2 Investigates: Home buyer nightmare

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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LITHONIA, Ga. - A DeKalb County couple bought the home of their dreams, but when it was time to move in, they found strangers living there instead.
          
"I fell in love with it. We made an offer as soon as we saw it," said Crystal Cardwell.
           
The 6,000 square foot home is tucked away along a gated cul-de-sac, and came complete with five bedrooms, six baths, a lakefront and two squatters.
           
"It was devastating. They have no regard for the law, no regard for other people's feelings," said Cardwell.
           
The Lithonia home once sold for $2 million. So, when Cardwell found it in foreclosure in January, she thought it was a steal.
           
For Jermaine Gibson, it turns out it was. Gibson filed a fake quit claim deed saying the house was his. He was living there with another man, Verod Stewart.
           
"I sacrificed a lot for this home and the point that they feel like, ‘Oh, we can just take over any home, and make up these wild deeds.’ It's ridiculous," said Cardwell.
           
Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer first exposed their scheme nearly three years ago.
           
In 2010, it took a SWAT raid with search warrants and arrest warrants to get Gibson out of another Lithonia home, on South Goddard Road.
           
In that case, a Channel 2 investigation uncovered 18 fake deeds filed for properties in eight local counties. Most of the group pleaded guilty. But three ringleaders, including Gibson, went to trial last fall.
           
"The indictment says there are victims, where are these victims?" co-defendant Eliyshuwa Yisrael testified, in an effort to convince jurors that taking over bank-owned homes was no big deal.
           
The jurors agreed, and acquitted the three remaining defendants, including Gibson and Yisrael.
           
Prosecutor John Melvin was stunned.
           
"Our juries need to stand up and say, ‘We're going to have enough of this. Gibson, he didn't get his lesson, and now he's emboldened to do it again," said Melvin.
           
That's exactly what Gibson did. Records show he filed new deeds in January, attempting to take ownership of Cardwell's house and the one on South Goddard Road.
           
The bank that was under contract with Cardwell tried to kick him out, even changing the locks while he was gone.
           
“I don't know how they got back in, but somehow they did something with these doors,” said Damien Draper, Cardwell's fiance. He pointed out where the lock cylinder had been popped on the door. 
           
The couple tried reasoning with the squatters as well.
           
"I told them, ‘If you did this thing in the past, and it was just Bank of America or Wells Fargo, that's one thing. But when you see real people that are caught up in the middle of your madness, that should be like yo, maybe we need to stop,’" said Draper.
           
The couple tried calling police in March, and waited for a response. Then, they called Channel 2.
           
Fleischer approached Gibson outside the DeKalb County Courthouse to ask why he was once again attempting to steal homes.
           
"You know, I didn't consent to this inside the courtroom, Ms. Fleischer, I'm not consenting to the interview now," Gibson replied.
           
Fleischer approached Verod Stewart and said, "All I'm doing is asking you to tell your side of things."
           
Steward replied, "I'm telling you I'm in fear for my life right now. I feel threatened by your presence."
           
Fleischer asked Yisrael, "But what about Crystal, the lady who just bought this house who's trying to move in?"
           
Yisrael answered, "I ain't got to talk to you about that."
           
But the men did need to talk to another judge when Cardwell fought to have them evicted.
           
"Show me the origin of your interest in the property," Jude Corneill Stephens demanded of Gibson during a May 2 hearing.
           
Gibson showed his bogus deed, and the judge ruled in Cardwell's favor saying, "The plaintiff is allowed to have possession immediately."
           
But Cardwell worried the men would return to her home anyway.
           
Fleischer contacted the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which monitors this kind of activity, calling it paper terrorism.
           
"Well, it was brought to our attention by WSB news," said Atlanta FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett.

The agency took immediate action. Agents raided the home with a search warrant, and pushed local law enforcement to arrest Gibson and Stewart.
           
"This is a crime. This is not something people will get away with," said Emmett.
           
Court deputies surrounded Gibson as he prepared to leave the courthouse. They placed him in handcuffs and began reading charges of theft by deception, burglary, false statements and writings, false swearing, and possession of a gun during a crime.
           
"I just went to court for that and got found not guilty of the charge," Gibson said as officers led him to jail.
           
Cardwell and her fiancé finally moved into the home late Monday, but they're afraid the men will return.
           
She said, "It's very frustrating, people like this shouldn't be out on the street."

A DeKalb County couple bought the home of their dreams, but when it was time to move in, they found strangers living there instead.

"I fell in love with it. We made an offer as soon as we saw it," said Crystal Cardwell.

The 6,000 square foot home is tucked away along a gated cul-de-sac, and came complete with five bedrooms, six baths, a lakefront and two squatters.

"It was devastating. They have no regard for the law, no regard for other people's feelings," said Cardwell.

The Lithonia home once sold for $2 million. So, when Cardwell found it in foreclosure in January, she thought it was a steal.

For Jermaine Gibson, it turns out it was. Gibson filed a fake quit claim deed saying the house was his. He was living there with another man, Verod Stewart.

"I sacrificed a lot for this home and the point that they feel like, ‘Oh, we can just take over any home, and make up these wild deeds.’ It's ridiculous," said Cardwell.

Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer first exposed their scheme nearly three years ago.

In 2010, it took a SWAT raid with search warrants and arrest warrants to get Gibson out of another Lithonia home, on South Goddard Road.

In that case, a Channel 2 investigation uncovered 18 fake deeds filed for properties in eight local counties. Most of the group pleaded guilty. But three ringleaders, including Gibson, went to trial last fall.

"The indictment says there are victims, where are these victims?" co-defendant Eliyshuwa Yisrael testified, in an effort to convince jurors that taking over bank-owned homes was no big deal.

The jurors agreed, and acquitted the three remaining defendants, including Gibson and Yisrael.

Prosecutor John Melvin was stunned.

"Our juries need to stand up and say, ‘We're going to have enough of this. Gibson, he didn't get his lesson, and now he's emboldened to do it again," said Melvin.

That's exactly what Gibson did. Records show he filed new deeds in January, attempting to take ownership of Cardwell's house and the one on South Goddard Road.

The bank that was under contract with Cardwell tried to kick him out, even changing the locks while he was gone.

“I don't know how they got back in, but somehow they did something with these doors,” said Damien Draper, Cardwell's fiance. He pointed out where the lock cylinder had been popped on the door. 

The couple tried reasoning with the squatters as well.

"I told them, ‘If you did this thing in the past, and it was just Bank of America or Wells Fargo, that's one thing. But when you see real people that are caught up in the middle of your madness, that should be like yo, maybe we need to stop,’" said Draper.

The couple tried calling police in March, and waited for a response. Then, they called Channel 2.

Fleischer approached Gibson outside the DeKalb County Courthouse to ask why he was once again attempting to steal homes.

"You know, I didn't consent to this inside the courtroom, Ms. Fleischer, I'm not consenting to the interview now," Gibson replied.

Fleischer approached Verod Stewart and said, "All I'm doing is asking you to tell your side of things."

Steward replied, "I'm telling you I'm in fear for my life right now. I feel threatened by your presence."

Fleischer asked Yisrael, "But what about Crystal, the lady who just bought this house who's trying to move in?"

Yisrael answered, "I ain't got to talk to you about that."

But the men did need to talk to another judge when Cardwell fought to have them evicted.

"Show me the origin of your interest in the property," Jude Corneill Stephens demanded of Gibson during a May 2 hearing.

Gibson showed his bogus deed, and the judge ruled in Cardwell's favor saying, "The plaintiff is allowed to have possession immediately."

But Cardwell worried the men would return to her home anyway.

Fleischer contacted the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which monitors this kind of activity, calling it paper terrorism.

"Well, it was brought to our attention by WSB news," said Atlanta FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett.

The agency took immediate action. Agents raided the home with a search warrant, and pushed local law enforcement to arrest Gibson and Stewart.

"This is a crime. This is not something people will get away with," said Emmett.

Court deputies surrounded Gibson as he prepared to leave the courthouse. They placed him in handcuffs and began reading charges of theft by deception, burglary, false statements and writings, false swearing, and possession of a gun during a crime.

"I just went to court for that and got found not guilty of the charge," Gibson said as officers led him to jail.

Cardwell and her fiancé finally moved into the home late Monday, but they're afraid the men will return.

She said, "It's very frustrating, people like this shouldn't be out on the street."


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