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Three Arrested In Coconut Grove Quitclaim Fraud Scheme

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Coconut Grove is the oldest continuous neighborhood in Miami, and some of the families there have lived there for generations.  Shirley Gibson’s grandfather immigrated to Florida in 1904 and settled in Coconut Grove, and her family still owns the land he bought; she inherited two vacant lots from her father Clarence when he died in 1987.  In the spring of 2021, newly vaccinated and with a new appreciation for running errands in person, Gibson, 86, went to a county office to pay the property taxes on the two properties, and she found out that the Plaza Street property had been sold and that the new owner had paid property taxes on it.  That was when she knew that she had been defrauded.  Here, our Miami fraud defense lawyer explains how the defendants obtained Gibson’s property through fraudulent means, how her lawyer helped to uncover the truth, and how the incident is likely part of a larger conspiracy to deprive elderly Floridians of their real estate properties.

The Charges: Theft from a Person 65 Years or Older

If you have spent more than a few minutes in Florida, you are aware that it is home to a large population of elderly people, so it is unsurprising that Florida ranks second only to California, another famously sunny place to visit grandparents, for the number of cases of elder fraud.  According to an FBI report, fraudsters stole $84,000,000 from Floridians above age 60 in 2020.  The old-fashioned methods of elder fraud involved taking advantage of the loneliness or ill health of an elderly person and, while pretending to be the victim’s friend, persuading them to give you large sums of money or making transactions without the victim’s knowledge.  Email scams were also a common mechanism of elder fraud before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic brought all kinds of new opportunities for fraudsters to falsify documents that appeared to give them access to the money or property of their elderly victims.  With people over 60 considered one of the highest risk groups for severe COVID-19 disease, and with an entire year passing between the first documented COVID-19 cases in Florida and the first vaccine doses administered to Florida seniors, that meant plenty of time to forge the signatures of elderly victims without them finding out.  Notaries and civil servants tended to take a young man at his word that the signature on a document belonging to his great-uncle was a more responsible and appropriate action than requiring an elderly and vulnerable person to trek to a downtown office to sign.

This is probably how the defendants gained possession of Shirley Gibson’s property.  Gary Bodzin of Trans-State title received a quitclaim deed for the Plaza Street property, bearing a forged signature that the bearer claimed belonged to Gibson.  Bodzin conducted the closing in March 2021 virtually because of the pandemic, and he wired $224,348,42.00 (the $230,000 sale price minus closing costs) to someone who claimed to be Gibson and issued a new title for the property to a company called Ollie Development, LLC.

The Charges: Money Laundering, Grand Theft, and Organized Scheme to Defraud

According to the arrest warrant, surveillance video at a Chase Bank showed Otis Lathen Powell entering a bank branch and depositing a check for the same amount that the person pretending to be Gibson had received for the sale of the Plaza Street property.  He deposited in into the business account of a company that belonged to Jason Webley, Sr.  In June, Powell, Webley, and Shantel Vennissa Chang were arrested and charged with grand theft, money laundering, organized scheme to defraud, and theft from a person 65 years or older.  Each defendant faces six felony counts.

With the help of her attorney, Gibson was able to avert the theft of another property she had inherited, this one on Charles Avenue.  Gibson’s attorney saw the property listed for sale on Zillow and contacted the realtor to ask who had listed it.  The realtor said that the alleged owner who contacted her gave his name as Clarence Gibson.  Shirley Gibson’s lawyer told the realtor that the real Clarence Gibson had died decades earlier and that his daughter, who inherited it, has no intention of selling it.  The realtor took the listing down.

Contact Us Today for Help

A Miami identity theft lawyer can help you exercise your legal rights if you are facing criminal charges for elder fraud or another financial crime.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo for help today.

Resources:

yahoo.com/news/three-arrested-property-fraud-case-110000609.html

miaminewtimes.com/news/miami-hits-weather-records-for-heat-and-humidity-12415457

ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2020_IC3ElderFraudReport.pdf

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