Three Indicted in Warranty-Deed Fraud Conspiracy
Defendants Used Forged Documents in Attempts to Take Title to Metro Homes Without Owners’ Knowledge
OKLAHOMA CITY – A federal grand jury has indicted LAURA R. JOHNSON, 44, THOMAS JOHNSON, SR., 51, and CHERYL M. ASHLEY, 69, all of Oklahoma City, for conspiracy, fraud, identity theft, and other crimes, based on allegations that they used fraudulent legal documents to take ownership of more than a dozen homes without the consent or knowledge of the actual owners, announced U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Downing.
According to the indictment, the defendants used fraudulent documents from 2014 until 2019 to obtain title to homes and other properties. A number of properties the defendants are alleged to have targeted had delinquent property taxes and therefore were subject to being auctioned by the Oklahoma County Treasurer’s Office. By paying off one or more years of taxes, the indictment alleges, the defendants caused the properties to be removed from the auction process. The defendants then allegedly filed fraudulent warranty deeds to transfer properties into the names of fictitious companies and individuals. The conspiracy also allegedly included fraudulent confidential stamp tax affidavits, fake mortgages, and forged notary signatures and seals.
Some homeowners are alleged to have vacated their homes based on phony eviction notices posted as part of the conspiracy. When certain victims fought the takeover of their homes in court, the indictment alleges, the defendants filed pleadings with the names of fictitious lawyers and submitted affidavits in court signed by fictitious people.
According to the indictment, the defendants targeted one home that had been owned by a woman who died in 2012. After they gained control of the property, the defendants allegedly used bank records they found in the home and forged a power of attorney in an attempt to withdraw more than $100,000 from the dead woman’s bank account. It is alleged that when that failed, conspirators attempted to steal money by writing checks on the dead woman’s account with forged signatures. It is also alleged they filed a false will in Oklahoma County District Court after the woman’s nephew learned of the death and filed a probate action. According to the indictment, based on the fraudulent information, the court appointed Defendant Laura Johnson as the personal representative of the estate, which enabled her to withdraw $63,950 from the dead woman’s bank accounts and obtain $45,000 from her oil and gas interests.
"Oklahomans have to be able to rely on records county officials maintain to establish ownership of real property," said U.S. Attorney Downing. "When federal charges help uphold the integrity of governmental property records, the Department of Justice will eagerly work with state investigators and prosecute fraud. Thank you to Attorney General Hunter and his team for this outstanding example of federal-state cooperation."
"The elaborate coordination by these defendants and lengths to which they defrauded property owners is disturbing," Attorney General Hunter said. "They not only preyed on victims whose properties were vacant, but they also used forged eviction notices and court documents to remove people from their homes and even targeted the deceased. I appreciate the leadership of U.S. Attorney Downing and our other law enforcement partners for making this case a priority."
All three defendants were arrested this morning. They were arraigned this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary M. Purcell.
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which in the event of convictions could result in sentences of thirty years in prison and fines of up to $1,000,000. Each is also charged with conspiracy to commit identity theft, which could result in sentences of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Laura Johnson is charged with making a false statement to a financial institution and four counts of wire fraud; Thomas Johnson is charged with making a false statement to a financial institution, and one count of bank fraud. Each of these counts could carry a maximum sentence of thirty years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000. Furthermore, Laura Johnson is charged with four counts of aggravated identity theft, while Thomas Johnson is charged with two counts of aggravated identity theft. A conviction on one of these counts would trigger a mandatory two-year prison term, to be served in addition to any other imprisonment imposed in the case. Each defendant would also be ordered to pay restitution to victims for any counts of conviction.
These charges are the result of an investigation by the United States Secret Service and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kerry A. Kelly and Jessica L. Perry are prosecuting the case.
The public is reminded that these charges are merely allegations and that each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Reference is made to public filings for more information.