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Mortgage scam hits Aspen area

Janet Urquhart

An Aspen property owner has apparently fallen victim to a nationwide real estate scam that has roped in dozens of victims in Colorado.A deed filed Friday with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office establishes a family trust that designates a pair of suspected Internet scam artists as the trustees, giving them control of the property. They now have the power to convey the property and take out another mortgage on it, pocketing the cash, according to Sylvia Davis, county clerk and recorder.Davis is trying to get the word out to area residents, as well as local title companies. “I just don’t want anyone else to get stung here,” she said.Davis’ repeated attempts to contact the suspected victim have been unsuccessful.The Dorean Group, a Union City, Calif., company run by Kurt Johnson and Scott Heineman, lures property owners with an offer to erase their mortgage debt for a $3,000 fee, according to Willis Carpenter, attorney with a Denver law firm that represents the Colorado County Clerks Association.Carpenter has alerted clerks across Colorado about the scam. Johnson and Heineman apparently use the Internet to advertise to “distressed homeowners” – borrowers who are behind on their payments – and offer to eliminate the homeowners’ mortgage, according to Carpenter.”The details are laughable,” Carpenter wrote in a letter to clerks. “Your mortgage, they say, is invalid because the funds were wire transferred by the mortgage company, or because the mortgage company has violated federal laws in the lending process, or for a variety of other reasons.”After his first warning to clerks, Carpenter received reports of fraudulent documents being recorded all over the state and sent out a second alert.Johnson and Heineman were named as trustees on a grant deed filed with Davis’ office last week, but it went unnoticed. Her office records hundreds of documents a day, accepting the fee, stamping and dating them at the counter, she said.Later, when the clerk’s office indexed the grant deed by the name of both the grantor (the victim) and the grantees (Johnson and Heineman), the suspected fraud was discovered, she said.”Had we noticed it, I probably would have pulled [the homeowner] aside,” Davis said. However, if a victim insists on following through with the recording of a document and pays the fee, there’s little the clerk’s office can do, she said.”I just want people to be aware of the names (Johnson and Heineman). If you read a scam on the Internet that sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said. “You would think people in Pitkin County wouldn’t sign over their property to someone else.”Victims of the scam who believe they’ve been relieved of their mortgage debt may actually wind up with two mortgages – the one Johnson and Heineman have no legal means of eliminating and a new one that they apparently encourage homeowners to obtain. The homeowner is responsible for both debts and could lose the property through foreclosure if they aren’t paid, according to Davis.A recent article in the Denver Post indicated The Dorean Group also urges customers to refinance their properties and split the cash with them.In addition to the danger of foreclosure, property owners could lose their homes because the property taxes go unpaid, according to Carpenter. Property tax bills will be sent to the address of the new family trust, in Union City, Calif., he noted.”I can promise the victims that Heineman and Johnson are not going to pay their taxes,” Carpenter wrote. “If this situation persists for three years, the victims could lose title to their property through a county tax sale.”A victim would have to go to court to undo the trust, Davis said.Early this month, North Carolina’s attorney general became the first to file an injunction to stop The Dorean Group’s operation, according to the Denver Post. The company is not being scrutinized by authorities across the country.In Colorado, the attorney general’s office has scheduled a May 24 session on mortgage and foreclosure scams for public trustees, clerk and recorders, district attorneys and law-enforcement personnel.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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