HOUSTON — A Houston man was arrested Monday and charged with forgery and aggregate theft after he faked the names of his father and two River Oaks homeowners to buy and then sale their properties, according to Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen.
He said Timothy Willard, 32, is the "mastermind" of the alleged scheme involving three properties worth over $15 million.
According to Precinct 1 detectives, Willard would "forge the signature of property owners on their warranty deed and purchase their property at a drastically undervalued price."
"He would sell the property to a fictitious company that he set up and then that company would then sell to him at a very discounted rate," Rosen explained in a news conference. "It took a lot of ingenuity to put this kind of fraud together and he had been at it for awhile."
Real estate agents and title companies were fooled, court documents say.
The year-long investigation began when Precinct 1 was contacted on Oct. 25, 2022, by a man who owns a 47,000-square-foot lot on West Lane in the River Oaks area. He'd gotten a call from the realtor who originally sold him the property who said he'd seen it for sale on HAR.com. The owner told the realtor he wasn't selling the land and still planned to build a home there.
The owner then found the listing under the name Timothy Willard and contacted law enforcement. He also called the realtor on the HAR.com listing to let him know the property wasn't actually for sale so the online listings were removed.
Precinct 1 investigators interviewed the realtor on the listing who said he'd previously listed a home on Braes Acres for Willard in 2020. He said Willard had contacted him on Oct. 10, 2022, about selling the West Lane property. Ten days later, he said Willard requested a price drop from $5 million to $1.5 million to expedite the sale. On Oct. 24, the realtor took the listings down after getting a call from the actual owner.
That realtor, who works for a well-known real estate company that specializes in higher-priced homes, later identified Willard in a photo lineup, according to court documents. "I am 100% sure that's him," he said.
Precinct 1 investigators also learned that a man who identified himself as Willard requested a survey of the West Lane property from the original title company but they denied his request since he wasn't on the deed. A surveillance video later provided to detectives showed Willard at the company's office on Oct. 18, 2022, according to precinct 1.
They said Willard also faked the signatures of two notaries on the deed.
$10M home in River Oaks
During the course of the investigation, detectives uncovered two similar complaints involving Willard, including a property on Inverness Dr. in River Oaks and the home on Braes Acres in southwest Houston that was owned by his father.
Houston police were contacted by the owner of the Inverness Dr. home in March 2023 who said he'd learned of two fraudulent warranty deeds on his property. The owners named on the dead recorded in January were a couple in Beijing, China. In February, the home was "sold" to Timothy Willard with a second fraudulent deed, according to court documents.
Both fraudulent deeds had fake notary signatures, Precinct 1 said.
Dad said he was duped too
Investigators went to Willard's last known address in Richmond in Dec. 2022 and were told by his father, a retired Houston firefighter, that his son no longer lived there and he didn't know where he lived.
They said Willard's father told them he worried that his son would be arrested someday for forgery. He said he'd allowed his son to live in the Braes Acres townhome that he owned in southwest Houston. In 2021, the father said he discovered the home had been sold by Willard without his knowledge or consent so he filed a complaint with the Houston Police Department.
"He defrauded his own father for awhile. His own father didn't want to come forward, obviously it's a child, you don't want to get your child in trouble but ultimately he started finding out some of the stuff he was doing," Rosen said. "His father said 'I've gotta stop this. I'm thankful for his father cause I know how difficult that would be to turn in your own son.
Willard's father provided documents of the forged warranty deed and the HPD case number, according to precinct 1.
The unsuspecting buyer who purchased the townhome for $100,000 is now out that money.
The sales on the two River Oaks properties didn't go through but the owners lost money undoing the damage caused by Willard, Rosen said.
He said it could have been worse.
"He really could have impacted a lot of people's lives by stealing property."
What homeowners should know
Rosen advised owners to keep a close watch on their properties and deeds to avoid becoming victims of similar schemes.
Property owners should also visit the homes they're not living in to look out for squatters who are living there without permission.
According to Rosen, there are companies who will keep an eye on your properties for a fee.
He said anyone who's fallen victim to such crimes shouldn't hesitate to contact law enforcement.
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