A Texas man was arrested on federal charges that he stole actual houses in an elaborate scheme involving fake buyers and fraudulent titles, prosecutors said. He is alleged to have taken over 100 homes and other properties worth more than $1 million.
The scheme, according to the complaint, involved the filing of affidavits listing a fictitious person as the heir of a property left to them by the owner who had recently died. The new owner, so called “fraudster heir" could then sell the property to another fictitious person, the complaint stated.
The fraudster rented post office boxes using the name of his elderly grandmother and listed her as an officer of a company he incorporated. She was 99 when she died in 2002, according to the complaint.
A district attorney's investigator identified more than 300 forged warranty deeds, affidavits of heirship and other documents filed from 2007 through December 2009. They expect that other property owners have been affected, but have not been discovered yet.
The district attorney's office brought in the U.S. postal inspector because the fraudster likely would get a stiffer sentence if convicted in federal court. The maximum federal sentence for mail fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
One of the first property owners learned about the scam when he attempted to sell two commercial properties about a year ago. When a real estate agent discovered that the land had already been sold, which caused the real owner to find out what had happened. He said "It shocked me that no one knew what was going on," he said. "We saw a couple of other properties that had obviously been stolen because they used the same names as the ones on our deeds."
The first scheme involved properties where fraudulent warranty deed transfers were almost always used for vacant lots with unpaid back taxes due and/or with weed liens filed against them by the city. After identifying a property, the fraudster would file a forged warranty deed transferring the property to a fictitious buyer, forging the signature of the true property owner, and forging the signature and notary stamp affixed to the documents and then file it with the County Clerk's Office.
However, to conceal his connection with the initial fraudulent conveyance, and ensure that he would receive the original warranty deeds, he then filed change-of-address forms with the U.S. Post Office that caused these warranty deeds to instead be forwarded to a post office box that he had rented using his deceased grandmother’s name.
The County clerk's office was not aware of the scheme and accepted the paperwork as being authentic.
The alleged thefts went undetected for months. He allegedly duped clerks by falsifying notary stamps and diverting mail to the post office box, postal inspectors said.
The other fraud scheme was identifying houses whose owners had recently died and claiming to be the owner's sole heir. The fraudster would then file a forged heirship affidavit, attesting that a fictitious person was the sole heir of the deceased owner. The next step was to file another fraudulent warranty deed that transferred the property from the “fictitious heir “to businesses he controlled. In his attempt to conceal his involvement he would use companies to transfer stolen properties using the names of deceased relatives and/or fictitious people as the owners of the business entities.
Eventually, after transferring the stolen properties to an entity that he controlled, the fraudster would lease the mineral rights on the property or sell the property to a buyer who was in general unaware of the fraudulent conveyances.
"To my knowledge, it's one of the biggest property scams to ever hit this county," David Lobingier, an assistant prosecutor in the DA's economic crimes unit... "They just made up names and, later, those non-existent persons would sell the house to another person and to another person. Eventually it would go to a shell corporation Fisher controlled."
We should praise the work done by the members that are investigating this case, the USPIS and the Economic Crimes Unit of the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer is in charge of the prosecution.
We must be vigilant against fraud, recognizing its signs and taking proactive, definite, and realistic steps to not only prevent it but also punish it.
It starts with me.
It starts with you.
It starts with us…
You are all encouraged to report any suspected mortgage fraud activity to authorities, www.PreventLoanScams.org
Michael S. Richardson
Director/Mortgage Fraud Services
Author of "An American Epidemic, Mortgage Fraud a Serious Business"
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