Laverne Green was shocked to discover that someone had stolen her house and moved strangers in. She was even more dismayed to find out that she had to start court proceedings to get her own house back.
It all started when Green and her husband, undergoing a divorce, had moved out of their Prince Georges County, Maryland, townhouse. Green still stopped by weekly to make sure everything was OK with the house. But in May 2013, she arrived to find an unwelcome surprise when she discovered that her key didn’t work in the door.
“So I knock on the door, and this lady comes to the door,” Green told ABC News’ “20/20.” “She said that she was renting the property. I’m like, ‘How can you rent this property–this is my house?’”
The renters said they procured the house through broker Shannon Lee. They called Lee, who arrived minutes later.
“This lady pulls up in this black BMW. She jumps out of the car, and she said, ‘Well, I bought this property through a tax sale,’” Green recalled. “I asked her, ‘[Do you] have the deeds and everything to the house?’ She said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got everything.’”
Police say Lee had actually taken control of her house with forged documents and then rented it out.
“Nobody suspected that someone would actually advertise a property they didn’t own and collect rent on it,” prosecutor Angela Alsobrooks told “20/20.”
Alsobrooks said this type of scam only works if the real homeowner isn’t around to notice. Luckily, Green not only visited her house often, but she also was a secretary for the Prince Georges County Police. Instead of calling 911, Green asked co-worker Lt. Charles Duelley for help.
Duelley got a search warrant for Lee’s home and discovered a stack of deeds he said were forged for other homes and other evidence of a scheme in progress much larger than he’d ever imagined.
“I identified probably 15 to 20 other properties … that had been targeted,” Duelley told “20/20.”
Police say Lee, along with her alleged partner in crime, Qiana Johnson, apparently gained control of at least six houses and planned to steal 15 to 20 more.
Duelley believes Lee scouted the area for houses that appeared vacant and were pending foreclosure. He said she compiled meticulous house by house reports of potential targets, even breaking in to take photos.
Lee then used blank deeds, according to Duelley, adding her name as the new owner, a fake notary seal and a bogus lawyer signature. She then simply walked into the county records department to officially enter that counterfeit into the public record.
Charrise and Michael Stewart answered an advertisement Lee posted when she was looking to rent one house she had taken over.
“We fell in love with it,” Charrise Stewart told “20/20.” “It was everything we wanted in a house, and the price was right.”
The Stewarts said Lee represented herself as a respected broker, gave them a tour and got them to sign a lease. It seemed legitimate to them, despite some suspicious red flags, they said.
“From the outside you can see the damage done to the locks of the door, as if someone busted in the door, changed the locks on the door,” Michael Stewart said. Lee claimed that the scratches were from when she had trouble changing the locks.
The couple also wondered why they were not receiving electric bills from the local utility, Pepco. The Stewarts called the utility, but were told they couldn’t find them in the system as the owners.
In the meanwhile, authorities said, Lee and Johnson were collecting rent from the house and other properties they’d stolen. They allegedly even sold one for a pile of cash.