In Los Angeles, California, NBC Los Angeles
- A tangled web of fraud allegedly involving an ex-LAPD officer and a self-proclaimed Bishop has ensnared an 89-year-old woman who is losing to foreclosure the Lynwood home she paid off more than two decades ago, police say.
- Vistula Graham bought the three-bedroom ranch house more than 40 years ago, and owned it free and clear after paying off the mortgage in the late nighties, said her daughter, Keta Davis, who grew up there. Now the house is scheduled to be auctioned off. “I want the foreclosure to stop because we’re not at fault,” Davis said.
- The story begins with Leroy Dowd, a 74-year-old, self-proclaimed, charismatic leader of a now-defunct South LA church called Triumph Church of God. “Bishop Dowd is a con artist," Davis said. "Bishop Dowd preyed on my mom.”
- Dowd conned Graham into giving him money and unknowingly sign over the house, Davis said. “He called himself a bishop he called himself a prophet,” she said. Profit off her mother is more like it, she said.
- Her mother "didn’t know what she was signing,” Davis said. Davis claims the Bishop opened a $150,000 credit line with Bank of America using her mother’s information and the house as collateral. Checks signed with her mother’s name were forged, Davis said.
- Dowd also added his name to a Wells Fargo account. Wells Fargo and BofA both determined it was fraud and canceled those loans. But the last loan Dowd allegedly obtained, through IndyMac Bank, for $410,000 is the one in foreclosure.
- Two years ago, Dowd pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft for forging a grant deed and stealing another church member’s house. That victim was 87.
- “Mr. Dowd is a smooth con artist,” said Claremont Detective David DeMetz who has a thick file on Leroy Dowd, from that case. The victim “had no idea what she was signing or that she gave her house away to Mr. Dowd.”
- Sound familiar? Dowd was sentenced to 3 years in prison on that case, but in the case of Vistula Graham, the Los Angeles District Attorney didn’t press charges because the primary witness, Graham, can no longer talk. Davis has offered to testify on behalf of her mother.
- But the story doesn’t end there. Sheriff’s investigators say Leroy Dowd could not have been working alone. Detectives suspect he was working with Darcy Greenfield, who was an LAPD officer at the time and had a real estate business on the side.
- Deed records on the Lynwood house show that in 2007 the house was put in Greenfield’s company name: Greenfield and McCall. Documents show Greenfield and McCall were named beneficiaries of the IndyMac Bank loan, and a received a payout of more than $261,000.
- Keta Davis says the loan is clearly “fraudulent.”(1) “I’d never heard of them,” she said. Davis was stunned to learn that not only did a stranger own her family house, but that the stranger was an LAPD officer. Greenfield was never charged in Graham’s case, but the former LAPD officer was charged last May in a San Bernardino fraud case.
- Greenfield has been charged with ten felony counts all pertaining to real estate fraud, said San Bernardino deputy district attorney Vance Welch who specializes in real estate fraud. Greenfield has pleaded not guilty, and her attorney Grover Porter has not returned numerous calls to his office.
- Greenfield’s connection to Dowd is the subject of a broader investigation by the LAPD and FBI.
For the story, see Elderly Woman Falls Victim to Con, Loses House to Foreclosure (Elderly woman loses home in tangled web involving an ex-LAPD officer and self-proclaimed Bishop).
(1) Unwinding or undoing a scam like this requires the filing of a civil suit in which, among other things, a determination is sought as to whether the deed signed by the unwitting victim is void, or is merely voidable. See Schiavon v. Arnaudo Bros., 84 Cal. App. 4th 374; Cal.Rptr.2d 801 (Cal. App 6th Dist. 2000), for California case law that references the propositions that:
- A deed is void if the grantor's signature is forged or if the grantor is unaware of the nature of what he or she is signing. (Erickson v. Bohne, supra, "130 Cal.App.2d at pp. 555-556.)
A voidable deed, on the other hand, is one where the grantor is aware of what he or she is executing, but has been induced to do so through fraudulent misrepresentations. (Fallon v. Triangle Management Services, Inc. (1985) 169 Cal.App.3d 1103, 1106 [215 Cal.Rptr. 748].) The same rules apply to the reconveyance of the property interest under a deed of trust as to the conveyance of property by grant deed. (Wutzke v. Bill Reid Painting Service, Inc. (1984) 151 Cal.App.3d 36, 43 [198 Cal.Rptr. 418] (Wutzke).)
If the deed is found to be void, a subsequent bona fide purchaser for value is not protected by the state recording statutes, in which case his/her interest is a nullity. If the deed is found to be voidable, a subsequent conveyance to a bona fide purchaser will be recognized as valid. Fallon v. Triangle Management Services, Inc. (1985) 169 Cal.App.3d 1103 [215 Cal.Rptr. 748]:
- A deed obtained as a result of fraud committed against the grantor or by use of undue influence by the grantee may be rescinded by the grantor. (Rogers v. Warden (1942) 20 Cal.2d 286 [125 P.2d 7].) If a grantor is aware that the instrument he is executing is a deed and that it will convey his title, but is induced to sign and deliver by fraudulent misrepresentations or undue influence, the deed is voidable and can be relied upon and enforced by a bona fide purchaser. (Peterson v. Peterson (1946) 74 Cal.App.2d 312 [168 P.2d 474]; Conklin v. Benson (1911) 159 Cal. 785 [116 P. 34].)
- In Conn. Life Ins. Co. v. McCormick (1873) 45 Cal. 580, the Supreme Court held a deed voidable, not void, if obtained as a result of undue influence or compulsion. Such a deed "stands on the same footing as a deed procured by fraud." The court concluded that a deed or mortgage procured by duress cannot be set aside as against a party purchasing in ignorance of the facts constituting the duress, that is to say as against a purchaser for a valuable consideration and without notice of the duress. Until a voidable deed is declared void it is fully operative. (Frink v. Roe (1886) 70 Cal. 296 [11 P. 820].) Civil Code section 1107 provides: "Every grant of an estate in real property is conclusive against the grantor, also against everyone subsequently claiming under him, except a purchaser or incumbrancer who in good faith and for a valuable consideration acquires a title or lien by an instrument that is first duly recorded."
For more, see Unwinding An Abusive Or Fraudulent Real Estate Transaction? Determining If The Deed Is Void, Or Merely Voidable.
Go here for more on void and voidable deeds.