fraud. Later that day, Bocalandro went to the Property Appraiser’s Office on Plantation Key and presented supporting documents to receive the homestead exemption and completed the application, checking “no” in the box asking if he or a spouse or co-applicant own property elsewhere. He completed the application and where it asked marital status, he wrote “single.”

He and the staffer then reviewed the information he provided and he signed the application just below a paragraph that states “I certify all information on this form” and related documents is true,” Kahn said. The form also says knowingly certifying false information is considered misdemeanor fraud.

A Property Appraiser’s Office investigator then reviewed Bocalandro’s application and found through a Miami-Dade County marriage license that he and Jessica Sarmiento were married on June 25, 2016, contrary to what he said on the Monroe County exemption application.

Further investigation revealed Bocalandro and Sarmiento own a Miami Lakes house and that Sarmiento was receiving a homestead exemption on that house, Kahn said.

The Long Key house in 2019 has a total assessed value of $375,442, according to the Property Appraiser’s Office website. Bocalandro had been renting out the property, Bogue discovered, which was also a deliberate falsification of the homestead exemption application, Kahn said.

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