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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A long investigation by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has paid off. Authorities charged William Ernest Johnson III on Thursday with forgery record tampering, conspiracy and theft after he allegedly stole a dead homeowner’s property deed of a house in the city’s Brewerytown neighborhood.
Johnson is accused of stealing the deed of a house at 1323 N. 27th St. in Brewerytown where an elderly woman lived. Johnson allegedly forged his victim’s signature on a document after she died in 2007. Investigators also said the document was falsely notarized.
“Miss Dawkins (the victim) was a beautiful person,” said Jacqueline Ellington, the victim’s neighbor. “I would sit with her all the time.”
The house on North 27th Street is one of seven allegedly stolen by Johnson by impersonating dead people with the goal to resell the homes. Johnson turned himself into police. He also allegedly stole from a house at 2515 Ingersoll St. and 2500 W. Seybert St.
Krasner said Thursday in a press conference that it’s more about than just thefts, it’s about thieves taking advantage of the vulnerable.
Krasner met with council members and the records of deeds director to announce Johnson’s arrest and shed light on the growing problem.
“It robs low-income families, especially African Americans and Latinos, of the opportunity to build generational wealth,” Krasner said.
Krasner blames state legislation and lack of regulations on checking signatures and IDs. He plans on meeting with state leaders about a solution in the coming months.
Rapid gentrification in North Philadelphia’s Brewerytown is becoming a hotbed for thieves to steal property deeds.
“It’s a really sad thing that’s happening all over the city,” said Logan Kramer, CEO of Design Pro Development.
Kramer was under contract by the property through a realtor hired by Johnson.
“I put money into architectural plans and title searches,” Kramer said. “I had lenders lined up to finance both projects, investors lined up.”