News 6 investigation prompts arrest over fraudulent deeds – WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando
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Mike DeForest, Investigative Reporter
Published: January 10, 2022, 5:01 PM
Mike DeForest, Investigative Reporter
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Six months after a News 6 investigation uncovered new information about a Volusia County man’s alleged scheme to take possession of houses using fraudulent deeds, prosecutors have charged Javon Renard Walden with organized fraud.
“Tears just started flowing from my eyes,” said Carolyn Shank, after News 6 informed her of Walden’s arrest last month. “There are no words that will describe the gratitude I have for Getting Results on News 6.”
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Shank claims Walden used a fraudulent deed to take possession of her late brother’s home just days after his death. Property records confirm Walden later sold the home for $70,000.
“Someone needed to stop him,” said Shank, who reported the incident to police in December 2020.
Following an investigation into Shank’s claims, the state attorney’s office closed the case in June 2021 and filed court papers stating it did not intend to prosecute Walden for forgery.
“It was very frustrating. I was very disappointed,” said Shank. “And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to call News 6 Getting Results.’”
A News 6 investigation published later that month uncovered new details about Walden’s alleged scheme to take the home of Shank’s brother using a potentially forged deed.
News 6 also discovered a different family had accused Walden of trying to take their dead relative’s home using a forged deed around the same time.
“(Prosecutors) reopened the case to take another look because of News 6 Getting Results,” Shank said.
A spokesperson for the state attorney’s office confirmed News 6′s report prompted their office to review the allegations against Walden.
In November, a judge issued a warrant for Walden’s arrest on a charge of organized scheme to defraud.
Authorities located and arrested Walden about a month later. He was released from custody on a $50,000 bond while awaiting trial.
Walden, 36, has entered a plea of not guilty. His attorney, Darryl Smith, declined an opportunity to comment.
If convicted, Walden faces a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in prison.
“The defendant created and filed fraudulent deeds in an attempt to obtain properties from folks he grew up with,” said R.J. Larizza, State Attorney for the 7th Circuit. “He used his knowledge of these folks and their particular vulnerabilities to feed his greed. The State Attorney’s Office looks forward to holding him accountable for his criminal conduct.”
Despite Walden’s arrest, Shank has not yet been able to take possession of her brother’s home from the buyer who purchased it from Walden.
“I am the heir to this property. No one else is. And I want it back,” Shank said.
WALDEN OBTAINED AND SOLD DEAD MAN’S HOME, PROSECUTORS ALLEGE
Charles Gadson, Shank’s brother, had been listed as the owner of a modest three-bedroom ranch on Lewis Drive since 2011, Volusia County records show. Their late mother purchased the home more than three decades earlier.
In November 2020, Gadson was found fatally shot inside the house. Authorities ruled the 70-year-old’s death a suicide.
About three weeks after Gadson died, his sister drove by the home to check on the property. As Shank approached, she said two unidentified men exited the house.
As one of the men took off running down the street, Shank said the other stayed behind to lock the front door.
“The guy says to me, ‘We were paid to come here and clean out the house,’” Shank said. “He said Javon is the owner of the property.”
Shank, who claims she did not recognize the name Javon and does not know how the men obtained keys to the house, said she called the Daytona Beach Police Department to report the intruders.
But just before she called, Javon Walden also contacted law enforcement.
“(The police) told me, ‘We talked with Javon Walden. He’s the owner,’” Shank said.
When Shank returned the next day, she discovered a U-Haul truck in the driveway and workers hauling away appliances, furniture and clothing that once belonged to her late mother and brother.
“Who hired you to come to my mom’s house?” Shank asked the workers as she recorded video with her cell phone.
“The homeowner. His name is Javon,” replied one of the men. “I have the deed in my pocket with his name on it.”
Shank later logged on to the Volusia County Clerk of Circuit Court website and viewed a copy of the most recent official records associated with the home.
That is when she discovered a recently filed quitclaim deed that indicated her brother had transferred ownership of the Lewis Drive property to Walden.
“No one in my family knows who Javon Renard Walden is,” Shank said.
Walden once lived across the street and five doors down from Gadson’s house on Lewis Drive, according to court records.
Shank found it suspicious that, according to the deed, her brother did not receive any money in exchange for the house.
“Charles is not a saint, but he would never give away anything like that,” Shank said.
In her opinion, Gadson’s apparent signature on the deed does not resemble the way the Army veteran signed his name on his driver’s license, military records and banking documents.
The deed was notarized on November 20, exactly one week after Gadson’s body was found.
“It’s impossible for him to come back from the dead to sign a deed in front of a notary,” Shank said.
Florida law requires a property seller, known as a grantor, to sign a quitclaim deed in the presence of a notary public and two witnesses.
The notary who certified the deed told News 6 that Gadson was not present when she certified the document. She also claims portions of the deed were blank when she notarized the signatures.
“(Walden) inserted Charles’s name. Charles’s name was not on there,” Alfrenecia Perkins told News 6.
Perkins later told state attorney investigators that Walden asked her to backdate the deed, but she refused.
While police were initially investigating Walden, property records show he sold the home to a real estate investment company.
Jeroen Reidel said he first met Walden in November 2020 through the owner of a body shop where he takes his cars for repairs.
Reidel, the director of a real estate investment holding company, was told that Walden was selling a property he had recently inherited from a family member.
“He said that Gadson was his uncle who left him the house,” Reidel said.
Shank insists Walden is not related to her late brother.
Reidel made an offer to purchase the Lewis Drive property on Dec. 8, about a week before Daytona Beach police launched its forgery investigation into Walden.
Reidel’s company, Petronas International LLC, purchased the property from Walden on April 23 for $70,000.
In the week following the sale, records show Walden paid off more than $3,000 in outstanding court costs that dated back to 2004, related to his prior convictions for cocaine possession, illegal firearms possession, resisting arrest and four misdemeanors.
Walden also remitted more than $33,000 to the state for delinquent child support payments, court records show.
“It’s been a huge hassle and inconvenience for me, and (Walden’s) actions have brought huge financial pressures and strain on me,” Reidel told News 6 after Walden’s arrest. “(My) funds have been tied up for over a year now and I have been left to maintain and pay for a property that I am unable to sell or doing anything with.”
Once Shank files a claim with the court indicating she is the heir to the property, Reidel indicated his title insurance company will potentially cover his losses on the house.
Shank believes she needs a lawyer to help her do that, but she’s been unable to afford one.
“I need a pro bono attorney to help me close this case and get my home back,” Shank said.
WALDEN USED FRAUDULENT DEED IN EVICTION CASE, PROSECUTORS CLAIM
In early January 2021, three tenants living in a home on Hillcrest Drive in Daytona Beach said Walden stopped by the property and instructed them to move out, News 6 discovered.
Walden claimed he had recently purchased the home from the Internal Revenue Service, court records allege.
The tenants received a written notice later that day, signed by Walden, ordering them to vacate the property within three days.
When the tenants failed to leave, Walden retained an attorney and filed a formal eviction complaint in Volusia County Circuit Court.
As evidence that he owned the home, Walden attached a copy of a deed that appeared to show he had recently purchased the property for $100.
The tenants, who described the deed as “fraudulent” in court papers, hired their own lawyer to fight the eviction.
County records show that Judith Hanger Swindle had owned the Hillcrest Drive property since 2012.
In December 2020, a quitclaim deed was filed with the court clerk indicating Swindle had transferred the property to Walden.
The notarized document suggests Swindle signed the deed on December 12.
But Swindle died in March 2017, more than three years earlier, court records show.
After Swindle’s death, the tenants said Swindle’s son informally took possession of the house as her heir.
The tenants, which included Swindle’s niece, said Swindle’s son Jeremy allowed them to live in the home while he was in prison.
“I feel like I should not have to move due to the fact that I was given permission to stay at the home and help take care of the home until my cousin comes home from his incarceration,” Amanda Lee Butler wrote in court papers.
In a court motion seeking to dismiss the eviction, the tenants’ attorney attached a copy of Swindle’s death certificate.
Less than 90 minutes after that motion was filed, Walden’s civil lawyer voluntarily dismissed the eviction complaint and quit the case.
The eviction case was closed, and the tenants continued to reside at the home.
Following News 6′s original report, state attorney investigators interviewed Jeremy Hanger from prison about his late mother’s home.
Jeremy Hanger indicated he and Walden have known each other since they were children and grew up together in the same neighborhood.
“(Jeremy Hanger) believed (Walden) knew he was incarcerated, which would make it an easy home to take over,” the arrest affidavit reads.
Investigators also questioned the notary who reportedly certified the deed transferring Swindle’s home to Walden.
After meeting Walden in a Walmart parking lot in December 2020, Lori Lawhorn told investigators she refused to notarize the document due to the way it was formatted.
Lawhorn claimed a passenger in Walden’s vehicle may have taken her notary stamp off the trunk of her car while she was distracted and used it to certify the deed without her permission.
“He should be held accountable for those actions,” said Shank, who worried Walden might try to obtain and sell other properties if he had not been arrested.
“This man had taken (my brother’s) property without permission with no remorse,” Shank said. “He was just parading around town like nothing is going on, until I got a hold of News 6 Getting Results.”
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Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.
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