Northeast Times

In deed fraud arrests, one victim has near-NoLibs properties

Fol­low­ing four ar­rests in a three-year-long in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to deed fraud, one vic­tim, a Philly man with prop­er­ties just out­side North­ern Liber­ties, shares his story.

It was all dis­covered by ac­ci­dent.

Steven Grosik, a Philly nat­ive who owns a home on Spring Garden Street and N. 11th St., as well as the rear va­cant lot at 1026 Brandy­wine St. — both blocks away from North­ern Liber­ties — said that in 2009, he struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with a loc­al re­altor.

The re­altor told Grosik that he had just sent his bid on Grosik’s back lot to the lot’s new own­er, a man named “An­thony Mitchell.”

“He knew be­fore I was no­ti­fied that some­body had bought my prop­erty – and he was already try­ing to buy it from An­thony Mitchell,” Grosik said last week.

There was a prob­lem, though.

Grosik hadn’t sold his prop­erty. He hadn’t re­ceived a dime from the trans­ac­tion. And he had nev­er heard of “An­thony Mitchell.”

He was a vic­tim of deed fraud – a crime that oc­curred us­ing pa­per­work and tak­ing ad­vant­age of the city’s bur­eau­cracy, Grosik said.

“It was so ri­dicu­lous,” Grosik fumed. “They took my prop­erty without us­ing my name, and they used a fraud­u­lent, ex­pired not­ary seal.”

On Janu­ary 9, Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams an­nounced the ar­rests of Zachary Stokes, Steven John­son, Oscar Ket­ter and El­hadi Ibrahim, after a three-year in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the thefts of 22 prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing 1026 Brandy­wine St., Grosik’s back lot. John­son is the son of former Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment Com­mis­sion­er Sylvester John­son.

“An­thony Mitchell” was al­legedly an ali­as used by these sus­pects, ac­cord­ing to Tasha Jamer­son, dir­ect­or of com­mu­nic­a­tions for the D.A.’s of­fice.

“As to which per­son it is, that will come out at tri­al,” she said.

The four men are charged with nu­mer­ous counts of crim­in­al con­spir­acy, for­gery and tam­per­ing with pub­lic re­cords or in­form­a­tion.

Jamer­son stated that these sus­pects would al­legedly drive through neigh­bor­hoods and identi­fy lots that were va­cant and un­oc­cu­pied. Some of these lots were then sold to un­sus­pect­ing vic­tims, turn­ing a profit for the sus­pects, she said. No oc­cu­pied homes were stolen, she said.

But for Grosik, that doesn’t make the crime any less of a vi­ol­a­tion.

“No one should have to go through this,” he said. “It was such a hassle to fix this, it was such a night­mare … I re­por­ted it to the DA, to the po­lice, they as­signed me to some de­tect­ive who nev­er fol­lowed through and nev­er got back to me. Nobody in law en­force­ment ever helped me at all.”

Grosik, a Path­mark gro­cery store em­ploy­ee, said that he bought the va­cant lot at 1026 Brandy­wine St. in the 90s for “a couple thou­sand dol­lars” and con­ver­ted in­to his back­yard.

After the ac­ci­dent­al en­counter with the real es­tate agent who happened to men­tion that Grosik’s back lot was on the mar­ket, he sought out an­swers from the Phil­adelphia De­part­ment of City Re­cords, he said. He found the deed to his prop­erty, trans­ferred in­to the name of An­thony Mitchell, with forged sig­na­tures from the prop­erty’s former own­er and a forged not­ary pub­lic sig­na­ture.

“There were prob­ably three or four mis­takes. They made my deed so garbage, every­one was amazed that the re­cords de­part­ment took this and filed it,” he said. “A kinder­garten­er could have looked at this and told you this shouldn’t have happened.”

The city’s De­part­ment of Re­cords is re­quired by state law to re­cord any deed they re­ceive that comes with a sig­na­ture, not­ary stamp and fee, ac­cord­ing to the Phil­adelphia In­quirer and Phil­adelphia City Pa­per. They also re­por­ted that past ef­forts at a bill to change the sys­tem by City Coun­cil­man-At-Large Bill Green­lee have been un­suc­cess­ful.

Grosik went on to spend more than a year in court to get the deed re­newed in his name. A friend as­sisted him with pa­per­work and leg­work. Grosik ap­peared be­fore two judges be­fore win­ning the case.

“It prob­ably would have cost me $10,000 or more to do it leg­ally [with a law­yer]. By do­ing it my­self, it prob­ably cost 500 bucks, with the fil­ing costs. But to be an in­no­cent party — it shouldn’t even have cost that,” he said.

Be­cause Grosik re­spon­ded quickly, he was able to place a hold on the prop­erty in the city re­cords of­fice, which barred any­one from al­ter­ing it.

He later was told that after he placed the hold, “An­thony Mitchell” re­turned to the city re­cords of­fice to try to sell his prop­erty, only to be blocked by the hold.

“An­thony Mitchell came in dur­ing the time that I was fight­ing this, to try and change the prop­erty, and they just sent him on his way. They wouldn’t let him touch it,” Grosik said. “They didn’t try to ar­rest him. How could they let this scum­bag come in there and do this again?”

Years later, Grosik is still up­set about the leg­al battle he went through and keeps a large file of all the pa­per­work re­lated to his case. He tried to track down An­thony Mitchell at the vari­ous ad­dresses lis­ted in pa­per­work for that name to serve him leg­al pa­pers for a law­suit, but nev­er found any per­son by that name, he said.

Grosik’s re­ac­tion to the ar­rests on Janu­ary 9 was mixed.

“What about every­body who helped? There’s a lot more go­ing on here, I be­lieve,” he said, call­ing the crime “an in­side job.”

Jamer­son said that if Grosik be­lieves more crimes took place, he should re­port them to the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice or to po­lice.

John­son, Stokes and Ibrahim are next due in court for a pre­tri­al hear­ing on Feb. 8. Ket­ter is not lis­ted in the Phil­adelphia Crim­in­al Courts cal­en­dars on­line.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

Are you con­cerned about pro­tect­ing your ori­gin­al deed from theft? Here’s what you can do:
To get a copy of your prop­erty’s deed or mort­gage by mail or in per­son from the De­part­ment of Re­cords, vis­it or write Room 154, City Hall, Phil­adelphia, PA, 19107 to veri­fy all in­form­a­tion is cor­rect.

If you sus­pect you are the vic­tim of “deed theft:”
-Con­tact the po­lice de­part­ment with your con­cerns.
-Con­tact the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Eco­nom­ic and Cy­ber­crime Unit at 215-686-9902.
-Con­tact a law­yer to help you file an “Ac­tion to Quiet Title” civil com­plaint. For help find­ing an at­tor­ney, call the Phil­adelphia Bar As­so­ci­ation’s Law­yer’s Re­fer­ral and In­form­a­tion Ser­vices line at 215-238-6333, or Com­munity Leg­al Ser­vices at 215-227-2400.
-If you want to rep­res­ent your­self, con­tact the Pro­tho­not­ary’s Of­fice at 215-686-8863.  ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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