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Real Estate Fraud Leads to Prison

Lorton woman sentenced to two years behind bars.

A 35-year-old Lorton woman conspired with three other people in an illegal real estate scheme to yield them big bucks. They plotted to take over the titles of homes in Washington, D.C., without the real property owners’ knowledge. They then sold those homes and kept the profits.

But it all came to an end when the authorities caught on to their fraudulent deeds. They were all arrested and, on Feb. 19, all four people pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria. Then last Friday, April 26, the Lorton woman, Patricia Mantilla, returned to that court and was sentenced to two years in prison.

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, Melissa McWilliams, 35, of Chantilly, and Mantilla. 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 helped the conspirators hide 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, several properties were fraudulently sold—resulting in more than $1 million in actual and intended losses.

ALL FOUR DEFENDANTS later pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and, last Friday, April 26, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee pronounced sentence on Mantilla. In addition to serving time in prison, she was also ordered to pay her portion of the $643,465 restitution owed the victims by all four conspirators.

Lee stipulated that, if possible, Mantilla should be confined in a federal facility near her home so she may remain close to her family. He also allowed her to delay her prison-reporting date until after Oct. 15.

Following her release from a federal penitentiary, Mantilla will be on three years supervised probation. During that time, she must refrain from any unlawful use of a controlled substance and must undergo whatever substance-abuse treatment and counseling is directed by her probation officer. Furthermore, she’s barred from taking a job in any business requiring her to participate in the real estate title or settlement process.

As for the others, McWilliams is scheduled for sentencing on June 7. Roberts and Brown have May 10 and May 3 sentencing dates, respectively. The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Golder of the office’s Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Unit is prosecuting these cases.