Indictment: Suspects targeted delinquent properties, deceased to take ownership of homes

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A federal grand jury has indicted three people accused of using fraudulent legal documents to take ownership of more than a dozen homes.

Authorities say 44-year-old Laura Johnson, 51-year-old Thomas Johnson, Sr., and 69-year-old Cheryl Ashley were indicted on charges of conspiracy, fraud, identity theft, and other crimes.

According to the indictment, the defendants used fraudulent documents from 2014 through 2019 to obtain titles to homes and other properties that were often being auctioned by the Oklahoma County Treasurer’s Office.

By paying off one or more years of taxes, the properties were then removed from the auction process. At that point, the defendants allegedly filed fraudulent warranty deeds to transfer properties into the names of fake companies and individuals.

In some cases, homeowners left their property after receiving phony eviction notices posted as part of the conspiracy. When the victims fought the takeover of their homes in court, the indictment claims the defendants filed pleadings with the names of fake lawyers and submitted affidavits in court that were signed by fictitious people.

“The elaborate coordination by these defendants and lengths to which they defrauded property owners is disturbing,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “They not only preyed on victims whose properties were vacant, but they also used forged eviction notices and court documents to remove people from their homes and even targeted the deceased. I appreciate the leadership of U.S. Attorney Downing and our other law enforcement partners for making this case a priority.”

According to the indictment, the defendants targeted the home of a woman who died in 2012. After they gained control of the property, they allegedly used bank records they found in the home and forged a power of attorney in an attempt to withdraw more than $100,000 from the woman’s bank account.

When that failed, officials say they attempted to write checks on the dead woman’s account with forged signatures. Investigators say they also filed a false will in Oklahoma County District Court.

Based on fraudulent information, the court appointed Johnson as the personal representative of the estate, which allowed her to withdraw $63,000 from the woman’s bank account and $45,000 from her oil and gas interests.

“Oklahomans have to be able to rely on records county officials maintain to establish ownership of real property,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy Downing.  “When federal charges help uphold the integrity of governmental property records, the Department of Justice will eagerly work with state investigators and prosecute fraud.  Thank you to Attorney General Hunter and his team for this outstanding example of federal-state cooperation.”

Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft.

Laura Johnson is charged with making a false statement to a financial institution, four counts of aggravated identity theft, and four counts of wire fraud; Thomas Johnson is charged with making a false statement to a financial institution, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and one count of bank fraud.

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