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Lawmaker short of answers after house raided by federal agents

An Orange County home owned by Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, was raided Wednesday by federal and local agents as part of a drug investigation. Among the 12 people present at the time of the raid was Stewart’s 35-year-old daughter, Amanda Endress, a high school English teacher.

Endress was not arrested. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “one of the targets of the investigation, handled by the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, is Darrell Wayne Roby, a roughly 400-pound man who was previously arrested on charges of injuring a deputy.”

But it was unclear if Endress lived at the address of the raid. According to her voter registration card, the house in question was listed as her permanent address. When the Sentinel asked if her daughter lived at the home, Stewart responded with this text:  "I have done everything as a landlord in my power to get rid of these squatters. As far as my daughter is concerned, she had no drugs she was not part of this and they sent her home with me."

According to Bill Cowles, Orange County’s supervisor of elections, however, there is much to suggest that Endress did not live there. Endress changed her voter registration address to the Barcelona Street home in October 2012. But paperwork the office mailed to the home was returned on Oct. 30, 2012, with the stamp “return to sender, not at this address.” In addition, a U.S. Postal Service sticker on the envelope said “unable to forward”.

Endress did vote in the November 2012 election, but her name had been flagged “update needed”. That should have meant that a poll worker would have seen that her status was in question, and asked for her address, Cowles said. Since her address wasn’t changed and is listed at the Barcelona Street location, she most likely told a poll worker that she lived there, Cowles said.

But is that true? Or did Stewart’s daughter live elsewhere but cast a ballot so she could vote for her mother, who lived a mile and a half away. (The Barcelona Street house is in Stewart's district).

Stewart told the Times/Herald on Wednesday that Endress has a fluid living arrangement that’s hard to pin down.

Endress lived at the home in 2012, but then she and her boyfriend moved in with Stewart last year so they could rent out the Barcelona Street house. Starting in December, Stewart said, she and her husband began renting it to four people who paid about $900 a month in rent. But they didn’t pay in January or February. There also appeared to be more people living there. Stewart said when she drove by the house, she noticed several cars in the driveway.

“I saw way too many cars than four people,” Stewart said. “I didn’t know what was going on here.”

The puzzling thing is that it wasn’t all strangers living in the house.

At about the same time, the boyfriend, a handyman, moved into the Barcelona Street house with the understanding that he wouldn’t pay rent, but he would repair things like the plumbing and maintain the house, Stewart said.

“It’s a dump,” she said. “So he painted the walls, repaired things.”

What’s his name?

“Mike,” Stewart said.

His last name?

“I’d prefer not to give out names,” she said. “There hasn’t been much privacy today.”

Unhappy with the delinquent rent and what appeared to be more than five people living there, Stewart said she had filed an eviction notice in February.

“I wanted everyone out of the house,” she said.

Including Mike, her daughter’s boyfriend?

“I wanted everyone out of the house,” Stewart repeated.

Asked why she would want to evict her daughter’s boyfriend, Stewart replied only with:  “You can’t pick people’s boyfriends.”

But Mike wasn’t the only person she knew living there. Endress herself would spend several nights a week at the house as well, Stewart said.

So where exactly did she live then?

“If she wasn’t at the rental, she was at my house,” Stewart said. “She lives between the two houses.”

That seems to contradict what she told the Sentinel, which reported: "Stewart said that she was in the process of evicting the renters there, and that her daughter had gone to the property to make sure there was nothing damaged on the way out."

In addition, her daughter's and boyfriend's residency status at the house wasn't mentioned in a statement released by Stewart on Wednesday. 

“Today, I learned that a search warrant was executed at a rental property owned by my husband and I. After a period of lapsed rent by the residents, we began the legal process of eviction, going so far as to serve them with a notice to vacate earlier this month. Neither I nor any other member of my immediate family has been the subject of investigation in this matter.  I am grateful for today’s swift action by law enforcement authorities. I appreciate their hard work, as well as the professionalism they have displayed throughout the investigation.” 

So if her daughter did live there, on and off, at the same time that Stewart “didn’t know what was going on” in the four-bedroom house, couldn’t she have asked her what was going on at the time? 

“How would she have known this was going on?” Stewart said. "As a landlord I have done everything in my power and get rid of the discontents. This didn't involve my daughter."

Stewart said her daughter hadn’t been arrested and wasn’t involved in any of the matters that led to the raid.

“She didn’t have anything to do with anything that happened over there,” Stewart said.

But when asked about what her daughter at least saw during the raid, or anything else about the incident, Stewart showed a stunning lack of curiousity.

Even though she had spent all day answering questions from reporters about the raid, she said she hadn’t asked Endress about what happened.

“I plan to do that,  I just  haven’t had a chance to,” Stewart said. “I definitely need to get better information and find out what she knew or did not know.”