Marlene Baptiste of Lauderhill, Florida was arrested Tuesday after she allegedly tried to steal a house by filing fraudulent paperwork, news sources report. Baptiste, 39, was booked into the Broward County Main Jail on charges of uttering a forged instrument, grand theft over $100,000, and refusing to supply a DNA sample. It is unclear whether she has qualified for bail. So far, no criminal defense lawyer has been listed on her behalf.
The home in question is located in the 6900 block of Southwest 185th Way in Southwest Ranches. Reports say Sam Jazayri owns the home and that Christine Fowler currently lives at the residence. Jazayri and Fowler allegedly had no idea who Baptiste was before the incident.
In October 2012, Baptiste reportedly attempted to file a document with the Broward Government Center in order to claim possession of the home. Reports say surveillance footage shows Baptiste entering the Broward County Governmental Center on South Andrews Avenue in October 2012. Inside the office, Baptiste reportedly submitted a quitclaim deed. Detectives say Baptiste forged Fowler’s signature onto that deed.
According to reports, Baptiste was trying to exploit a residence regulation known as adverse possession. In Florida, adverse possession allows a person to claim a home’s title, provided the person is able prove that he or she is caring for the said home and paying taxes on the property. A police spokesperson said that is not what happened in Baptiste’s case. “They’re basically stealing the house,” the spokesperson said of people who commit this type of fraud. The fraudster, the spokesperson said, is just taking “possession of the house on paper.”
According to reports, Baptiste went as far as to attempt to evict Fowler from the home. Fowler did not learn of the fraud and did not know she was facing eviction until she arrived home one day to find a locksmith working on the house. “[Fowler] was pretty shocked when she found that there was a locksmith changing the locks on the gates and the doors,” reports say. The rightful homeowner reported the fraud to the police and detectives arrested Baptiste. The home is now back safely in Jazayri and Fowler’s hands, sources say.
Detecting this type of fraud is very difficult, a real estate attorney spokesperson explained. “It’s impossible really to stop someone from fraudulently signing your name and filing it in the public record,” the spokesperson told reporters. “Your house is your biggest investment. Just like protecting yourself against identity theft, you have to also check your public records and make sure no funny business is on it, because it does happen.”
A police spokesperson said there is no real alert to this type of home fraud, but said legal documents post online within two days. “You can’t possibly check every document for the validity of it. If it looks like it’s a legal document, it’s going to be recorded,” the spokesperson said. People who are worried about fraud have one option, the spokesperson explained, and that is to “check property appraiser records to [verify] the property is still in your name.”
Sources: 3.6.13 Baptiste Grand Theft.pdf.