The pen is mightier than City Hall
October 11, 2010 11:34 AM Subscribe
Grand Theft Rowhome: A look into a seemingly-lucrative business of stealing deeds to Philadelphia houses armed with nothing more than pen, paper, and a forged notary stamp. The depressing take-home message? The city's bureaucracy can't get its act together enough to slow down the practice, and budget cuts are only making that worse...
Those three entities — the city, the police and the D.A.'s Office — are quick to blame each other: Caulfield says that if the city imposed more checks before the deeds are processed — that is, before the houses are stolen — the D.A.'s Office would have a better shot at prosecuting the cases that fell through the cracks. The city, meanwhile, points the finger at the D.A.'s Office [as] the Department of Records isn't an investigative body. That's the D.A.'s job. ... But the D.A.'s Office relies on the cops to gather evidence and bring it cases to prosecute. However, the cops aren't really trained for these types of things....
Amid this bureaucratic back-and-forth, victims and advocates worry that some deed thefts, especially smaller-value cases or cases involving a single home, are being ignored. At the Sept. 22 hearing, Caulfield denied this was so: "There is not now, nor has there ever been, any numerical or monetary threshold" for prosecution of these crimes.
At least half of that claim is untrue. In 2006, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham admitted that her office employed such a threshold: Arguing for more funding in a 2006 budget hearing, Abraham told City Council that when it came to economic crimes, including deed theft, "We've had to raise that threshold amount from $10,000 to $25,000. And if things don't improve this year, we're going to raise it to $50,000."
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