Investigation leads to charges for 5 in home-stealing scheme

District Attorney Larry Krasner explained that home-theft scams often target elderly residents or properties where the homeowner has recently died.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Five people have been charged in connection with the illegal transfer of 11 homes in Philadelphia, authorities revealed Monday.

Prosecutors said the group conspired to forge deeds and take control of the properties with the help of a crooked notary.

“For way too long, we have seen in this city a failure to apprehend, to thoroughly investigate and to prosecute people who are stealing houses from our most vulnerable residents,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said.

Officials said the investigation stemmed from a 2019 complaint from an attorney who said his client’s home had been sold without their knowledge.

Detectives connected the transaction, along with 10 other suspicious transfers, to Demeshia Harris-Bey, a 42-year-old notary from North Philadelphia, according to the DA’s Office.

She has been charged with multiple counts of theft and conspiracy, along with Richard Harris-Bey, 58, of North Philadelphia, Robert Foster, 54, of Hockessin, Delaware, Damon Urquhart, 41, of North Philadelphia, and Lance Felder, 42, of Wilmington, Delaware.

No one was living at the properties that were stolen, Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Esack said. The rightful owners are in the process of having the homes transferred back into their names, officials said.

Krasner said the scams often target elderly residents or properties where the homeowner has recently died.

Sometimes, the thieves flip the properties, and, other times, they rent them out to tenants who don’t know about the illegitimate transaction, he added.

“It does appear to be becoming much more prevalent because it is such a quick payout in some of these situations,” said Esack, assistant supervisor of the office’s economic crimes division.

Other investigations into similar schemes are ongoing, authorities said.