A Charles County real estate agent who collected rent for several years from residents of a poor community although he no longer owned the houses has been charged with one count of unfair and deceptive trade practices, the county state's attorney said yesterday.
William Zantzinger was served documents Wednesday night charging him with making "false and misleading oral and written statements" in his rental arrangement with a couple who formerly lived in Patuxent Woods, a ramshackle community where houses are without indoor plumbing.
State's Attorney Leonard Collins said charges were filed on May 29, one day before the statute of limitations would have expired on the complaint by the couple, Carlton and Pamela Williams. The Williamses could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Collins did not say whether his office would file more charges against the agent, but said an investigation of Zantzinger continues.
If convicted, Zantzinger could receive a $1,000 fine and serve a year in jail. He is scheduled to appear in District Court for a preliminary hearing July 1.
Reached at his real estate office yesterday, Zantzinger said, "I have no interest in discussing this with you whatsoever."
In 1963, the agent spent six months in jail and paid a $500 fine after he was convicted of manslaughter in the highly publicized death of Hattie Carroll. Carroll, a barmaid with 11 children, was immortalized in a Bob Dylan song, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."
Zantzinger owned Patuxent Woods until May 1986, when the county foreclosed on the half-dozen houses because he failed to pay more than $18,000 in property taxes and penalties. Yet he continued to charge residents rent, sometimes taking them to court when payments were overdue, according to court records.
The county didn't realize it owned Patuxent Woods until January of this year, in part because it kept no inventory of its property until 1989.
In April, the county ordered Patuxent Woods residents to stop paying rent to anyone, and began taking bottled water to its inhabitants. County officials have said the wells are contaminated by human waste, which is often dumped from chamber pots into the woods and ravines.
County officials also have asked for $500,000 from the federal government to raze the houses it owns and to fix up the rest of the subdivision.
Margaret Locks, who lived in the community for 19 years, said Zantzinger evicted her from her home last April because she had not paid more than $1,000 in rent. She said she discovered that he didn't own the property only after she was evicted.
"I'm glad. I don't know how he got away with it for so long," Locks said yesterday. "They should make him pay the tenants back all the money he took from them."