"We are certainly going to work through support and services with Mr. Zennie to make sure he goes on the right path. We will hold him accountable."
Paul Williams, Clatsop County Sheriff's Department chief deputy
SEASIDE - Theodore Zennie, the man authorities believed launched a fraudulent beach house giveaway contest in Seaside in 2009, has been released from state and local custody.
Zennie served one year and nine months at an Oregon Department of Corrections minimum security work camp east of Seaside and in the Clatsop County Jail after being convicted for the sale of heroin. He was released from prison Jan. 30.
The intended prize of Zennie's essay contest was a Seaside beach bungalow at 560 S. Columbia. Authorities said Zennie had organized the contest for an entry price of $99 and promoted it on the Internet and with signs outside the Columbia Street property. But authorities called the contest a scam.
"Mr. Zennie had no intentions of following through with his offer to give away the house or that he was even in the position to do that," said Steve Barnett, Seaside Police Detective sergeant.
Under his sentencing release order, Zennie is to pay $6, 633 to multiple victims of the beach house essay contest and will likely face only probation for the aggravated theft charges connected to the contest, according to Paul Williams, Clatsop County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy. He will also be supervised over the next three years and required to report to a probation officer.
"We are certainly going to work through support and services with Mr. Zennie to make sure he goes on the right path and follows the requirements of his sentence release order," Williams said. "We will hold him accountable."
Before his arrest, the Oregon Attorney General's office (DOJ) twice ordered Zennie to stop the contest, cease promoting it on the Internet and to return any entry fees that he had received or face legal action by the state.
In an interview in 2010, Zennie told the Signal he had stopped taking the entry fees and closed down the contest after receiving about $1,000 in entry fees, but he could not be specific about the exact amount of money he collected or the number of people that entered the contest.
"It got overwhelming," Zennie said. "I kind of lost count."
Zennie claimed to have returned some of the money to those that entered the contest, but investigators believe Zennie spent the money on drugs and to pay his bills.
Barnett has been in contact with at least 50 people in the Pacific Northwest and many others around the country who entered Zennie's contest.
"We have gathered so much information, that it has filled a notebook that's about 18 inches thick," Barnett said. "These are good working people who entered the contest in good faith to retire or have a place for their family at the beach."
Barnett described the essay contest as very desirable, because it offered what sounded like a wonderful place near the beach along the Oregon coast.
"Many of the victims wrote sincere and heart-tugging essays, describing how the beach house could help them start a new life," said Barnett. "Some of the victims wrote that the beach house could give them relief from their illness. It sounded like the house would be their last hurrah."
But before authorities could bring formal charges against Zennie for the scam, he was arrested and convicted for selling heroin.
Retired Southern California resident John Knotek was a victim of Zennie's beach bungalow scam.
"I was roaming around on the Internet and I saw the contest on a web page," said Knotek. "I thought for $99, I'd have an opportunity to increase my independence. So I thought I'd give it a try."
But even Knotek suspected the contest might not be legitimate.
"I even talked to Mr. Zennie to find out what happened with my $99 after I sent the money to him," said Knotek. "He told me that if there weren't enough participants he would have to return the money. Mr. Zennie sounded like a decent person over the phone. But I never got my money back."
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