DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Nearly two years after a News 6 investigation uncovered evidence suggesting a convicted felon may have used bogus deeds to fraudulently take ownership of homes, the Volusia County man is now headed to prison.
A judge sentenced Javon Walden to two years in state prison on Wednesday. Upon his release, Walden will be placed on supervised probation for three years and must pay restitution to his victims.
Walden pleaded no contest to organized fraud earlier this year as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
“I just said, ‘Thank God. Thank you, Jesus. There is some justice,” Carolyn Shank told News 6 after watching deputies handcuff and fingerprint Walden in the courtroom. “Javon is paying for what he has done.”
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Shank’s brother, Charles Gadson, left behind a modest home in Daytona Beach after his death in 2020.
Shank soon discovered a deed recorded with the Volusia County Clerk of Court that appeared to show her late brother had transferred ownership of the property to Walden, a neighbor who previously served prison time for cocaine trafficking.
Shank believed the deed was fraudulent, in part because her late brother’s signature on the document was notarized one week after his death and did not resemble the signature on his driver’s license.
As Daytona Beach Police were investigating the possible crime, records show Walden sold the dead man’s home to a real estate investor for $70,000.
“Javon has taken things from me and my family we can never replace,” said Shank, who contacted News 6 in 2021 after the state attorney closed Walden’s case without filing any criminal charges.
News 6 later discovered another Volusia County family was accusing Walden of taking ownership of their dead relative’s home using a fraudulent deed.
In that case, a quit claim deed filed with the Volusia County Clerk of Court appeared to show Judith Hanger Swindle transferred ownership of her home to Walden in December 2020.
A signature purported to be Swindle’s appeared on the notarized deed even though a death certificate confirms Swindle died three years earlier.
After News 6 published a report about Walden’s questionable real estate transactions, the state attorney re-opened the case and charged Walden with organized scheme to defraud, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Less than two weeks before a jury was scheduled to hear Walden’s case, Walden pleaded no contest to the crime as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
“I really have no comment,” Walden told News 6 outside the courthouse Wednesday shortly before a judge sentenced him to prison. “I’m truly sorry, but I’ve got nothing to say.”
“I’m sure Javon hates the fact that News 6 got involved,” Shank said. “Because if News 6 hadn’t gotten involved, Javon would still be walking around a free man and still living three doors down from (where the crime was committed).”
Although a judge adjudicated Walden guilty of organized fraud, the real estate holding company that bought Gadson’s former home is still listed in county property records as the legal owner.
Earlier this month, a civil court judge ruled that Shank may have an interest in the property.
But Shank, who said she cannot afford a real estate attorney, has not formally filed court papers seeking to transfer the property to her family’s name.
Florida lawmakers are debating a bill in Tallahassee this week intended to curb property fraud.
Under the proposed bill, court clerks would be required to establish an electronic alert system that would notify citizens if an official record, like a deed or mortgage, is recorded under their name.
Most Central Florida counties already provide that free property fraud alert service, including Flagler, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.
The proposed bill would also require licensed real estate professionals to send a letter to a property owner’s mailing address within five days to notify the owner that the property is in the process of being sold.
Under the proposal, real estate licensees would also be required to notify the prior owner of the property if there was a different owner listed on the preceding year’s tax bill.
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