LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) – It’s not easy to steal a house, but four people in the D.C. region have pled guilty to doing just that.
Two Maryland residents and two Virginia settlement agents conspired to fraudulently take over D.C. home titles without the property owners’ knowledge, then sell the homes for profit, according to the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
According to court records, 25-year-old Jamaul Roberts, of College Park, 41-year-old Michael Brown, of Hyattsville, and settlement agents Patricia Mantilla, of Lorton, and Melissa McWilliams, of Chantilly, both 35, were part of a complicated scheme to illegally sell homes that were vacant, passed on to heirs after the owner’s death or owned by elderly people in nursing homes.
They would use sources such as Ancestry.com and the D.C. property tax database to locate vulnerable properties where they could take over the home’s title without the real owners’ knowledge.
The conspirators recruited “straw sellers” to sign documents and falsely represent themselves as the owners of the properties. Brown appointed himself the personal representative of the rightful owner of one property and prepared a fake death certificate for the owner, although the owner was still living.
The sales were facilitated by Mantilla and McWilliams, who worked at Ace Title & Escrow in Annandale. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, they knew the sales were fraudulent and that the owners appearing at settlement were not the true owners. They also assisted in hiding profits from property sales from other parties involved in the sale through fictitious invoices.
The scheme yielded more than $1 million in losses.
All four named parties pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud. Roberts and Brown face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and Mantilla and McWilliams face a maximum penalty of five years in prison. All will be sentenced this spring.
The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington Field Office.
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