A New York mortgage loan officer is one of five people accused in an indictment by the state’s attorney general of being involved in a deed theft ring that supposedly netted the perpetrators over $1 million in proceeds.
Stacie Saunders is listed on the Nationwide Multi-State Licensing System as a loan officer at Jet Direct Funding in Bay Shore, N.Y. Saunders was one of three people arraigned in Queens County Supreme Court, along with Anyekache Hercules, a disbarred attorney, and Jerry Currin. Currin is the son of the late owner of one of the properties involved in the title fraud but apparently was not a lawful heir of the estate.
A message was left for Saunders’ attorney. An internet check of phone numbers associated with Hercules found all of them disconnected. Contact information for Currin was not found. Messages were left for the attorneys assigned by the court for both of them.
The other indicted parties, Marcus Wilcher and Dean Lloyd, along with three other individuals yet to be identified, are still at large, the attorney general’s press release said.
“No one should face the nightmare of having their home stolen from them without any warning, knowledge, or reason,” said Attorney General Letitia James in the press release. “Deed theft is a merciless crime that targets seniors, and often people of color, who are asset rich but cash poor, and reliant on their homes as a stabilizing force for their families and loved ones.”
The case started with a complaint from Dion Stevens on behalf of his parents, whose home at 168-11 119 Avenue in Queens was one of the properties stolen.
This indictment has a total of 30 counts. The maximum penalty under the top charge in the indictment if convicted is 15 years. This includes all five being charged with two Class C felonies, money laundering and grand larceny.
Wilcher allegedly found properties in the Jamaica and St. Albans neighborhoods in Queens that were in poor or rundown condition with an absentee owner. In three of the alleged instances of fraud, the title was transferred without the legal owner’s knowledge; for a fourth property involved, the sale was canceled after the buyer found something amiss.
After an investor expressed interest in purchasing a home, Wilcher allegedly secured personal information about the real owners, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, to create falsified drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards and bank cards, the New York AG said. Wilcher and Saunders reportedly found people to impersonate the real owners at contract signings and closings.
In Currin’s case, he appeared at the closing for his mother’s home with someone he claimed was his sister, the estate’s executor. Currin also allegedly submitted a false affidavit in support of a second estate sale for a different stolen property, written as a long-time family friend.
At least one attempt to sell the Currin home, as well as that second property, went awry in December 2019, according to the indictment, as the real estate investor, only identified in the indictment as IB, found the sellers to be imposters. Saunders agreed to return the down payments for those properties.
However, another buyer was found a month later for the Currin property.
The New York Department of State made the criminal referral to the attorney general. Other enforcement or regulatory bodies cited as participating in the investigation were the New York City Department of Finance; the Yeadon, Pennsylvania Police Department; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration; and the New York Police Department as well as the New York City Sheriff.
“Perpetrators prey upon the elderly, the financially disadvantaged, and the medically infirmed through deception and a variety of nefarious schemes,” said New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda. “The Sheriff’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation will continue to coordinate our effort to protect homeowners and investigate these horrific thefts along with all of our law enforcement partners in the city.”
Risk factors for title fraud were found in just under half of the 160,000 transactions that moved through the FundingShield ecosystem in the third quarter, the company reported.
Meanwhile, the American Land Title Association is fighting the growing use of title insurance alternatives like attorney opinion letters.
These alternatives are generally cheaper than the lender’s title insurance policy they are designed to replace. (Title insurance usually is coupled with a separate optional borrowers’ policy, both of which the consumer pays for).
ALTA argued after United Wholesale Mortgage rolled out its own alternative that the closing cost savings available to borrowers outweigh a potential increase in risk that ownership rights on mortgaged homes could be forfeited.
“The reality is you might be saving them a few bucks on the front end, and costing them a lot more on the back end,” said Steve Gottheim, ALTA’s general counsel.