Fort Myers sold land for affordable housing to two accused drug dealers

Melissa Montoya Fort Myers News-PressPublished 1:26 PM EDT Sep 16, 2020Ronnie Lee Tape, convicted in 1989

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Ronnie Lee Tape, convicted in 1989 of dealing drugs, was expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. 

Instead, he was released in 2014 because of the disparity between sentencing laws involving crack and cocaine powder.   

Tape and Devarous Phillips were sold two pieces of property in June by the city of Fort Myers, each for $500, for the promise of building affordable housing.

That promise could be in question since the pair were arrested on Sept. 2 during a sweep of accused drug dealers that netted 41 arrests across Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties. The arrests came from a task force known as "NETFORCE" that is meant to target organized crime, narcotics and racketeering across Southwest Florida.

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On June 15 the Fort Myers city council approved the sale of two separate lots in Dunbar to the two men through their Infill Housing Program. The program is a tool used to promote affordable housing in the city.

The city repossesses homes that have accrued a large amount of code enforcement fines and then resells the land for cheap to builders in the area, he said. 

It's supposed to increase the tax base, Councilman Fred Burson said. 

"That's why we let them go for $500," Burson said. "No good deed goes unpunished. I regret having done it because it does give us a black eye."

Tape, 61, paid $500 for a property at 3728 Fairview Avenue, which was assessed at $4,000 by the Lee County Property Appraiser, according to city documents. 

Phillips, 44, paid $500 for property at 2306 Davis Street, which was assessed at $3,500, city documents show. 

Tape was arrested and accused of conspiracy to traffic in cocaine. According to an affidavit for Tape, investigators tapped his phone and over the course of three months from April to June heard him discuss drug sales with a supplier in Corpus Christi.

Tape is accused of traveling to Corpus Christi where a supplier was expecting a drug delivery. Corpus Christi is two hours north of the Mexican border in South Texas.

Tape left without purchasing drugs but he had two men — Allen Gary III, 39, and James Earl Williams III, 30 — drive to Corpus Christi for the drug sale, according to the affidavit. The affidavit details phone calls and text messages between the men and his supplier in Texas.

Gary and Williams were arrested in Louisiana after a 45-minute police chase that ended with Williams fleeing into the Gulf of Mexico. They were charged with conspiracy to traffic in cocaine. 

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Meanwhile Phillips, according to an affidavit, is accused of one count of conspiracy to traffic in heroin and trafficking in fentanyl. 

This investigation began in August 2019 with a tip from an informant that Fort Myers man George Samuel Broughton, 45, was dealing drugs throughout Southwest Florida. Fort Myers police detectives used a wire tap to track down information.

Phillips is accused in the affidavit of selling Broughton fentanyl and heroin in May. 

Tape and Phillips have entered not guilty pleas. 

The sale of the properties was unanimously approved by city council in June. Both the properties sit in Councilman Johnny Streets' Ward 2. Streets is an incumbent running for reelection against Fort Myers activist Anthony Thomas. 

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Thomas told city council during the meeting to have better rules in place for who should get approved for this program. 

Streets declined to comment about the issue on Tuesday.

Because of the fallout from selling property to Tape and Phillips, Burson said he has asked Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi to consider backgrounding the individuals that apply to buy these lots. 

Questions to a city spokeswoman about whether the city could get the property back or would institute a background check went unanswered on Tuesday. 

Burson said he doesn't think the city can regain the lots. If the men are convicted, there is a possibility the property could be seized as a forfeited asset. 

"I would have done it differently if I would have known," Burson said. "We are encouraging good things to happen out there. We are not encouraging crime." 

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