Police investigating more than a dozen similar cases.
CLEVELAND — A Cuyahoga County Grand Jury has
indicted three men accused of using forged documents to steal and then
attempt to sell houses across Cleveland and Garfield Heights.
Mitchell, David Garner and Maquis Lomax were charged in a 15-count
indictment accusing the men of forgery, tampering with records, grand
theft, theft and identity fraud.
Investigators say the group
forged signatures on quit claim deeds and then filed them with the
county recorder's office to make it appear as though they owned the
properties. Police say the group then listed the properties on the
internet in hopes of finding buyers. According to court records, at
least four homes were fraudulently transferred in the scheme.
Police told 5 On Your Side Investigators they've received more than a
dozen reports of similar cases in recent months. They have not said if
all the cases are connected.
"They in effect steal the house and
then they just make money on it right away," said Cleveland Police
spokesperson Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia.
Jeff Kovatch, owner of Kovatch
Property Investments, said the scheme held up his plans to purchase,
renovate and move renters into a now-vacant home on Tioga Avenue on
Cleveland's East Side.
"At face value it sounds like that can't be
possible, right? You can't steal a house can you?" said Kovatch.
"Well, yeah, you can."
Kovatch said he was just days from closing
on the purchase of the home, when his title company alerted him to the
fact the owners Kovatch was dealing with didn't actually own the house,
according to a quit claim deed on file with Cuyahaoga County.
went through a lot of work," said Kovatch, "they had an attorney's name
on there, they had a notary on there, they had stamps and everything
But investigators say it was fraud.
"It all looks like it adds up, and sometimes it just doesn't," Ciaccia said.
spotting the crime can be difficult. When a crook files fraudulent quit
claim deeds, county records reflect the change in property ownership.
hard because if you do your research and look up who owns the house,
you're seeing the name of the person who's trying to sell it to you,"
Police suggest going through a reputable realtor or
title company when purchasing a house and avoiding buying from someone
who insists on using a quit claim deed to transfer ownership.
these documents are made to make it easy to transfer property between
trusted parties," said Ciaccia. "They're not really meant for sales."
months after he was set to close on the home, Kovatch said his purchase
has stalled. No work has started. No one has moved in.
The house on Tioga remains an empty eyesore while it's caught in what investigators believe is a web of fraud.
rolls downhill and everybody is affected," said Kovatch. "Everybody is
on hold. Everybody is now at the whim of what this person did."
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