Centreville A Chantilly woman has been sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay more than half a million dollars in restitution for her part in a real-estate fraud. She is Melissa McWilliams, 35.
She was among four people who pleaded guilty Feb. 19, in federal court in Alexandria to conspiring to fraudulently take over the titles of homes in Washington, D.C., without the real property owners’ knowledge, selling those homes and keeping the profit.
According to court records, Jamaul Roberts, 25, College Park, Md., conspired with others to visit the D.C. tax courts to identify properties with overdue property tax bills. They used sources such as Ancestry.com and the D.C. property tax database to locate vulnerable properties where they could take over the home’s title without the real owners’ knowledge.
These homes included those left vacant, passed on to heirs after the owner’s death, or owned by elderly, nursing-home residents who didn’t understand the transactions taking place.
The fraudulent sales were facilitated by two settlement agents, Patricia Mantilla, 35, of Lorton, and McWilliams. Both worked at Ace Title & Escrow in Annandale.
The agents knew the home sales were fraudulent and that the owners appearing at settlement were not the rightful owners. They also assisted the conspirators in hiding profits on the property sales from other parties involved in the sale through fictitious invoices to be paid at closing.
The conspirators, including Michael Brown, 41, Hyattsville, Md., recruited straw sellers to sign documents and falsely represent themselves as the property owners. Brown, for example, appointed himself the personal representative of the rightful owner of a property and prepared a fake death certificate for the owner, even though the owner was still living. He then tried selling that property to another member of the conspiracy for $350,000.
During the course of the scheme, numerous properties were fraudulently sold, resulting in more than $1 million in actual and intended losses.
But eventually, authorities learned what was happening and all four people involved were arrested. And in February in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Mantilla and McWilliams both pleaded guilty before Judge Gerald Bruce Lee to conspiring to commit wire fraud.
Mantilla returned to court April 26 and, at that time, she was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years supervised release. Lee also ordered her to pay $643,521 in restitution.
McWilliams learned her fate June 7, when Lee sentenced her, as well, to two years incarceration and three years supervised release. He then ordered her to pay $643,465 in restitution.