Arson investigation uncovers scam

June 4, 2008 5:37:54 PM PDT
Authorities say they have uncovered a scam to steal houses during a routine arson investigation into a series of fires in Brooklyn.They say the three people they arrested had fake deeds to buildings. And that's when cops say their house of cards fell apart.

Eyewitness News reporter Tim Fleischer has the story

There are unscrupulous people who want to steal your home. That's the warning coming from Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. And sometimes, he says, it is made easier by what he believes is a flaw in the law.

Three floors of renters are being forced to find homes elsewhere after investigators seized a building in Crown Heights. Now, Carlyle Ebanks and Mavis Samuel are charged with multiple counts of grand larceny.

"There are people out there who are looking to steal your property," Hynes said.

It began with an arson investigation and led to a paper trail, ending with investigators accusing the pair of mortgage fraud.

"And they falsified mortgage applications and mortgage documents to create a sham purchase," assistant DA Laura Neubauer said.

And if those false documents, prosecutors say, appear to be recordable, notarized and with seals. They must be accepted by the recording offices.

Prosecutors claim Ebanks and Samuel pocketed up to $300,000, plus $50,000 paid by the insurance company for the fire.

The district attorney is now calling for a change in the law.

"That the last known owner of the deed be contacted before that recording is is accepted," Hynes said.

Now if you are a homeowner, there are some warning signs to look for and tips to help you protect your home.

Be suspicious if you suddenly stop getting routine bills, like water and power. Also watch out for, if you are buying a home, if you are unaware of all documents you are signing. Also beware if you are told to sign blank documents.

You can protect yourself by requesting your credit report. Learn what a deed looks like, and be aware of what you are signing and read everything carefully.