Four Plead Guilty to Selling Homes without Knowledge of Real Property Owners
|U.S. Attorney’s Office February 19, 2013|
ALEXANDRIA, VA—Four individuals—including two settlement agents in Annandale, Virginia—have pleaded guilty to conspiring to fraudulently taking over the titles of homes in Washington, D.C., without the real property owners’ knowledge, selling those homes, and keeping the profit.
Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the pleas were accepted by United States District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee.
According to court records, Jamaul Roberts, 25, College Park, Maryland, conspired with others to visit the D.C. tax courts to identify properties with overdue property tax bills. They would use sources such as Ancestry.com and the D.C. property tax database to locate vulnerable properties where they could take over a home’s title without the real owners’ knowledge. These homes included those left vacant, passed on to heirs after the owner’s death, or owned by the elderly in nursing homes who did not understand the transactions taking place.
The fraudulent sales were facilitated by two settlement agents, Patricia Mantilla, 35, of Lorton, Virginia, and Melissa McWilliams, 35, Chantilly, Virginia, who worked at Ace Title & Escrow in Annandale. The agents knew the home sales were fraudulent and that the owners appearing at settlement were not the rightful owners. They also assisted the conspirators in hiding profits on the property sales from other parties involved in the sale through fictitious invoices to be paid at closing.
The conspirators, including Michael Brown, 41, Hyattsville, Maryland, recruited straw sellers to sign documents and falsely represent themselves as the owners of the properties. Brown, for example, appointed himself the personal representative of the rightful owner of a property and prepared a fake death certificate for the owner, although the owner was still living. He attempted to sell the property to another member of the conspiracy for $350,000.
During the course of the scheme, numerous properties were fraudulently sold, resulting in more than $1 million in actual and intended losses.
Roberts and Brown pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when they are sentenced on May 10, 2013 and May 3, 2013, respectively.
Mantilla and McWilliams pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and face a maximum penalty of five years in prison when they are sentenced on April 26, 2013 and June 7, 2013.
This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Assistant United States Attorney Chad Golder of the Office’s Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Unit is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae.