The Asheville woman arrested earlier this month on notary fraud charges was engaged in “a pattern of illegal behavior,” according to a search warrant, and investigators obtained permission to search her home for links to real estate investor Robert Perry Tucker II.
The warrant authorized the seizure of “any documentation or correspondence” at Lisa K. Roberts’s Biltmore Park home involving Home Advocates and Limitless Outreach (HALO), Roberts’s nonprofit; Certified Funding Corporation and Asheville Holdings Company, two of Tucker’s companies; “or associated co-conspirators.”
The purpose, according to the warrant application, was to show Roberts, who is referred to by her married name, Roberts-Allen, “as a current and or past agent or someone who conducts real-estate transactions with and or for” Asheville Holdings or Certified Funding.
On the day the search warrant was served, Feb. 2, Roberts, 60, was arrested on 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.
Roberts and Tucker were the principal subjects of Asheville Watchdog’s investigative series, Equity Erased, that found Buncombe homeowners, many of them elderly and/or Black, had lost years if not generations of equity to Tucker’s companies. Roberts notarized deeds and negotiated some of the sales.
Tucker, an attorney who buys and sells real estate through his companies, has not been charged. He did not respond to an email or phone message seeking comment. Jack Stewart, Roberts’s attorney, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The application for a search warrant, submitted by Emmanuel Moore, an agent for the Criminal Investigations Division Notary Enforcement Unit of the North Carolina Secretary of State, said the investigation began with “allegations of misconduct” by Roberts-Allen, a notary public since 2006. Moore researched notarized documents at the Buncombe Register of Deeds and conducted interviews, including with James David Dimsdale and four siblings in the Brewer family, all of whom were profiled in Equity Erased.
Dimsdale said “he was deceived by Notary Roberts into signing a deed” to his deceased mother’s property, the warrant application said.
Dimsdale reiterated what he told Asheville Watchdog: that Roberts told him the property was in foreclosure, offered him $500 to remove his belongings and gave him what he thought was a receipt to sign. His signature, notarized by Roberts, was attached to a deed prepared by Tucker granting the property to Asheville Holdings, according to the warrant application. A judge in a Buncombe civil case later returned the property to Dimsdale’s family, finding it was obtained by “false representations.”
As Asheville Watchdog previously reported, the Brewer siblings said they never agreed to sell their late grandmother’s North Asheville house to Certified Funding in 2014, but their signatures wound up on deeds transferring the property.
Cynthia, Darlene, Johnny and Benjamin Brewer gave statements to Moore on Jan. 8. According to the warrant application, Cynthia Brewer said Roberts came to her home, said she worked in real estate, and could help sell the property. Cynthia Brewer told Moore she “was given four sheets of paper and allegedly told by Notary Roberts that since the property belonged to her and her siblings she needed each of them to sign the paper to start the process of putting their property up for sale.”
After Cynthia Brewer returned the signed documents to Roberts, the warrant application said, “their signatures were fraudulently notarized by Notary Roberts and attached to four separate deeds” prepared by Tucker, who was president of Certified Funding. All four Brewers said in their statements that “they never appeared before Notary Roberts and signed anything.”
“All advised that they did not know that they were signing a deed, never saw a deed when they were signing the single page documents provide [sic] to them by Notary Roberts and would have never signed the paper had they known it was part of a deed,” the warrant application said.
As Asheville Watchdog reported, three of the Brewers said they received nothing for their grandmother’s property. Cynthia Brewer said she received a check from Roberts for $1,200 sometime later and did not know what it was for. On the same day the Brewer deeds were recorded, Certified Funding sold the family’s interest to a neighbor for $45,000, records show.
“I believe that Notary Roberts’s fraudulent conduct shows a pattern of illegal behavior,” Moore wrote in the warrant application, which was approved by Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley of Wake County, the headquarters of the Secretary of State. “The Brewers’s property was fraudulently obtained by Notary Roberts with Certified Funding Corporation benefitting.”
It is a felony in North Carolina for a notary to administer an oath or affirmation without the principal appearing in person if the intent is to commit fraud. It is also a felony to administer an oath or affirmation “if the notary knows it is false or fraudulent.”
Moore wrote in the search warrant application that “there is probable cause to believe that evidence related to these violations and to the crime of obtaining property by false pretense on behalf of the company’s [sic] listed in the fraudulent deeds (Asheville Holdings Company LLC and Certified Funding Corporation) will be found” at Roberts’s home.
Moore received permission to search Roberts’s home and vehicles and seize relevant records, including an exact bit-for-bit copy of her computer hard drive to be analyzed by Secretary of State agents for “documentation, records, communication, pay stubs, contracts, notarizations and agreements” between Roberts, her nonprofit, and Tucker’s two companies.
The items, according to the warrant application, “are necessary to continue the ongoing criminal investigation into this matter.”
An inventory of the search, conducted by the Secretary of State’s office with assistance from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, shows investigators seized or copied: a computer, two laptops, two cell phones, three USB sticks, receipts, financial records, two bundles of “payouts,” file folders, and “assorted documents from garage trash.”
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. 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, with special thanks to Ben Rossi, Dillon Farnetti, and Alex Murphy.