Four face fraud charges in theft of city homes

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. ••

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