How can you steal a house? I didn't think it could be done-not until I met a well-spoken 78-year-old man with a great sense of humor named CD Alcorn. Mr. Alcorn shared a situation with me that has him filing legal papers in order to get his properties back.
How bad is the situation? Here's how CD explains it, "I can't go borrow anything. Even though they (the houses) were paid for, I can't go today and borrow $500 on my property."
It all started in the Spring of 2006, when Alcorn decided to sell 10 of his Sikeston rental properties. He's owned many of the homes for more than 40 years, and he was ready to ease his way out of the rental business. He got a call from a local company called Century Mortgage. Until recently, Century had offices in Sikeston, Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, Perryville, Farmington, and St. Louis. (Ted Liszewski, attorney for Century owner Todd McBride, tells me the company is closed). Alcorn entered into a verbal agreement with Century to sell those 10 houses, including 505 Wilson, 517 Kendall, and 402 Dorothy. He signed a contract with Century in November.
As CD Alcorn waited to close the deal with Century, he kept an eye on his rental houses. About two weeks ago, he went to check out a few properties in person. That's when he learned some of his tenants had received letters, saying he wasn't their landlord anymore. At one home, the locks had even been changed. "I knew something was coming down pretty quick", Alcorn tells me.
He headed to Benton, to the Scott County Recorder of Deeds office. There, he found general warranty deeds for his Wilson, Kendall, and Dorothy properties, showing he sold them to folks who live in St. Louis. And get this, the deeds are dated October 2006, a month before he signed the Century contract to sell them! Now, Alcorn knew he didn't travel to St. Louis to sign any deeds. But, there was his signature-actually, three different versions of his signature, one for each of the deeds. Alcorn grabbed copies of the phony paperwork and headed straight to the Sikeston office of his attorney, Jim Robison.
"I've never seen anything like this!", Robison tells me. "I know you can steal a truck or a car or a cow or a horse, but in this case, what literally has happened, is an attempt to steal the ownership of real estate."
Robison filed a "petition to set aside deeds and deeds of trust" on Alcorn's three properties. And CD isn't alone! The attorney also filed similar petitions on behalf of three other Scott County property owners, who also found St. Louis County deeds on file with forged signatures.
"The actual owners of the properties were not in St. Louis County on those dates. Those deeds are made up out of whole cloth," Robison says.
As Jim Robison filed legal action, Scott County Recorder Tom Dirnberger noticed an unusual pattern in property sales, dating back to 2004. Dirnberger explains is as a three part process: 1. Low-end rental homes are bought 2. The homes are purchased through an out-of-state bank for two to three times their assessed value 3. The homes are foreclosed on just a few months later. Dirnberger tells me he's seen hundreds of properties sold like this, adding up to more than $15 million. In the last few weeks, he's also received several calls from local property owners wanting to check their deeds.
"I'll look it up," Dirnberger explains, "and they'll say 'No, I didn't sell it to that person.'"
If you own property, there's a deed on file for it at your county recorder's office. Tom Dirnberger tells me in Mr. Alcorn's cases, the deeds now alleged to be fakes were filed correctly. They were signed and notarized, just like they should be. You can go into your recorder's office (located in the county seat of your home county) and request to see the most recent deed filed on your property. If you find paperwork that you did not sign or did not know was filed, you may want to seek legal assistance, like Mr. Alcorn did. The petition Mr. Robison filed for him asks the court for a judgment "declaring the aforesaid Warranty Deed and Deed of Trust to be void and unenforceable", since the signatures were forged.