Asheville Watchdog reporter Sally Kestin’s multi-part series Equity Erased was honored with a “Best Investigative Journalism” award Wednesday night by the national Institute for Nonprofit News.
The series, which is continuing, documents how Buncombe County homeowners lost years and sometimes generations of equity to Asheville real estate investor Robert Perry Tucker II and his associates.
As a result of Kestin’s investigations, Lisa K. Roberts, a Tucker associate, was arrested and charged with 41 felony fraud and forgery counts. Roberts’s Asheville attorney, Ile O. Adaramola, was also arrested and charged with six felony notary fraud charges. Their cases are pending.
The Watchdog series prompted investigations by the North Carolina Secretary of State and the North Carolina Attorney General. It also focused legislative attention on an obscure law in North Carolina that allows investors to force the sale of vulnerable properties and buy them at significantly below market value.
The Institute for Nonprofit News supports more than 400 independent news organizations across the U.S. whose members “tell stories that otherwise would go untold.”
In awarding the “Best Investigative Journalism” prize, INN judges wrote: “With just two years of operation and no paid employees, the Asheville Watchdog produced a series investigating how numerous vulnerable homeowners – many of them Black and/or elderly – lost their homes to a local attorney/investor and his associates. The work led to the arrest of a central figure in the scheme, along with her lawyer, on felony charges, and the return of some of the properties.”
Kestin’s reporting took over a year and involved more than 100 interviews, dozens of trips to the courthouse, countless hours analyzing real estate records and other documents, and “driving all over the county to knock on doors and catch people at home including on Sunday mornings,” Kestin said. “If the Watchdog reimbursed for mileage, our bank account would be empty.”
Kestin’s Equity Erased series earlier took the top prize for Public Service Journalism among online publications in the North Carolina Press Association’s 2022 annual awards.
The NCPA’s Public Service Award “recognizes a distinguished example of meritorious public service of a newspaper to its local community reflecting exceptional courage or enterprise.”
The series also won a National Headliner Award, one of two North Carolina news organizations — the other was the Charlotte Observer — honored for investigative reporting. The Headliner Awards, founded in 1934 by the Press Club of Atlantic City, are one of the oldest and largest annual journalism contests in the country recognizing the best journalism in the U.S.
Kestin, a Pulitzer Prize winner for public service journalism, and a Pulitzer finalist for investigative reporting, co-founded Asheville Watchdog in 2020.
The Watchdog graciously thanks the Duke University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic and Lawyers for Reporters. Without their assistance, this important series would not have been possible.
Read all of the Equity Erased series here. Some of the stories so far are:
Real Estate Deals Strip Elderly, Poor of Homes, Land, and Inheritances
Imperfectly Legal: Forced Sales Hurt Heirs, Poor Homeowners
A Box Full of Cash and an Empty Promise
‘Missing’ Heirs: Local Attorneys Tell Court That Property Owners Can’t Be Found
Indiana man says name was used in Buncombe real estate deals ‘without my knowledge’
Multiple Fraud Charges Filed Against Key Figure in Watchdog Investigation
Asheville Lawyer Arrested, Charged With Felonies in Real Estate Deals