By Julie Montanaro
March 25, 2014
Have you ever heard of stealing a house? How about two?
Deputies say a woman more than 1200 miles away sold two Tallahassee homes on eBay, but didn't own either one.
This home on Cypress Circle is for sale.
Just a few months ago it was for sale on eBay.
The highest bidder paid over $20,000 dollars for it, but would soon discover he'd been scammed.
"He was moving furniture in the house when we got there and as soon as we stepped out of the car, he began to shake uncontrollably and realized that he had been the victim of a scam," LCSO Financial Crimes Detective Brandon Cutcliffe said.
52 year old Rayna Gomes is now under arrest. The woman from Rhode Island - with no known ties to Tallahassee - is accused of stealing not one, but two houses here. The other is on Bards Wood Lane clear across town.
Deputies believe Gomes may have scoured foreclosure filings then forged deeds and mortgage documents with signatures copied from public records on the Clerk of Courts web site.
Once Gomes was the owner on paper, they say, she put the houses up for sale on line.
"We saw people there cleaning up and painting," neighbor Norine Croft said.
Croft lives down the street from the Cypress Circle home. She can't believe the home-stealing scheme.
"It's just frightening. I mean, it's unbelievable the things they can get now. It's scary," Croft said. "We've got our house for sale and if somebody were to go ahead and do that to us, I don't know what we'd do."
Deputies have been investigating for nearly a year. They say Gomes didn't use her own name but an elaborate web of stolen identities and found at least two unsuspecting buyers on eBay willing to make a deal.
"If the price is too good to be true then it probably is," Detective Cutcliffe said. "We would recommend that people never wire money to people they don't know, and to not purchase real estate without attending a closing."
LCSO says the two victims of this scam will be getting their money back. That's more than $44,000. They also suspect the woman of pulling the same scam in other cities across the country.
Gomes is in jail in Rhode Island and will soon be brought to Tallahassee to face more than a dozen charges including mortgage fraud and grand theft.
News Release: Leon County Sheriff's Office
Detectives with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office Financial Crimes Unit have been investigating a case involving the thefts of two homes within the past year. The investigation culminated last week when law enforcement officers with the Pawtucket Police Department in Rhode Island arrested Rayna Gomes on outstanding warrants.
Detectives discovered that Gomes used stolen and fictitious identities to file fraudulent warranty deeds with the Leon County Clerk of Courts transferring ownership of vacant homes listed for sale to fraudulent trusts. Gomes then submitted forged documents to the Leon County Clerk’s Office claiming the mortgages on both houses had been satisfied.
Gomes then listed the homes for sale on e-commerce websites. Unsuspecting buyers then wired down payments to a bank account opened with a stolen identity leading back to Gomes.
Law enforcement agencies from Florida to Arizona and Rhode Island assisted in the investigation. The down payments, totaling over $44,000.00, were recovered and returned to the victims. Gomes remains in custody in Rhode Island and is awaiting extradition to Leon County.
52 years old
Fraud (Obtain Property under $20,000.00)
Identity Theft (5 counts)
Forgery (2 counts)
Passing Forged Instrument (2 counts)
Grand Theft-More than $20,000.00 but less than $100,000.00 (2 counts)
Using a Two-Way Communication Device to Facilitate a Felony
Using a Public Record to Commit a Felony
Caller ID Fraud