HARVEY, LA (WVUE) - The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office arrested two people this week involved in what they call an elaborate scheme on the West bank.
Detectives arrested Kyron Hunter for theft by fraud involving several thousand dollars. Tamika Gotch was also arrested for principal to theft by fraud. The JPSO says Hunter advertised homes on Craigslist that he didn't own.
Hunter would file affidavits of ownership into the official record at 24th Judicial District Court allowing them to take possession of the properties as abandoned according to police. Investigators say he'd then gain entry, make repairs, prepare them for rentals and then collect deposits and rent. When people showed interest in the properties and realized people were living there, eviction notices were served, families were forced to move out and Hunter made off with their money.
On Wednesday, detectives say they set up an undercover operation and arrested Hunter. They also say they found a loaded AK-47 rifle and a loaded shot gun inside Hunter's Cadillac Escalade.
The FOX 8 Defenders have been investigating the fraud surrounding Hunter for weeks now, unfolding in neighborhoods from Gretna to Harvey.
"The house was lovely. It was huge. I mean it was a dream home," Catina Carter said. After searching Craigslist online, the three bedroom Harvey home was just the right size for Carter, her husband and three kids. She thought the $900 monthly rent was reasonable so she set up an appointment to see the home right away.
She loved it so much that she put up the $1,000 deposit and signed what seemed like a legitimate lease. That was in February of this year. Fast forward to April, and Carter recalls coming home to shocking news.
"I came home to an eviction notice on my door. It said I have 72 hours," Carter explained. Carter was so confused. She thought she had a lease and paid a man named Justin Hunter who claimed he was the landlord $900 a month, but in cash. "Every month he was there to pick up the rent," Carter said.
"I contacted the deputy sheriff and he told me that no one is supposed to be living in the house," Carter said. "The bank repossessed it, and it's supposed to be vacant." She then called Hunter who tried to tell her the eviction notice wasn't real. The next day, she says Hunter left a court order at her home, but on that document, instead of Hunter's name, it listed a woman as the owner. It turns out that woman was the previous owner.
Court documents show the home on Snowbird Drive was actually sold to a lending company late last year. Carter's family meantime, almost over night, had to pick up and move. "We had to do hotels for a whole week while I'm searching for a home you know. We had to pay storage fees. We had to pay moving expense. I mean it was just horrible. It put us in a bind," Carter said. And, she's never gotten back that $1,000 deposit.
Catina Carter is not alone in this situation.
"Deputy Asheford came to the door and knocked on the door, and he said, I have an eviction notice for you," explained Gelender Harrison. She said she told the deputy, "oh no, I just rented this house. I haven't even been in here for a month!"
Harrison, a retired school teacher, found the home on nearby Breckenridge Drive for rent on Craigslist just like Carter. When we showed her a picture of the man who rented to Carter, she said, "That's him! That's Justin (Hunter)."
"I paid a $1,050 a month rent to him, and now I gotta move. I was highly upset," Harrison said.
The FOX 8 Defenders learned Hunter didn't own that home either. Another financial institution bought it at a sheriff's sale last year. "I already told (Hunter) he was wrong for taking advantage of a senior citizen," she said.
Harrison says she got half of her deposit back from Hunter, but the situation has created a hardship that she's still dealing with months later. "Oh my God! Cause I looked for somewhere to move to and couldn't find any so I had to actually put my stuff in storage and go move in a house with somebody else," Harrison said.
In addition, we discovered a third woman, Lakitha Bailey, who lived around the corner from Catina Carter and Gelender Harrison. "Thank God I have my grandparents," Bailey said. She and her four kids were forced to move from a Louise Street home in the same Harvey neighborhood in April. Like the other women, she paid Justin Hunter. "That's him!.. I'm positive that's him," she said when we showed her the picture of Hunter.
Bailey also paid rent in cash, but only paid for February and March. "I had spoken to the deputy before I could pay April's rent so he told me don't give (Hunter) any rent. He was like 'he can't put you out. He doesn't legally own that. Sit tight, we're investigating,'" explained Bailey. Clerk of Court records show once again, someone else with a Texas mailing address owns the home.
Before Bailey could fully move out, she says Hunter shut off her power and padlocked the home. "I have gym equipment, refrigerators.. I have all that stuff still in there," she said.
In one small Harvey neighborhood, three women separated by only blocks, share a frightening connection.. Catina Carter, a wife and mother, Gelender Harrison, a retired school teacher and Lakitha Bailey, a single mom of four. All three families say they're victims of the same man, Justin Hunter, and the same scam where he advertised and rented out properties he didn't own, collecting thousands of dollars.
"This guy, whatever he's doing, he's good at it," said a neighbor. "I feel sorry for the family. I actually met the family that was living there, and I just saw them when the cops came and evicted them," he said.
Neighbors tell us just as soon as Carter's family got evicted from the Snowbird Drive home, other families started showing up saying they were interested in renting the home after seeing another ad on Craigslist. In fact, the FOX 8 Defenders know of at least one more family who signed a fake lease to rent the same Snowbird Drive house. They were supposed to turn over $1,900 in cash to Hunter on Tuesday, June 30, but after we informed them of the potential scam and other victims, that never happened.
"There's obviously consumer protection laws. There's fraud," Marx Sterbcow said The financial services attorney says this type of scam is now common across the U.S. A couple of ways to avoid it, Sterbcow suggests you never pay rent in cash. "If you do pay in cash, get a picture of the person and get some sort of invoice or receipt to verify that the person actually received the cash," Sterbcow said.
He explained you should also verify the person you're dealing with actually owns the property. "The number one place that consumers can go.. They can go look at the Assessor's Office," he said.
Count on the FOX 8 Defenders to follow this ongoing investigation and bring you updates.
If you have a consumer complaint, call the FOX 8 Defenders at 1-877-670-6397, fill out our online complaint form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.