Monday, May 01, 2017

Cops Bag Phony Real Estate Operator For Allegedly Using 'Dirty Deeds', Other Forged Documents To Snatch & Flip Title To Five Vacant Homes To Unwitting Buyers; Consummated Transactions Were Informal Cash Deals That Lacked Traditional Closings, Purchase Of Title Insurance

In Norristown, Pennsylvania, The Times Herald reports:
  • A local man is facing an extensive list of charges stemming from a scheme in which authorities say he illegally assumed ownership of several homes in the municipality, and either rented them out or sold them to prospective investors.

    Troy Pickens, 27, of West Airy street, is accused of forging the documents of sale of at least five vacant Norristown properties, getting the records of sale fraudulently notarized, then obtaining deeds for the houses in his name or in the name of his company.

    According to the affidavit of probable cause, Pickens’ real estate ruse began to unravel on Dec. 27, 2016, when police responded to a report of a burglary in progress at 221 E. Oak Street. Officers detained the suspect, who was spotted in an upstairs window and took him in for questioning.

    The suspect claimed the residence, which police later discovered was supposed to be vacant and condemned, was rented by his girlfriend, who said she leased the apartment from Pickens a few weeks prior.

    She told investigators she paid Pickens a down payment of $1,600 for first and last months’ rent and security before moving in, and an additional $800, which included one month’s rent, and one month credited for electrical work that still needed to be done on the property.

    That electrical work, detectives would subsequently find out, was a bypass of PECO electrical boxes.

    Police spoke with Pickens, who, they say, represented himself as the property’s manager working for Pick 1 Real Estate. He produced a letter, purportedly from the property’s owner, which heightened investigators’ suspicions.

    “The letter lacked credibility,” according to the criminal complaint, and was replete with technical errors and spelling and grammar mistakes. A phone contact on the letter turned out to belong to Pickens’ ex-girlfriend, police said. And when they called it, they heard a greeting in Pickens’ voice, representing Pick 1 Real Estate Company.

    On April 3, police conducting a follow-up investigation discovered that five Norristown properties had been purchased by Troy Pickens or Pick 1 Real Estate.

    Detectives found that all of the properties were sold at “extraordinarily large discounted prices” then immediately resold to third parties on the cheap.

    Police began tracking down the owners of the properties and learned that none of them had actually sold to Pickens.

    One of the owners said his ex-wife — who’s signature had been allegedly forged on the deed — co-owned their property, and had been out of the country for the last 20 years, so there was no way he could have completed such a sale.

    The daughter of another owner told police it was impossible that her father signed the deed over to Pickens, since he died in 1992.

    A couple owning another one of the properties confirmed with authorities that the signatures on the deed were not theirs.

    And a woman reported to police that one of the buyers who had unwittingly “bought” her mother’s home from Pickens had contacted the family seeking to recover county tax payments he made on their property.

    Upon further investigation, police allege Pickens fraudulently used the stamp and signature of his aunt, a registered notary in Philadelphia, on the deeds of the homes he “purchased.”

    He allegedly used a different notary, based in Montgomery County, to notarize the “sale” of five properties to two individuals; one of whom bought four of the properties from Pickens; and the other, who bought one.
    ***
    The buyer who purchased the bulk of the properties was interviewed by police and gave a statement, but refused to sign it, the affidavit said.

    He reportedly told investigators that he could be out $26,000 as the result of the fraud, without including back taxes and renovation costs he had already poured into the homes.

    The other buyer — who had requested county taxes back from the original owner — was told by police not to contact the family again, but to seek restitution from Pickens after the case is adjudicated.

    Both buyers reportedly paid Pickens in cash and no title insurance was obtained for the purchase or sale of any of the properties

    The charges leveled at Pickens include corrupt organization, theft by unlawful taking, dealing in proceeds from illegal activity, identity theft, deceptive or fraudulent business practices, forgery and tampering with records.
    ***
    “None of the sales adhered to the guidelines of National Association of Realtors,” the affidavit states. “None of the sales appeared to go through a recognized brokerage. None of the sales involved a sales agreement, according to (the notary who notarized the sale from Pickens) and (the man who bought four houses from him). And “no additional paperwork, other than the paperwork required by the county, was completed...”

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