If you’re a homeowner, or plan to become a homeowner, this true crime will interest you.
Let’s say times are tough, your finances are lagging, and you’re behind on paying your property taxes. These criminals would swoop in with fraudulent documents, pay the delinquent taxes and assume ownership of the homes.
The ring of criminals paid the back taxes. The homes were subject to be auctioned but hadn’t moved to the actual auction phase yet. When they paid the back taxes, the homes were removed from the auction phase. They presented fraudulent documentation to the county recorder’s office along with everything you need to transfer ownership—except all documents and signatures were forged.
It worked. And the homeowners, many still living in their homes, knew nothing about it until the authorities served eviction notices.
They successfully duped:
the county clerk’s office
the county treasurer’s office
the county sheriff’s office
four financial institutions (banks)
The trio even forged a power of attorney on a home owned by the relatives of a deceased woman. When the criminals took ownership of her home, they found legal and personal documents, and tried to clean out her bank accounts—even attempted to falsify a more recent Last Will and Testament making them the ‘rightful heir.’ When that attempt failed, they wrote checks and did electronic transfers from her bank account.
I couldn’t find any information on which agency caught on to the fraud. I assume further investigation occurred when the legal heirs and the scammers battled in probate court for ownership. To me, it seems like one or more of the fraudsters had to have extensive knowledge about the process of transferring real estate ownership.
All three—a husband (52) and wife (45) and the wife’s mother, age 70—pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Two years later, a federal judge sentenced them to:
The wife to over 12 years in prison, with four years of supervised release.
The husband to almost four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
The wife's mother to five years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
At the wife’s sentencing hearing the judge said,
“The fraudulent scheme may be the worst in terms of the scope and the breadth of deceit he’d seen since taking the bench.”
After the sentencing hearing, the wife, who began serving her sentence, filed a motion for compassionate release for her and her husband. The prosecution presented recorded phone call evidence that the wife showed….
“Absolutely no remorse.”
Examples leading to the Court denying her request are:
On the day the Court sentenced her, she told her husband and son to set fire to their home and collect the insurance money. Four days later, she discussed with her husband a similar plot to what she had just pleaded guilty to.
Source: United States District Court, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Secret Service