DAVENPORT – For Eddie Henry and his wife Adrienne, Independence Day truly does represent a special amount of freedom to both of them.
That isn’t just because the couple living in Davenport, who came to the United States from their native England, have a green card and are able to continue living here in Central Florida. It’s about much more than that.
Eddie Henry, who has worked in real estate and the booming vacation home industry in Northeast Polk County, said he’s also deeply thankful for the letter his attorney, Harrison Slaughter, just received from M. Diane Checchio, the assistant statewide prosecutor, in which she simply wrote that in the case of the state of Florida versus the Henrys, the state “enters a nolle prosequi as to all counts for each defendant.”
In plain English, all charges were dropped against the couple, who last fall spent a month in the Polk County Jail in Frostproof, facing racketeering charges, before getting out on bond and then spending months with a criminal investigation hanging over their heads. It was, Eddie Henry said, an absolute nightmare for both of them.
“Unfortunately, this year has been the worst year of my life,” he said. “My wife and I have been incarcerated, and we’ve been dealing with this for nearly 10 months now, and although we’ve got it sorted out and the state has agreed to drop all charges, this has taken years off my wife’s life.”
“We were treated as guilty and had to prove ourselves innocent,” Adrienne Henry said. “It shouldn’t have been that way.”
Now the Henrys want to start over, and rebuild both their lives — and their reputations — in the community they came to 13 years ago, when the couple came to Central Florida to take advantage of the booming real estate market and the opportunities it presented. What they didn’t expect was the huge toll that the collapse of the market would take on them – and not just in terms of the significant drop in business and income when a once red-housing housing market suddenly crashed.
What he never anticipated was the day last September when law enforcement surrounded their house, to take the couple to jail.
“One Friday night, they surrounded squad cars around my house in our little home in Davenport, with machine guns, and took me and my wife off,” he said. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ “
Now it’s over.
“The state approved all charges being dropped,” he said. “We are free and clear. We’ve got paperwork from the state dropping all charges.”
Now Eddie Henry wants to demonstrate that the state had good reason to drop those charges.
“It’s just been a grind, and a hard, uphill battle,” he said. “Now I want for my wife to be able to hold her head up proud. We’re not crooks.
“Fortunately,” he added, “the truth will prevail.”
The couple moved from England to Central Florida in 1999. A Realtor, Eddie Henry saw the growth potential in Northeast Polk County and Four Corners that was on the way, and wanted to take advantage of it.
“We’ve lived in Polk County ever since we’ve been here,” he said. “Prior to that, we used to do marketing in the U.K. promoting Florida. We were selling homes down here in Polk County when there wasn’t much traffic here. The nearest Publix was by Orange Lakes (timeshare resort on U.S. 192 in Orange County), and the nearest restaurant was in Haines City. In those years, you couldn’t even buy a beer on Sunday.”
The huge residential subdivisions and luxury resorts that now cluster together off U.S. 27 were still a few years away, he added.
“ChampionsGate wasn’t here, Reunion wasn’t here,” Eddie Henry said of the two resort developments in neighboring Osceola County.
He began working in the region’s booming vacation home market, managing homes that are rented out on a short term basis to tourists.
“Obviously when we moved over we had to get our (real estate) license, and that opened up not only just the vacation home market, but the local housing market as well,” he said. “That was our initial process, really, to do vacation homes. We looked after the homes we had sold and did the bookings for them.”
That was how the Henrys met one client in particular, Tom Monaghan, in 2005. He purchased a house here that the Henrys managed as a vacation home. Monaghan came to Davenport on an E2 visa, given to Europeans who start a business in the United States.
Monaghan invested in a business called Florida Homes International, putting $1 million of his own money in the company. In 2011, he would accuse the Henrys of having stolen from him, and on Saturday, Sept. 10, the Henrys were arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and charged with multiple counts of racketeering – three first degree felonies and six second degree felonies.
Bond was set at $105,000 each, and if convicted, they were facing years in prison.
Monaghan would claim that the Henrys duped him.
“I had some people I thought were friends who conned me, saying they were investing money in their company,” Monaghan said last fall. “They were looking for more money out of me to keep the company going. I was a bit stupid because I trusted them.”
He accused them of having stolen money he kept investing in the company, and spending $400,000 of it on jewelry, vacations and their own home owners associations dues.
Eddie Henry said the fact that the charges got dropped demonstrates that the state knew there was no evidence to prove theft. The truth, he said, is that the housing market collapsed, and with it, the value of local homes.
“What instigated the thing with Tom was he realized he put money into the company and now some of the assets were not worth what they were,” Eddie Henry said. “I’ve lost a lot more money than he has. But it’s not my fault. I didn’t cause the market to crash.”
Prior to that, “He threatened us with a $3 million lawsuit and said ‘Give up the business or we’ll sue you.’ The very first day he wrote to the owners and said we’re a bunch of crooks and we’re horrible people and living the life of Riley and traveling around the world and the rest of it. That whole thing took about a year. He took the receivership thing to court.”
Fighting the lawsuit was stressful enough, Eddie Henry said. Around that time, “Adrienne was heading back to Britian to have a heart operation. She’s a class 1 Diabetic.”
But what neither one expected was something else: incarceration. In part, he said, that’s because law enforcement officials never interviewed the couple prior to their arrest.
“They never spoke to us, never ever, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” he said. “They just showed up at my door and said ‘Are you Eddie Henry?’ I said yes. They said, ‘I’m here to arrest you.’ That’s the only time they’ve ever spoken to us – ever. The first and only time that I’ve spoken to someone in law enforcement is when they showed up at our home to arrest us.”
He remembers that night vividly.
“I said to them, ‘I was just about to serve up dinner,’ and I said ‘Hey, my wife is a class one Diabetic,’ and at that time was recovering from a heart operation,” Eddie Henry recalled. “I said ‘She needs to take her medicine,’ and they said ‘No, she’s not taking anything.’ They surrounded the house, the guys with machine guns and all sorts of stuff. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny.”
The couple ended up in the Polk County Jail in Frostproof.
“In my previous life, I used to be a builder in England,” he said. “Part of what I used to do was drawings of buildings, like an architect drawing so we could explain to people what we were going to do and proposing to do. I could draw you what I ended up in. I was in a 7 by 12 cell with three other guys for 28 days. I wasn’t expecting to get a cup of Chardonnay and some cigarettes, but I wouldn’t have minded a cup of coffee in the morning. I was in an orange suit with no underwear. They actually charge you for arresting you in Polk County. They send you a bill. It’s not a resort I would recommend to anyone.”
A friend eventually posted their bond, and they got released. The Henrys and their attorney then began the arduous task of compiling the evidence needed to show that they had not committed any crime, and that a bad housing market, not theft, was to blame.
“We had to keep ankle bracelets on for four months,” Eddie Henry said. “We couldn’t leave Polk County. Then when we got these attorneys, they got those bracelets removed and now the whole case has been thrown out.”
Now the Henrys want a fresh start.
“At age 60, we’re now supposed to start a new life,” Adrienne Henry said.
“We live in Davenport, and we’ve lived here for 13 years,” Eddie Henry said. “We’ve loved our lifestyle here. Now we want to display what incompetency the state of Florida has put us through, with not one single charge being upheld. The state prosecutor didn’t check one single thing, anything that was being said about us, that we took money, it was accepted as fact. But we could prove that wasn’t the case.”
And today, he added, “It just says ‘case dismissed’. But that’s not an apology.”
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