by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
ATLANTA - Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law Thursday cracking down on people who steal houses, after a four-year Channel 2 Action News investigation exposed holes in the existing law.
Earlier this year, Fleischer approached Loganville Rep. Tom Kirby and Atlanta Rep. Ed Lindsey when she found a group of men whose scheme she had already exposed got out of jail and used fake deeds to steal even more houses.
"A misdemeanor forgery was no deterrent at all and when you steal occupancy of a $300,000 to $400,000 home that should be a felony, and 1 to 20 years with a $10,000 fine is, I think, appropriate for that action," said Kirby.
Deal invited Fleischer to stand by his side as he signed the bill, which was supported by prosecutors, court clerks and homeowners.
In February, Channel 2 Action News showed how a group used fake deeds to take over foreclosed homes to rent them out for profit.
Some of the same men were arrested after Fleischer caught them living in another stolen mansion last May.
In 2012, a jury acquitted three men because the complex racketeering statute didn't specifically address this crime.
The new law has also been supported by the banking industry, since foreclosures and other empty homes have been a favorite target for the fraudsters, who often break in and then live in the homes.
Legislators hope by making the filing, signing and witnessing of false deeds a felony, the criminals might stop trying it, or at least be easier to convict.
"It gives our prosecutors a nice clean felony charge," said Kirby. "It's very exciting because it's a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work on your part and a lot of hard work from everyone down here at the General Assembly."
The new law takes effect July 1.