Evidence in Williamsburg embezzlement case withstands bid to suppress

An embezzlement charge against a local developer and chairman of the Williamsburg Planning Commission will go to trial after a motion to suppress all evidence in the case was denied Friday in Circuit Court.

Demetrios Florakis, 46, was directly indicted in January on a felony embezzlement charge, which stems from an allegation made in April 2013. Police said one of Florakis' business partners reported that Florakis had taken construction materials that did not belong to him and used them on a project unrelated to their partnership.

Defense attorney Thomas Norment filed a motion July 8 asking the court to suppress all evidence in the case, arguing that it was obtained as part of an illegal search. Norment's motion asserted that the initial search of the property by Florakis' business partners was conducted as part of an illegal trespassing offense. He also claimed police did not have valid consent from Florakis to search the property, and that Florakis had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Officer Charles Ericsson with Williamsburg police testified that on April 28, 2013 Florakis' business partners on the City Lofts project came to the police department to file a report that items were missing from the site and they believed Florakis had taken them to use on a different project. He said the items included a washer and dryer and cabinets in boxes labeled "City Lofts."

Asked how the pair became aware the items they believed were stolen were at a separate project on Scotland Street, Ericsson said they had gone to the site, walked around and seen some of the items. He noted the couple did not explain how they gained access to the property.

"No trespassing" signs were posted on the Scotland Street property, according to Norment. Ericsson said the business partners wanted him to go and look at what they'd seen, and he informed them there were signs posted on the property and they had no right to be on the property without a warrant.

One of Florakis' business partners told the court that she and her husband partnered with Florakis and another member of his family on the City Lofts project, converting a hotel into apartments. Project expenses are what she said led her to believe items were being taken.

"There were some items billed for the City Lofts project that were not used at the City Lofts project," she said.

She and her husband visited the property on Scotland Street and did not tell Florakis they were going, according to her testimony. She did not recall seeing "No trespassing" signs during her April 27 visit to the site.

After entering the property, the woman said she saw scrap metal and an old washer from the City Lofts project that was supposed to be recycled. She testified that at the back of the property she saw boxes labeled "Property of City Lofts" as well as other items being used on their project. Upon leaving she said she and her husband went to City Lofts to compare the labels on the boxes there and the lot numbers to those they saw at the Scotland Street project to be sure they were the same.

The pair met with Florakis and the fourth partner on City Lofts on the morning of April 29, she said. At that point, she confronted the fourth partner about overpayments for items and the missing items.

She said the conversation, which took place in front of Florakis, revealed that the other man had no knowledge of the shifting supplies as he agreed to go with them to the Scotland Street project. Their fourth partner also asked Florakis for permission to look at invoices for materials from Home Depot, which Florakis did not agree to, according to the woman's testimony.

She admitted to going to the Scotland Street property that day, but said she did not go inside the building until she received permission by phone from another local developer whose trust was listed as a partial owner. She told the court that she told an officer who responded to the property that one of the property owners had given his consent for she and police to enter, but the officer did not.

Officer Sarah Crowe said she responded to the Scotland Street site around 1 p.m. on April 29 after receiving a call from dispatch. She said a man at the property called regarding items that were not supposed to be at the site. She said when she arrived the man, one of Florakis' business partners, appeared excitable and agitated.

About 30 minutes later, Investigator Winfield Rose responded but did not set foot on the property, according to his testimony. He noted that a report written by Ericsson specified that Florakis' business partners, who were on the property when he arrived, had been told not to enter without a warrant.

Rose said Florakis' relative, the fourth partner on the City Loft project, "did not feel like he was in a position to give consent" to enter. As a result, he drove to Florakis' home to obtain consent.

Florakis opened the door and was on the phone with someone Rose said he believed to be Florakis' attorney. Rose said Florakis gave consent after inviting him inside and discussing the allegation. He added that no one else was present.

"He told me it was fine for us to go in, and that he had nothing to hide," Rose said.

Crowe said it wasn't until Rose returned that she entered the property. Rose estimated officers were inside the house for no more than five minutes.

Green questioned whether Rose or any of the officers manipulated items within the house, which Rose said they did not. Rose said the search was solely visual.

Green argued that Florakis had no reasonable expectation of privacy at the project site. He likened it to an owner who rents a home to others, but has no personal belongings there and thus no expectation of privacy.

"I don't know how there could be a more blatant expectation of privacy than the property being posted 'no trespassing,'" Norment countered.

He further argued the woman has to know there was an expectation of privacy because she sought permission to enter the property from two different people.

Following witness testimony, Circuit Judge Michael E. McGinty ruled the search was legal, noting Florakis had the right to contest it at the time, but gave police consent. No trial date has been set.

James C. Jenkins, 31, was indicted on a charge of grand larceny in May related to the case. Rose said at an April preliminary hearing that Jenkins was a contractor on both the City Lofts and Scotland Street projects.

Jenkins was scheduled to face trial Friday, but proceedings were continued until September. Defense attorney Patricia Nagel said "recent developments in this case" prompted the continuance.

Robertson can be reached at 757-345-2342.