OKLAHOMA CITY – Earlier this week, LAURA R. JOHNSON, 45, THOMAS JOHNSON, SR., 52, and CHERYL M. ASHLEY, 70, all residents of Oklahoma City, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in a conspiracy to take ownership of more than a dozen homes without the consent or knowledge of the actual owners, announced U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Downing.
According to filed charges, the defendants used fraudulent documents from 2014 until 2019 to obtain title to homes and other properties. A number of properties the defendants targeted had delinquent property taxes and therefore were subject to being auctioned by the Oklahoma County Treasurer’s Office. By paying off one or more years of back taxes, the defendants caused the properties to be removed from the county tax auction. The defendants then filed fraudulent warranty deeds to transfer properties into the names of fictitious companies and individuals. The conspiracy also included fraudulent confidential stamp tax affidavits and fake mortgages, all of which contained forged notary signatures and seals.
Some homeowners vacated their homes based on phony eviction notices. When certain victims fought the takeover of their homes in court, the defendants filed pleadings with the names of fictitious lawyers and submitted affidavits in court signed by fictitious people.
The defendants targeted one home that had been owned by a woman who died in 2012. After they gained control of the decedent’s property, the defendants used bank records they found in the home and forged a power of attorney to lie to the bank in an attempt to withdraw more than $100,000 from the decedent’s bank account. When that attempt failed, the conspirators attempted to steal money by writing forged checks on the decedent’s account and causing electronic transfers out of the account for their personal benefit. They also filed a false will in Oklahoma County District Court after the woman’s nephew learned of the death and filed a probate action. Based on fraudulent information, the court appointed Laura Johnson as the personal representative of the estate, which enabled her to withdraw $63,950 from the decedent’s bank accounts and obtain $45,000 from her oil and gas interests.
On November 17, 2020, each defendant pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
At sentencing, which is anticipated to take place in about 90 days, defendants Thomas Johnson Sr., and Cheryl Ashely face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison or a fine of no more than $250,000, or both, in addition to a term of supervised release of three years. Defendant Laura Johnson, faces a maximum penalty of thirty years in federal prison or a fine of $1,000,000, or both, in addition to a term of supervised release of five years.
These charges are the result of an investigation by the United States Secret Service and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kerry A. Kelly and Jessica L. Perry are prosecuting the case.
Reference is made to public filings for more information. To download a photo of U.S. Attorney Downing, click here.