DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – More than two years after prosecutors say a convicted felon used a fake deed in a scheme to sell a dead man’s home, victims of the property fraud are still trying to clean up the mess left behind.
Javon Walden, 37, recently pleaded no contest to organized fraud.
Under a plea deal, Walden will likely be sent to prison for two years when he is sentenced later this month.
“It’s been a nightmare from the beginning,” said Jeroen Reidel, an investor whose real estate holding company purchased the home from Walden.
The dilapidated, three-bedroom house Reidel bought from Walden for $70,000 originally belonged to Charles Gadson.
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Shortly after Gadson died in November 2020, prosecutors say Walden filed a fraudulent deed with the Volusia County Clerk of Court that made it appear as if Gadson had transferred ownership of the property to Walden.
One week after Gadson’s death, the deed impossibly suggests Gadson appeared before a notary to sign the legal document granting his home to Walden.
“It’s been a long journey, and a lot of sleepless nights,” said Gadson’s sister, Carolyn Shank. “The death of my brother and the fighting over the house, it was so overwhelming.”
Since Reidel’s company purchased the property more than a year ago, ownership of the vacant home has remained in limbo, with Shank claiming she would have inherited it from her brother after his death.
“I’m not a lawyer. I don’t have a legal background. But I knew I had to fight for my family’s right to own that property,” Shank said.
Since buying the home from Walden, Reidel’s company has paid property taxes and funded necessary repairs.
Reidel said he was also forced to hire a lawyer to successfully evict Shank’s adult son, who had temporarily moved into the house as a squatter.
“My company and I, we’ve had a considerable loss because of this,” Reidel said.
Reidel filed a lawsuit against Shank in what’s known as a quiet title action that he hoped would settle the ownership dispute.
“Mr. Walden got what he deserved. He openly went in to defraud me. He went in to defraud Ms. Shank’s family. I feel bad for all that,” Reidel said. “But at the end of the day, he also took a lot of money out of my pocket.”
Last week, Volusia County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Craig presided over a non-jury trial to determine whether Shank had a legal interest in her late brother’s home.
“We’ve got one bad actor, and we’ve got two sets of victims,” the judge said. “What the Court has to decide is, between the two innocent parties, who is going to suffer the loss?”
Reidel’s attorney argued that her client was entitled to the property because Shank, upon learning about the fraudulent deed, failed to file a notice with the Volusia County Clerk of Court alerting potential buyers.
Shank, who represented herself in court because she could not afford an attorney, testified that she immediately reported the crime to police and the property appraiser’s office, but did not file any legal notices about it.
Shank accused Reidel of entering a high risk and questionable real estate deal with a convicted felon.
“[There was] no due diligence, no common sense, and no conscience,” Shank told the judge.
Reidel, who said he met Walden through a mutual acquaintance, testified that Walden lied to him by falsely claiming he was Gadson’s nephew who had inherited the house.
The real estate investor said he did not analyze the fraudulent deed that purportedly granted Gadson’s home to Walden.
“To tell you the truth, I did not question it,” Reidel told the judge.
Instead, Reidel said he relied on his real estate lawyer and title insurance company to identify any potential problems.
“This passed title insurance?” asked the judge.
“Yes,” replied Reidel.
“Okay,” said Craig. “I’m shocked.”
Reidel told News 6 he is still waiting for the title insurance company to compensate him for his losses, something he hoped would occur after the judge ruled on the dispute.
“They’re the ones that ultimately gave us the green light and the thumbs up saying that we’re ready to close,” Reidel said.
After hearing testimony from Shank, Reidel, and Reidel’s real estate lawyer, the judge ruled that Shank has legal interest in her late brother’s property.
But the judge also ruled that Reidel’s company could place a $11,783 equitable lien on the property to recover taxes and other expenses it has paid since purchasing the home from Walden.
“The plaintiff in this case had notice of problems with [the deed],” Craig said. “Everyone was in a position to know that at the time, and it would have been obvious that there was something wrong with this deed just by checking into Mr. Gadson’s death.”
Since Shank did not file a counterclaim seeking a court order that would grant her ownership of her late brother’s home, the property remains under the name of Reidel’s real estate holding company.
But the judge’s ruling gives Shank the authority to pursue future legal action if she and Reidel cannot resolve the matter.
“I’m satisfied with the ruling in this case,” Shank said. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better outcome.”
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