California officials on Wednesday arrested five individuals who allegedly ran a statewide housing scheme involving the fraudulent seizure of at least 23 homes in nine counties.
Sandra Elaine Barton, 30; Christopher Spencer Barton, 31; Daniel Paul Vedenoff, 29; Sheldon W. Feigel, 50; and Craig Merrill Mortensen, 60, were charged with 288 felony counts including perjury, filing false court records, and preparing false evidence. Cambria Lisa Barton, 21, remains at large.
All of the defendants were booked into the Fresno County Jail on Wednesday, with bails ranging from $27,500 to $1,795,000. They face restitution payments of at least $3.5 million.
According to the ""attorney general's complaint"", the Barton family, along with Vedenoff, who is Sandra Barton's boyfriend, allegedly worked with two lawyers, Mortensen and Feigel, to identify abandoned residential properties and file for adverse possession of the properties in court in order to obtain the titles and acquire the homes for resell or rental.
""""It is reprehensible that these individuals lied to the courts in order to steal homes and in some cases to demand
payment from the rightful owners,"""" Attorney General Kamala Harris said. """"The conduct of the attorneys in this scheme is even more offensive because they violated their ethical duty to be honest to the courts.""""
Under California law (Code of Civil Procedure 325), an individual can claim adverse possession of real property if he or she has occupied or claimed it continuously for at least five years and paid property taxes for that period of time, among other requirements.
According to the attorney general's filing, since 2006, Barton family members and their attorneys allegedly provided """"factually impossible"""" and """"knowingly fraudulent"""" evidence and statements in court under penalty of perjury in order to take possession of at least 23 residential properties in the counties of Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Sonoma, and Tulare.
The alleged scheme was uncovered when homeowner Nancy Zelepsky sought an equity loan in 2010 on the home she owed in Santa Barbara County. Zelepsky contacted a title company in order to determine if there were any liens against her property and was notified that Sandra Barton had been listed as the deed holder in July of that year through documents filed by Mortensen.
Zelepsky turned to the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County for assistance. In court, it was determined that Sandra BartonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s claim on the property was fraudulent, and the judge restored ownership to Zelepsky.
The court then notified the California State Bar regarding Mortensen, and the California Attorney GeneralÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office opened an investigation in June 2011.
Sandra Barton faces a maximum state prison sentence of approximately 103 years, Mortensen faces 108 years, Feigel faces 15 years, Christopher Barton could get 7 years, and Vedenoff could be sentenced to 8 years behind bars.