Investigation of apparent real estate fraud scheme questions if notary signatures were forged

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A 41 Action News investigation uncovered a real estate fraud scheme involving deeds that appear to have been forged.

The investigation includes at least a dozen homes in Kansas City. In some cases, the people whose signatures are on the deeds had been dead for years. In other instances, 41 Action News tracked down the previous homeowners who disputed ever signing the documents.

Click here to watch and read Monday's entire investigation.

But here's a new wrinkle: All the deeds include the supposed signature and stamp of a Missouri notary.

"The notary is the only guard who can prevent something like this from happening," said Bill Black, a law professor University of Missouri-Kansas City, who has studied white collar crime and real estate fraud schemes.

Notaries are required to ask for identification to verify that the people signing documents are who they're supposed to be.

Before becoming a notary in Missouri, people have to meet a list of requirements and apply with the Secretary of State. Notaries are commissioned for four-year terms.  

So what happened with the deeds in this case? Did the notaries overlook their responsibilities? Or is it possible their names and notary seals were also forged?

41 Action News requested the signatures on file with the Missouri Secretary of State to compare with the signatures that appeared on the suspicious deeds. Some of them seemed very similar; others were vastly different.

41 Action News then contacted four different notaries who had supposedly notarized the housing documents.

Detra Hayes' signature and stamp appeared on four different deeds. However, she told 41 Action News that she was no longer working as a notary when the documents were supposedly signed.

Hayes said she only notarized medical records as part of her job at a Kansas City hospital. Several years ago, she stopped working at the hospital and said she hasn't notarized any documents since then. Records show her commission expired in 2010.

Victoria Vessel's signature and stamp also appeared on four different deeds, including the documents to two properties that were recently filed with the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds in January.

However, Vessel showed 41 Action News her notary journal, which is used to record the date of the notarization, the type of document, the name and address of the signer and the type of identification used.

For three of the deeds, Vessel's journal had no record of notarizing the documents. For the fourth, her journal showed that someone named Jessie Broils had provided identification and signed a quit claim deed for her home in the 4400 block of E 56th Street.

As 41 Action News previously reported, Broils died in 2008 and could not have signed a deed to her home in June 2012.

"I don't know what's going on," said a stunned Vessel. "Obviously, someone is doing something with my stamp and my signature because if they were here to get something notarized, it should have been in this book."

Katina Williams' signature and stamp appeared on two deeds. When contacted by 41 Action News, Williams looked at the documents and said they were an obvious forgery of her name.

Finally, Mosetter Reynolds' notary information was on one deed. Reynolds told 41 Action News it looked like her signature, but her journal had no record of the supposed transaction from last November.

Both Williams and Reynolds work in the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds office at the courthouse in downtown Kansas City.

Forging signatures is one thing, but what about the notary's official seal?

According to a spokesman with the Secretary of State, the embosser seal or black-ink stamps are not regulated by a governing body. Once notaries receive their commission, they are in charge of purchasing the stamps from retail vendors.

No verification is needed when ordering a rubber stamp. An application only needs to include the notary's exact name, their commission number and expiration date and the county for which they are commissioned.

All that information is readily available to anyone searching through public documents.

Stay with 41 Action News and kshb.com for developments to this investigation.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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