QUEENS, New York (WABC) -- It is what New York Attorney General Letitia James called a "merciless crime" that targets seniors and often people of color: deed theft.
On Friday, James announced the indictment of five purported members of a deed theft ring on charges they stole three homes from elderly homeowners in Jamaica and St. Albans, Queens.
According to the indictment, the defendants impersonated the homeowners by using forged driver's licenses and Social Security cards and closed on the properties with forged signatures on deeds and documents.
"No one should face the nightmare of having their home stolen from them without any warning, knowledge, or reason," James said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the charges. "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."
Deed theft is increasingly pervasive and a growing challenge, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
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According to the indictment, Marcus Wilcher, 47, targeted run-down homes with absentee owners. Stacie Saunders, 51, marketed the homes to investors at reduced prices. The pair then found personal information about the owners and recruited people to impersonate them at the closings.
Anyekache Hercules, 47, allegedly created the forged documents. Jerry Currin, 66, and Dean Lloyd, 61, pretended to be the homeowners.
The quintet targeted three homes in Queens and sold them for more than $1 million, according to the indictment.
Saunders, Hercules and Currin each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of money laundering, grand larceny and other charges.
Wilcher and Lloyd are not yet in custody.
Now one of the victimized families is fighting in civil court to get the deed back so they can fix up their home and keep it in the family. They are relieved the criminal case is moving forward the people accused of forging their way into ownership and stealing it.
Dion Stevens spoke to Eyewitness News from Michigan. He said he has seen what their old family home of 40 years looks like now, but doesn't want his parents to see. He said they moved away but were starting to renovate it two years ago when someone else let them know the house was for sale.
"We realized that the house was actually listed on Zillow," Stevens said. "At that particular time, we realized that the house was no longer in my parents name."
Katz's office said one way to prevent deed theft is to find the city registry online and make sure your property is registered. You will then be notified if anyone is using or requesting any changes to your deed.
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