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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."
posted by supercres (12 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cf. This American Life, "Held Hostage", Act 2.
posted by Beardman at 11:39 AM on October 11, 2010


Beardman... I don't get it?

Crazy article though. I can't believe how easy it was for this guy to do this.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:42 AM on October 11, 2010


Whoops, didn't do my due diligence: found via philly.brownstoner.
posted by supercres at 11:48 AM on October 11, 2010


I feel like now is a good time to post the Drunk Philly Government Twitter feed.
posted by The Michael The at 11:50 AM on October 11, 2010


Sorry--I thought that part of that episode of TAL would also be of interest to people reading this article. It's not quite the same situation, but involves a crook forging documents that allow him to move back into houses that he once owned but had been seized by the city. The people who bought those houses in the meantime suddenly find him living there one day (or else harassing them outside; it depends, he did it to a lot of people). Then the guy took to forging documents for houses he had never owned, with the same effect. The police always say the documents look real, and so the new owners have no choice but to always check with City Hall to see if he has filed any documents, which they then have to contest on grounds of forgery.
posted by Beardman at 11:52 AM on October 11, 2010


Bank of America should hire this guy to handle their foreclosures.
posted by ryoshu at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


"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."

See...they're doing it wrong. The threshold should be a simple yes/no question. "Did you vote to cut taxes and, thus, cut city operating budgets?" Yes=no action on your claim of deed theft. No=We're on it!
posted by Thorzdad at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, cool. I'll look into it Beardman. Sorry, I just read the description and thought, "This isn't the same AT ALL! I AM OUTRAGED!" Hehehe. I came off as meaner than I am. I'm just a little slow.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:00 PM on October 11, 2010


The Michael The: That twitter feed is so, so good.

@DrunkPhillyGov: CITY OF PHILADELPHIA TO OFFER JEFF ZUCKER ANY JOB HE WANTS AS LONG AS HE PROMISES TO TELL WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED ON THE BIONIC WOMAN

Yeeeeees...
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:03 PM on October 11, 2010


Beardman: Interesting story. Similar sort of fraud. Here's a nola.com news article about Nathaniel Dowl, the crook in question.

In the Philly story, it's the people who buy the stolen property for $5,000 and can't afford lawyers to do due diligence on the transaction that I really feel for. Seems like city hall is doing nothing to protect these people, the real victims of the fraud.
posted by supercres at 12:03 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also getting on the act those crazy sovereign citizen types.
posted by tallus at 8:18 PM on October 11, 2010


I wonder how many drug users were busted while entire homes were being stolen.
posted by effugas at 11:19 PM on October 11, 2010


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