Two Northeast residents, one of them a former police commissioner’s son, are among four men facing fraud charges for allegedly “stealing” 22 uninhabited city homes and selling them for profit.
Steven Johnson, the son of retired Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, and three co-conspirators forged the deeds of 22 houses mostly in South Philadelphia, recorded the fraudulent documents with the city and transferred the properties into their own names or the names of fictitious persons, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The scammers then sold the properties to unsuspecting purchasers without the knowledge of the legitimate property owners, the DA’s Office said. Ultimately, several legitimate homeowners contacted authorities after they received notification from the city’s Department of Records that their deeds had been transferred.
The DA filed criminal charges last Wednesday after a three-year probe. The allegations include multiple counts of theft, forgery, tampering with public records and conspiracy.
Johnson, 49, of the 4700 block of Vista St. in Holmesburg, remained at large on Tuesday. His three accomplices all were arrested last Wednesday, the DA’s office said in a prepared statement. The prosecutor identified the others as Elhadi Ibrahim, 48, of the 9500 block of Hoff St. in Bustleton; Oscar Ketter, 42, of the 1500 block of S. Dorrance St. in South Philly; and Zachary Stokes, 55, of the 200 block of Pine St. in Old City.
According to court records, however, Ibrahim was actually arrested on Jan. 7 and charged the following day. Court records also list Stokes’ age as 57, not 55.
The DA’s statement did not elaborate on Johnson’s status, if he was considered a fugitive or if he had been permitted to make arrangements to surrender to authorities. Johnson reportedly is a former SEPTA police lieutenant and a former employee of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, having served until 2006 as head of its internal affairs unit.
Ibrahim and Stokes each remained jailed on Tuesday at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in lieu of $35,000 bail.
According to the DA’s statement, the defendants in many instances forged the signatures of public notaries and applied a counterfeit stamp to the fraudulent deeds so that they could be recorded as public records.
Seventeen of the houses are in South Philly, while two are in North Philly, two in Spring Garden and one in West Philly. ••