Hall of Shame fraud victim gets stolen house back

Donna Alford has her house back.

"My dad loved this house," she said.

But it has been a long journey since she had this house stolen.

"You're in for at least a two or three-year ride," she said.

And while the people who orchestrated the quit claim deed scam against Donna are now being punished.

This type of fraud is overwhelming register of deeds officials across the country.

"I think we have a moral obligation to help in this case," said Anthony Forlini, Macomb County register of deeds.

And now, someone is taking action and asking for lawmakers to make a change that he says will make it easier to prosecute those who are wreaking havoc on homeowners.

"Anything would be better," Donna said. "Because what they had in the past obviously didn't work."

You probably remember Donna Alford. For the last few years Rob Wolchek has been following her sad saga.

In 2015, her father George Booth died and left her his house in Detroit - the home Donna grew up in. The house had been in her family for almost 100 years.

But when Donna's family tried to take out a loan to make renovations on the residence, they found out someone had stolen the house.

"The deed had been changed," she said at the time. "And they said my dad had signed the deed."

A quit claim deed was filed that claimed George Booth, Donna's father had signed the house over to an LLC company.

But there was no dispute that George Booth's signature is forged - because it was signed two years after he had died.

Donna also found out another house she'd inherited also had a forged quit claim deed to an LLC.

Wolchek worked to figure out who was behind these dirty deeds and confronted Jack B. Wolfe, an ex-lawyer.

In 2021 Rob caught up with the dirty deedster.

Wolchek: "So you're just a totally innocent party here?"

Wolfe: "I didn't say that."

Wolchek also tracked down Cordia Pennington, the notary who claimed to have witnessed the signing of the deeds.

"Channel 2? I'm not being on TV or nothing like that am I?" she said at the time.

Donna also turned to the deed fraud task force in the Wayne County Register of Deeds. There was no doubt the deeds were fake, but the whole process took years to work out.

Wolchek did his story in February of 2021.

Jack B. Wolfe, left, Cordia Pennington. Photos: Michigan OTIS

Jack B. Wolfe, left, Cordia Pennington. Photos: Michigan OTIS

Cordia Pennington was convicted of four felonies for her role last summer. Jack B. Wolfe, who prosecutors say was the mastermind of the operation, was convicted just two months ago. He's now in prison serving 1 to 14 years.

Looking back, Donna remembers all of this as a nightmare.

"We had no idea what Jack B. Wolfe looked like, we had no idea what Cordia Pennington looked like at all," she said. "Because we'd never seen them before."

Fortunately for Donna, she had a reporter who helped her - but how could this happen? And how could the Register of Deeds not have stopped it?

Well, it turns out, the Register of Deeds legally can't do much. Believe it or not, even if they suspect someone is registering a fake deed. They have no power to stop it.

"We have to record them no matter what the content is," said Bernard Youngblood.

Bernard Youngblood has been elected as the Wayne County register of deeds for more than 20 years.

"If your home is stolen, you have to go to court to reverse that process," said Youngblood. "You'll have to spend upwards of $5,000 to retain an attorney to clear title."

Anthony Forlini is the register of deeds in Macomb County.

"Listen, if they have everything in order, they give it to us, we register it - that's all we do," Forlini said.

Forlini wants a change. And Bernie Youngblood says he has one - Bill 5598 which he wants state lawmakers to pass.

"House Bill 5598 gives legal standing to the register of deeds across the state of MIchigan," he said.

The legal standing that Youngblood is referring to, makes the register of deeds office a victim of a fraudulent deed.  Therefore, they're not listed as an "uninterested party" as they are now.

If the bill passes they can now, as victims take the complaint directly to the prosecutor.

"When you put a fraudulent document in, you take away the value of my database," Youngblood said. "The database that I take an oath to uphold."

And therefore, the register of deeds has been victimized.

Youngblood has taken his case to the state legislature.

As for Donna, it's over. She's got her family home back in her name.  She's finally able to fix it up and soon will be moving in, but she says it sure wasn't easy.

"I don't mess with anybody," Donna said. "Unless you mess with me."

The only opposition to the bill so far, the State Bar of Michigan Real Property Law Section - which is not the State Bar of Michigan.

Here's what they say about the bill:

"The language as drafted is confusing, ambiguous, and may create criminal liability for individuals... who are not part of the intended act... to be punished."

This would mean notaries and title companies.

Wolchek called the folks at the Real Property Law section to see if they wanted to add anything. They said "No comment."


Home stealing ex-lawyer gets jail time for dirty deeds

"It is the sentence of this court that you are to serve no less than one year and no more than 14 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections," said Judge Kevin Cox.