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Detroit – Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged four Metro Detroiters with operating a fraudulent mortgage and property deed ring.

James Webb, 44, of Detroit, was the alleged ringleader of a group that included Geneva Edwards, 42, of New Baltimore, Zarvelar Weems-Jones, 46, of Southfield and Trini El-Bey, 52, of Detroit.

At a Tuesday news conference, Worthy said Webb put together a scheme to cheat potential homebuyers out of thousands of dollars and the legal property owners by illegally taking possession of 19 homes, charging prospective homebuyers fees ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and denying the legal homeowners possession of their homes.

Worthy said the alleged scam occurred between January 2016 and March 2017 and that part of the scheme was to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners by illegally taking possession of vacant and abandoned properties.

The ring even illegally registered and transferrred the properties to the buyers through the “Accelerated Tax Lien Foreclosure Process.” Some of the targeted homes had delinquent taxes on them.

According to Worthy, the defendants issued false or forged affidavits, and in a few cases, fake quit-claim deeds, which were unlawfully recorded with the Wayne County Register of Deeds. She said 23 people were defrauded, including a Canadian man and a woman from Ireland.

“They’re out of their money and they have to move,” Worthy said about those who bought property from Webb thinking it was a legal transaction.

The scheme netted more than $21,000, Worthy said.

In some cases, Webb allegedly would contact the legal owners of the home and advise them that he had taken possession of the property and that he would leave if the homeowner gave him money.

Some of the properties included attractive brick homes in some of Detroit’s most stable neighborhoods.

Webb faces 34 felony counts, including extortion, conducting a criminal enterprise, uttering and publishing document affecting real property, forgery of a document affecting real property, larceny by false pretenses, recording fraudulent conveyance, encumbering real property and home invasion.

Edwards and Weems-Jones are charged with eight felonies each, while El-Bey faces three felony counts.

No arraignments have been scheduled yet, Worthy said during the news conference at her office that included Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Bernard Youngblood, the Wayne County register of deeds.

Youngblood advised property owners to sign up for an account on waynecountylandrecords.com to keep track of transactions on their property. He urged property buyers to seek the assistance of a Realtor when buying a home or land.

Napoleon cautioned prospective buyers, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The case was investigated by the Mortgage & Deed Fraud Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“The alleged scheme and subsequent actions of these defendants are unconscionable,” said Worthy. The stealing of these 19 properties went on for over a year and 23 people in and out of the United States were defrauded – most of them were Michiganders. The impact is felt by us all. Without the Wayne County Mortgage and Deed Fraud Task Force, this scheme may have gone on for years with untold repercussions.”

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

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