Surveillance cameras were recording the action at Independence Title in Fort Lauderdale earlier this month. The cameras caught what on the surface looks like a typical closing on a Broward County property. But Fort Lauderdale Police believe the cameras caught a crime underway.
It started as an average sale of a house. A prospective buyer found a property in Broward County he wanted to buy. The seller appeared on documents to be a trust run by Henry Ferguson, 43, of Fort Lauderdale.
The closing got underway like most do with the necessary paperwork given to Independence Title and its owner, Kevin Tacher. One document showed the mortgage had been paid off and the other was the signed and notarized warranty deed. Tacher said he immediately saw red flags.
Tacher said he first got suspicious when he saw a six-year gap between when the mortgage had been paid and when the document was recorded with the clerk's office.
"The more research we did on this, the more we uncovered that just didn't make sense," Tacher said.
He said he asked Ferguson to be able to speak to the original homeowner, Dwayne Fletcher, in order to sign the deed again, but was told he was hard to reach.
Tacher said that's when he started to search for Fletcher himself. He said he found Fletcher where he currently lives in Port St. Lucie.
"I was kind of really surprised. Yes, absolutely," Dwayne Fletcher said about his first phone call from Tacher.
Tacher sent Fletcher one of the documents he had received from Ferguson.
"His answer to us was, 'What are you talking about? I never signed that deed. So there's nothing for me to resign,'" Tacher said.
Tacher then showed Fletcher the signature on the document. Fletcher told him the signature definitely wasn't his.
"A million percent," Fletcher said.
"The property was actually stolen from him without his knowledge," Tacher said about Fletcher's former home.
Tacher contacted the FBI and Fort Lauderdale Police who filled in some of the gaps about Henry Ferguson. Ferguson had been released from prison in 2011 after serving ten years for armed robbery and other charges. He's on probation until 2031.
Tacher then had a decision to make about how to move forward.
"It took me a day or two to think about it and I finally decided I had to do what was right," Tacher said. "We're in business to prevent things like this from happening. We had to weigh the options about do we worry about this person coming in and the safety of our staff and our family? Or do we do the right thing? And the right thing was making sure they can get this person."
While police detectives watched through surveillance cameras, Tacher invited Ferguson to the office to close on the deal.
When Ferguson walked out of the title company, he may have expected a $75,000 profit on the sale of the home. Instead, police took him into custody. Within days, Ferguson appeared in court before the Honorable Judge John Hurley of Broward County.
"Mr. Henry Ferguson, count one is grand theft," Hurley told him from the bench.
"Well, I am the authorized representative of Henry Ferguson," Ferguson said. Hurley again questioned Ferguson about his name.
"I go by a lot of names. My kids call me dad. My wife calls me husband. My dog calls me woof, woof. I go by many names," Ferguson said to scattered laughter in the courtroom.
Ferguson is in the Broward County Jail facing theft and probation violation charges.
Dwayne Fletcher praises Tacher's actions, "I would call him Sherlock Holmes. He's actually my hero right now."
Tacher is more humble describing his actions.
"A concerned citizen who wouldn't want this to happen to my family," Tacher said. "Just knowing that we could be stopping what potentially could have been a bigger thing is heartfelt for us, to know we did the right think for the community."
Tacher knows not everyone will catch what he did. He offers some advice to make sure property you own isn't stolen from you:
- Make sure your address is current with the property appraiser and tax collector.
- Check the property appraiser website frequently to make sure your name still appears as the owner of your property.
- If offered a quit claim deed, make sure to research where the deed came from.
- Never give money for a house without using an escrow agent or title company for protection.
- Never sign documents containing blanks.
- Check licenses of industry professionals.
- Hire a reliable title company.