Wednesday, October 15, 2008

FLORIDA: WHERE LIVING IS A MOVING VIOLATION

St Petersburg Time - Friday morning, Joseph Prudente put on a pair of shorts and his "Grandpa Gone Wild" T-shirt. He took off his wedding band and put his heart medication in a plastic Wal-Mart bag. Then his daughter drove him to jail. Grandpa had time to do.

His crime? He had disobeyed a court order that he sod the lawn at his Beacon Woods home.
His bail? Zero.

Prudente, 66, must stay in the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes until the required sod work is completed, under a September court order signed by Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray.

"He's in prison for God knows how long because we can't afford to sod the lawn," said his sobbing daughter, Jennifer Lehr.

Prudente has owned a home in the deed restricted community since 1998. The covenants require homeowners to keep their lawns covered with grass.

Earlier this year, the Beacon Woods Civic Association took Prudente to court after he failed to install new sod on his browning lawn, which had withered after his sprinklers broke. . .

In an interview at the jail Friday evening, Prudente said he thought he had made a good financial hardship case to the association: His adjustable rate mortgage went up an extra $600 a month. Wachovia repossessed his Toyota Scion. His daughter and her two young children, who had fallen on hard times, moved in with him and his wife, Pat.

"To me, keeping the house is more important than the grass," said Prudente, a retired registered nurse from New York. "I just ignored them."

He ignored them, too, after the association filed a complaint in court. He ignored a court order in May, signed by Bray, giving Prudente 30 days to sod the yard.

In June, the court also awarded the association $795 in fees, which included a $645 attorney's fees and a $150 fee for "an expert witness."

Back at the jail -- where the population is 1,132, well above the 782 capacity -- Parente said he was being treated well. He has no criminal record in Florida and said his stay in Land O'Lakes was his first time ever in a slammer.

What comes next? He doesn't know. "Should I go out and rob a bank? Then I'd be back here," he said. "But then I'd get out on bail."

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