A Register of Deeds’ office, which is charged with recording documents such as deeds, titles, mortgages, oil and gas leases and death certificates, is not typically known as a place for undercover crime investigations, but Youngblood says it is his job to protect the integrity of his office and the documents he is charged with recording, and that if that means getting creative in tactics, he’ll do it.Youngblood's creative tactics paid off on June 28,2007 when Russell Jenkins Daniels, 61, of Detroit, was sentenced by Judge Vera Massey Jones in connection with a deed fraud scheme that was first discovered by personnel at the Register of Deeds office.
Prosecutors said Daniels, 61, of Detroit, would target mostly unoccupied homes, research their title history at the Wayne County Register of Deeds office and then create phony paperwork, including mortgage releases and quit claim deeds to sell the properties to legitimate buyers. When personnel at the Register of Deeds office became suspicious of Daniels activities, his title searches were monitored. Using a private investigator posing as a worker with Hart InterCivic, a government contractor, Youngblood set-up a covert undercover operation. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy agreed to support Youngblood’s plan.
When Wayne County Sheriff’s Department joined the investigation that began in June 2005 it was discovered that Daniels was operating a virtual deed forgery factory from his home. On February 8, 2007 Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Mr. Daniels. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Abed Hammoud prosecuted the case.
Daniels pleaded guilty to Uttering & Publishing, a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison; Forgery, a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison; False Pretenses over $1,000, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison; and as a Habitual 4th Offender, which upon conviction can carry a sentence of up to life in prison.
Instead, Daniels received a sentence of 3 years to 20 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections and was ordered to pay restitution. Prior to the sentencing Daniels signed 52 affidavits of fraud and 9 quit claim deeds, involving 43 properties.
“We had the defendant sign the affidavits and the quit claim deeds to assist the true owners of the property.” said Assistant Prosecutor Abed Hammoud, who prosecuted the case. “ Without this important step the victims would not have clear title to their property.”
Wayne County Prosecutor Worthy praised the efforts of Register of Deeds Bernard Youngblood and Sheriff Warren Evans for recognizing deed and mortgage fraud and committing the time and resources to curb the problem.
“Register Youngblood and Sheriff Evans are making great strides to stop deed fraud and mortgage fraud in Wayne County by committing significant time and resources to attack this problem. We want to make sure that people who commit this crime know that they will be charged and convicted,” said Prosecutor Worthy.
In 2005, Youngblood founded and funded the first in the nation Document Fraud Task Force within his office. Currently, four sheriff deputies and two prosecuting attorneys are joined with specific members of his staff and located within the Registers facilities.
Youngblood’s investigations have also uncovered a large, property tax payment scam involving over 300 homes and investigations that led to criminal convictions against former county employees who were caught back-dating documents to aid in mortgage scams.
For more on the Document Fraud Task Force please read Register of Deeds Go Undercover
To Learn How Criminals Use County Websites to Steal Homes click here