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Press Release

Florida man sentenced for stealing people’s identities and selling their homes

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

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Florida man was sentenced today to three years in prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

According to court documents, beginning around February 2020, at the start of the pandemic lockdown, Jose Manuel Santiago, 43, of Sarasota, identified unoccupied homes in Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and other states and stole the identities of the homeowners, then sold their homes out from under them to unsuspecting buyers.

Santiago and Rosson Dwayne Hamilton, 40, opened and controlled bank accounts in the names of the property owners. Santiago recruited other people, including Vernon Lavoie, 59, whom Santiago instructed to appear before mobile notaries with high-quality false identification, fraudulently represent themselves as the property owners, and forge the owners’ signatures on closing documents. After money from the sales of the homes was deposited in the accounts, the recruits withdrew the money and provided it to Santiago and Hamilton. Santiago paid recruits with small amounts of cash or illegal drugs. Santiago and Hamilton also wired money from those bank accounts to various retailers.

Though some purchases were reversed, in at least one case the third-party purchaser refused to return the home to the rightful owner despite acknowledging the fraudulent nature of the sale. In another case, the rightful owner lost his irreplaceable military memorabilia and other personal belongings as a result of the fraudulent sale of his home.

During the conspiracy, Santiago and his co-conspirators attempted to fraudulently sell at least 10 properties and stole the identities of at least 10 people. They successfully obtained $581,808 and attempted to obtain an additional $768,175. Santiago pled guilty on Feb. 20.

Hamilton pled guilty on Feb. 6 and was sentenced to one day in prison. Lavoie, who charged separately, pled guilty on July 28, 2021, and was sentenced to two years seven months in prison.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and David J. Scott, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office's Criminal and Cyber Division, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Russell L. Carlberg and Christopher Hood prosecuted the case. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Carina Cuellar prosecuted Lavoie and significantly contributed to the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:23-cr-193.

This release was revised on May 7, 2024, to correct the sentence of Vernon Lavoie. The original version showed a sentence of seven months in prison.


Press Officer

Updated May 7, 2024

Consumer Protection
Financial Fraud