Local News

One charged, five investigated in Wake County squatting scheme

Posted August 10, 2011 5:46 p.m. EDT
Updated August 10, 2011 11:21 p.m. EDT

— The state Attorney General’s office is investigating a Wake County property deed scam ring after authorities arrested a Raleigh man Tuesday who they say squatted at a foreclosed home on Graedon Drive for more than a month.

Shawn Adrian Pendergraft, 39, of 2630 Cherry Circle, faces breaking and entering, obtaining property by false pretenses and second-degree trespassing charges. He is being held in the Wake County jail under a $170,000 bond.

No one else has been charged, but Attorney General Roy Cooper says Pendergraft and five others filed fraudulent paperwork to transfer foreclosed homes into their names and then set up bogus land trusts to place more than $1 million in property liens on the homes.

“It’s a very bizarre occurrence,” Cooper said. “These people go in and file bogus liens on properties. They file bogus deeds to themselves.”

The liens, Cooper said in a news release, were “filled with phony legal language lifted from the Internet and designed to intimidate the true property owners and potential buyers into thinking that the property couldn’t be sold without paying the phony lien.”

The investigation was prompted by complaints from several homeowners in the neighborhood, off Lake Wheeler Drive, where Pendergraft was allegedly squatting. Neighbors told police that they saw someone moving into the home on Saturday, even though it's listed for sale by Prudential York Simpson Underwood Realty, with an asking price of $700,000.

Realtor Lee St. Peter, who listed the property, told investigators that the home is still listed for sale and that DLJ Mortgage Capital, which purchased the property in a foreclosure sale, still claims ownership.

“This is something that has started recently. There are a couple of cases like this down in Union County (and the) Charlotte area,” Cooper said. “It’s important that we be able to take action.”

Realtor Peter Greijn is the listing agent for a $2 million home on Thaney Court in Wake Forest. He said that Nu Vision International Trust filed a general warranty lien and a common law lien on the property, even though the Bank of Hampton Roads legally owns the home.

Though he said he doesn't think anyone was squatting at the home, he does believe the people behind the phony land trust put up a handwritten "No Trespassing" sign on the front door.

Greijn said that this kind of fraudulent interference could impact his ability to sell a home.

"It could stop the closing," he said. "It can spook buyers."

At Cooper’s request, Wake County Superior Court Judge Henry W. Hight Jr. granted a temporary restraining order against four phony land trusts – Natural International Land Trust, ONCE International Land Trust and Nu Vision International Trust – and the individuals believed to be behind them – Pendergraft, Nathaniel John Church, Don Cornelius McCullers, Malandie Terrell Winston, Montreal Lee White and Lawrence Christopher White.

The order bars them from trying to take possession of homes by filing false deeds or liens, Cooper said in a news release. It also prevents them from destroying any paperwork that might assist the investigation.

Cooper is seeking tougher laws to crack down on people who file false paperwork to move into foreclosed homes and wants the defendants to pay civil penalties. A hearing on that is scheduled for Aug. 19.

"We are not going to tolerate this," Cooper said. "My office is going to take action."