S Fla Rental Scam Targeted 80 Homes Over One Year

Dated: January 13 2016

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MIAMI – Jan. 12, 2016 – Three men are facing federal fraud charges after investigators said they illegally seized control of about 80 homes in Broward and Palm Beach counties, changed the locks and rented the residences to unsuspecting tenants.

Kesner Joaseus, 46; Wadno Dorneau, 36; and Miguel Tilus, 54, who all live in Palm Beach County, are facing charges of mail fraud conspiracy and mail fraud.

All three appeared in federal court in West Palm Beach on Monday and will be held without bond at least until a court hearing next week when a judge will decide if they should remain jailed while the case is pending.

The men have not yet indicated if they will contest the charges.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations said the three men targeted homes owned by HavenBrook Homes, LLC, a Georgia-based company that buys and renovates properties in several states and then rents them out. The fraud operated between November 2014 and December 2015, authorities said.

Federal prosecutors said the men used a company called RHA Two, LLC in West Palm Beach, which used a similar name to one used by HavenBrook, RHA 2 LLC, to deposit illegally obtained rental payments and "create confusion with the legitimate company."

The men are accused of stealing the keys to the homes from on-site lockboxes as renovations of the properties were being completed.

"When construction is nearing completion, [they] remove the lockbox from a targeted home and call a locksmith to change the locks on the home. Immediately after having the locks changed, sometimes within hours, [they] place signs in high-traffic areas advertising a home for rent and posting one of several prepaid cell phone numbers," agents wrote in court records.

The men then required renters to pay their first and last months of rent and a security deposit and got them to sign a phony lease, authorities said. The men rented post office boxes to receive payments from renters.

Lantana police officers, who were also involved in the investigation, said they interviewed several renters who were victimized by the fraud.

The men illegally rented out homes in Margate, Lantana, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach and other locations in Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to court records.

Investigators said they used an informant, who was not named in court records, to pose as a customer and meet with Dorneau. The informant signed a lease for one of the Lantana homes, but no money changed hands.

Officials from HavenBrook Homes told investigators that at least 80 homes owned by the company were taken over in a similar manner, resulting in loss of rental income "that could exceed $100,000 per month," investigators said.

A bank account controlled by one or more of the men received more than $100,000 in money orders and cashier's checks in the first six months of last year, authorities said.

Prosecutors said they believe all three men are flight risks and pose an economic danger to the community because of their alleged fraud.

Joaseus' wife and Tilus have transferred the deeds to a $1 million home in Wellington back and forth between them in recent months, authorities said. Tilus said in court Monday that he and his wife own the property, but they have no significant equity in it. He also owns a property in Lake Worth.

In a separate case, Joaseus is also facing federal bank fraud and identity theft charges.

Joaseus used stolen identities to open credit card and checking accounts and then used them to pay for numerous personal expenses, including making payments for two Mercedes-Benz vehicles, school and doctor charges, agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service wrote in court records.

Investigators estimated the amount of the credit card and checking account fraud exceeded $260,000, according to court records.

© 2016 The Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Paula McMahon. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Angelo F. Terrizzi Jr.

I am a New England native, born and raised in the Boston area. Growing up, I was always involved with extra-curricular activities through school and church. I spent 30+ years in Business and later in ....

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