Marion County Sheriff’s Office Property Crimes detectives arrested Thomas Scott Pratt (also known as Steven Malaka) and charged him with one count of organized fraud, two counts of trespassing and one count of grand theft. Detectives learned that Pratt was claiming to be the owner of several vacant homes in Marion Oaks and was “leasing” these homes to unsuspecting victims. Detectives now believe that Pratt may have more victims in the community, and possibly in surrounding counties.
The investigation began on Dec. 1, when the owner of a vacant residence located at the 12800th block of SW 40th Terrace reported to deputies that unknown individuals were living in his house. Deputies made contact with the individuals living in the home who provided a lease saying that a Steven Malaka was the lessor of the property. During the investigation, another victim was located that had an identical lease involving Steven Malaka. “Steven Malaka” has been determined to be an alias used by Thomas Pratt. The victims told detectives that Pratt works as a handyman, where he solicited potential lessees. He also posted properties to Craigslist.
Detectives recommend that lessees take several precautions when looking to lease a home. Obtain photo identification and/or business credentials of the person you are looking to lease from. Keep all the paperwork given to you by the lessor and avoid paying with cash so you can create a paper trail for any transactions. Also, check to see who owns the property on the Marion County Property Appraiser’s website to ensure you are leasing from the actual owner of the property. If you have signed a lease with a Steven Malaka or have leased a home from someone matching Pratt’s description, please call Detective Tanya Rodriguez at 352-402-6033 or 352-732-9111.