California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced charges against six Fresno County residents who allegedly conspired to gain fraudulent title to at least 23 homes across the state, including three in the Bay Area.
The state’s allegations are detailed in a 288-count complaint filed today in Fresno County Superior Court against three members of a Fresno family, a family friend and two lawyers. The charges include perjury, filing false court records and preparing false evidence.
A press release issued by Harris names Sandra Elaine Barton, 30, Christopher Spencer Barton, 31, Cambria Lisa Barton, 21, Daniel Paul Vedenoff, 29, Sheldon W. Feigel, 50, and Craig Merrill Mortensen, 60, all of Fresno. Cambria Barton is at large, the attorney general says; the other five suspects were arrested today.
The attorney general’s office says the alleged scheme worked this way:
… The Barton family, along with Vedenoff, Sandra Barton’s boyfriend, allegedly worked with two lawyers, Mortensen and Feigel, to identify seemingly abandoned residential properties and file for adverse possession of the property in court in order to obtain title. Once a Barton family member obtained ownership, the property would then allegedly be restored and was typically sold or rented.
Under California law … an individual can claim adverse possession of real property if he or she has occupied or claimed it continuously for at least five years and paid property taxes for that period of time, among other requirements.
… Since 2006, Barton family members and their attorneys allegedly provided factually impossible and knowingly fraudulent evidence and statements in court under penalty of perjury in order to obtain at least 23 residential properties in nine counties. These counties include: Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Sonoma and Tulare.
The alleged scheme was uncovered when Nancy Zelepsky, the true owner of a residence in Santa Barbara County, sought an equity loan in 2010 and contacted a title company in order to determine if there were any liens against her property. Zelepsky was notified that Sandra Barton had been listed as the deed holder of the home in July of that year through documents filed by Mortensen. After seeking assistance from the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, a court determined that Sandra Barton’s prior claim to the property was fraudulent and restored ownership to Zelepsky. The court then notified the California State Bar regarding Mortensen and the California Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation in June 2011.
The Bay Area properties allegedly targeted in the scheme include two in San Mateo County and one in Sonoma County:
- 595 Waverly Place, Pacifica
- 25 Gladys Ave., Brisbane
- 14200 Cherry St., Guerneville