Detroit nonprofit housing director stole over 30 properties in 'deed fraud' scheme, feds say

The woman tasked with running the homeownership program for a Detroit nonprofit and helping people avoid losing their homes to foreclosure was named in a federal complaint for her role in stealing dozens of properties. 

Zina Thomas, 60, of Detroit, was charged in a fraud scheme by the U.S. Attorney's Office, a release from the department said Wednesday. Prior to her arrest, she served as director of Homeownership Programs for the United Community Housing Coalition in Detroit.

The nonprofit provides housing assistance to the city's low-income residents. 

Thomas used her position as director to coordinate with other individuals to steal 30 properties across Wayne County. The scheme involved her and others filing multiple fake quitclaim deeds, "frequently transferring the target properties from the victim-owners to non-existent ‘interim owners’ before ultimately selling the properties to unwitting third parties."

The deeds appeared legitimate, Ison's office said, because they were falsely notarized by Thomas or another person. Along with filing with the Register of Deeds, Thomas also emailed the county treasurer's office fake driver's licenses to prevent a foreclosure from going forward. 

She received some payment through wire transfers that deposited money into a bank account associated with a realty company she had set up. From there, the funds were transferred to her personal bank account.

The scheme primarily targeted low-income individuals facing potential foreclosure. 

"This scheme targeted some of our most financially vulnerable citizens and was perpetrated by an individual whose job it was to help those very people avoid losing their homes to foreclosure," Ison said in a statement. 

Agents from the FBI and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the Detroit Police Department and the Wayne County Register of Deeds assisted in the investigation.

Thomas is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. 

"A rash of incoming complaints to my Deed Fraud Task Force, followed with methodical investigative teamwork, culminated in today’s announcement," said Wayne County Register of Deeds Bernard J. Youngblood. "Wayne County is the national leader in combating this new crimewave and we are proud to partner with local, state and federal law enforcement to protect the property rights of our citizens."

Executives at the nonprofit are cooperating with the investigation, the U.S. Attorney said. 


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