A woman at the center of an Asheville Watchdog investigation into real estate deals that netted Buncombe homeowners little or sometimes nothing for their properties has been arrested on multiple fraud charges.
Lisa K. Roberts of Asheville was charged with nine counts of notarizing an action by fraud or forgery, each one a felony punishable by up to 24 months in prison. She was released on a $30,000 unsecured bond, payable if she fails to return to court.
After a court appearance Thursday morning, Roberts, 60, who is referred to as Roberts-Allen in the arrest documents, declined comment through her attorney, Jack Stewart.
An Asheville Watchdog five-part investigative series, Equity Erased, detailed how Roberts assisted Asheville investor Robert P. Tucker II in acquiring properties in distress at far below market value. Homeowners, many of them elderly and/or Black, lost years and sometimes generations of family wealth.
Tucker, an attorney, has not been charged with wrongdoing, but is being investigated by the North Carolina State Bar.
The criminal case against Roberts started with her own family. As Asheville Watchdog reported in December, Roberts’s uncle, Eddie George, of Gary, Indiana, filed a complaint with the North Carolina Secretary of State in 2018 about a company, VLM Investments LLC, that was using his name to buy and sell real estate in Buncombe County.
George said in the complaint that he had no knowledge of VLM and did not sign the deeds and mortgages bearing his name. But the complaint was inadvertently overlooked until Asheville Watchdog inquired about it.
“We’ve been praying”
Emmanuel Moore, special agent with the Secretary of State’s office, which investigates violations of the notary public law, traveled to Asheville and interviewed other property owners who had been profiled in Equity Erased.
One of them, Cynthia Brewer, said Moore appeared at her Hendersonville home on a recent weekend unannounced.
As Asheville Watchdog previously reported, Brewer and her siblings had inherited a share of their grandmother’s North Asheville house that in 2014 was delinquent on property taxes. Brewer said Roberts had come to her house, offering to help sell the property, and instructed Brewer to gather her siblings’ signatures.
Deeds notarized by Roberts were recorded in each of the four Brewer siblings’ names, selling their interests to a Tucker company. But the Brewers said they did not agree to sell the property, had never seen the deeds and didn’t sign anything in front of Roberts.
Cynthia Brewer said she received a $1,200 check from Roberts some time later and didn’t know what it was for. Her siblings said they received no money. The same day the deeds were recorded, Tucker’s company sold the family’s interest in the house for $45,000, property records indicate.
The Brewers also told Asheville Watchdog they didn’t recognize another document filed in court and notarized by Roberts, an “affidavit” of a family tree that misidentified the name and gender of one relative. The date of Roberts’s signature on the document is five months before the Brewers’s.
Cynthia Brewer said Thursday she was glad to see Roberts arrested. “She did interfere with our inheritance,” she said. “We’ve been praying that she’s stopped and somebody would pay attention to what she’s doing to people.”
“I’ve always been trusting”
Eight of the nine charges against Roberts are related to the Brewers, according to arrest warrants. The warrants provide no details except to say, “while acting in the capacity as a duly-commissioned North Carolina notary public [Roberts] did take an acknowledgment the notary knows is false or fraudulent.”
The ninth warrant lists James David Dimsdale, a Swannanoa Baptist minister who previously told Asheville Watchdog a woman contacted him in 2020 shortly after a court filing indicating a bank intended to foreclose on his son’s mortgage. The son had been living in the family’s South Asheville home that once belonged to Dimsdale’s parents.
Meeting at an Ingles store, Dimsdale said the woman told him she worked for an attorney foreclosing on the house, gave him $500 in cash to “remove my personal items from the home,” and asked him to sign a document he thought was a receipt for the money.
The document wasn’t a receipt, a judge later found, but rather was a deed, notarized by Roberts, that turned over ownership of the home to Tucker’s company.
“I’ve always been trusting of people,” Dimsdale, 71, told Asheville Watchdog. “I pastor a small church and I generally believe the best about people until I find out different.”
Dimsdale said he didn’t get the woman’s name, but when shown photos of Roberts by Asheville Watchdog, he identified her as the woman he met.
In a civil case, Buncombe Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Grant found in September Dimsdale unknowingly signed a deed based on “false representations” and returned the home to the family.
Dimsdale could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Eddie George, Roberts’s uncle in Indiana, is not mentioned in the arrest warrants. Secretary of State spokesman Tim Crowley said, “We cannot comment any further since the matter remains under investigation.”
Detectives with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office are assisting in the investigation and helped execute a search warrant of Roberts’s home in Biltmore Park Wednesday morning, seizing documents and electronic records, said sheriff’s spokesman Aaron Sarver.
More people could be charged. “There are other individuals that we’re following leads on,” Sarver said.
Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams declined to comment. “Charges are pending, and the matter remains under investigation,” he said.
Anyone with relevant information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at (828) 250-4436.
Roberts’ next court appearance is scheduled for April 1.
This story was updated to include a response from the District Attorney.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asheville Watchdog gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Duke University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, especially Dillon Farneti, Alexandria Murphy, and Ben Rossi.