ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Chonda Pettigrew and her family are from Georgia. Every year they take a vacation. This year, they planned to stay in Crescent Beach.
"There's a total of 11 of us," she explained. She and her sisters, mother and children look forward to spending time with each other.
"We all put in to finance the trip," said Cheverly Gordon, Pettigrew's sister.
However, Pettigrew described this year's vacation as a "mess."
They're staying in a hotel this week in St. Augustine on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, but they paid for a house on the beach.
Months ago, Pettigrew went to VacationHomes.com, found a listed home on Crescent Beach, corresponded with the person she thought was the owner and she paid the bill with money orders.
When Pettigrew and her family arrived at the home at 7024 Highway A1A in Crescent Beach, she realized that was not the home she saw online.
Pettigrew recalled that soon after she pulled into the driveway, a woman -- who is the manager of the home -- pulled in as well.
"She said we were trespassing and that we were not supposed to be there. She said, 'I work for the owners.' She called the police immediately," Pettigrew said.
A deputy arrived and the issue started to unfold.
The home is not owned by Bruce Christian, the man Pettigrew thought to be the owner.
Pettigrew provided a signed contract between her and Christian for rental of the home for one week for $2,620.00.
She has since tried to call Christian, but there is a recorded message which says the number has been disconnected.
First Coast News contacted the real owners of the home, Mary and Bert Pharis. They are out of town, but they said their beach home is not for rent and has never been for rent.
Bert Pharis said he has "never heard of" Bruce Christian.
Pettigrew has rented houses from online sites before.
"All with the same deal," she outlined the process. "You go online, find a property, and get a contract. Nothing made me think there was something iffy about this situation."
Pettigrew holds VacationHomes.com and Bruce Christian responsible.
First Coast News has not been able to reach either party.
Now, Pettigrew and her family are out all of their money. It's now about $3,000 if you count the spoiled food and the extra hotel costs. She said that's a hefty sum for a middle-class family like hers.
Gordon did not mince words. "I am heartbroken. Devastated. I am a head-start teacher. I have two children. I work hard for my money."
The family checked out of the hotel Monday, aiming for a place closer to the ocean.
"We hope we can to find a property for a couple of days to enjoy the beach as a family," Pettigrew said.
And so they packed up and left the hotel, looking for another place to spend a vacation far different from the one they planned -- and paid for.
First Coast News