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Press Release

Local Non-Profit Director Charged in Pernicious “Deed Fraud” Scheme Targeting Low Income Detroiters

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Michigan

DETROIT – Zina Thomas, 60, of Detroit was charged in a criminal complaint filed in United States District Court for her role orchestrating a fraud scheme that stole houses from dozens of Detroit residents, announced United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison.

Ison was joined in the announcement by Special Agent-in-Charge Cheyvoryea Gibson, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Special Agent-in-Charge Machelle L. Jindra, Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General; Detroit Police Chief James E. White; and Wayne County Register of Deeds Bernard J. Youngblood.   

The complaint charges Thomas with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. Thomas was arrested today.

According to the complaint, Thomas, while serving as the Director of Homeownership Programs for the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), conspired with other individuals to steal over 30 properties across Wayne County, predominately located in the City of Detroit.  The complaint alleges that Thomas and others perpetrated a scheme to defraud by filing multiple fraudulent quitclaim deeds, frequently transferring the target properties from the victim-owners to non-existent “interim owners” before ultimately selling the properties to unwitting third parties.  It is also alleged that these fraudulent deeds were falsely notarized by Thomas or another person, which made them appear legitimate and thus enabled them to be filed with the Register of Deeds. The complaint also alleges that Thomas emailed a Wayne County Treasurer’s Office employee fake driver’s licenses and other documents, which were then uploaded into the Treasurer’s Property Tax Administration system to halt pending foreclosures.  According to the complaint, Thomas received payment for at least some of the properties via wire transfer into a bank account in the name of her realty company, and Thomas then transferred proceeds from that account to her personal bank account. And the scheme targeted low-income individuals who were facing potential tax foreclosure. According to the complaint, Thomas currently resides in one of the properties involved in the scheme.

The United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing housing assistance to Detroit’s low-income residents.  The UCHC and its executive leadership cooperated with the investigation.

United States Attorney Ison stated, “This scheme targeted some of our most financially vulnerable citizens and was perpetrated by an individual whose job it was to help those very people avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. This arrest is the result of a multi-agency, cooperative investigation involving both federal and state law enforcement, and is reflective of our ongoing efforts to identify and disrupt fraud schemes like this as quickly as possible.” 

“While working in a capacity to provide assistance to residents experiencing financial hardships, Ms. Thomas allegedly exploited individuals in the process of losing their homes,” said Cheyvoryea Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan. "The FBI and its law enforcement partners will continue to investigate these reprehensible acts of fraud.”

“Thomas allegedly abused her position to help fraudulently sell properties facing tax foreclosure for her own personal gain,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Machelle Jindra with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General.  “HUD OIG will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to bring bad actors to justice and protect the integrity of HUD housing programs.” 

“I want to thank U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison for her continued collaboration to ensure that those who victimize Detroit residents face the fullest consequences of the law,” said Detroit Police Chief James E. White. “The DPD remains committed to addressing all aspects of crime and working with our partners across law enforcement to keep Detroiters safe.”

“A rash of incoming complaints to my Deed Fraud Task Force, followed with methodical investigative teamwork, culminated in today’s announcement,” said Wayne County Register of Deeds Bernard J. Youngblood.  “Wayne County is the national leader in combating this new crimewave and we are proud to partner with local, state and federal law enforcement to protect the property rights of our citizens.”

A complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Trial cannot be held on felony charges in a complaint. When the investigation is completed, a determination will be made whether to seek a felony indictment.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General, and the Detroit Police Department.  Significant investigative assistance was provided by the Wayne County Register of Deeds’ Mortgage & Deed Fraud Unit.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ryan A. Particka.

Updated February 28, 2024

Financial Fraud