The criminal cases of an attorney and another woman who were subjects in Asheville Watchdog’s investigative series, Equity Erased, are being transferred to a state special prosecutor.
Ilesanmi Adaramola, the attorney, and Lisa K. Roberts were arrested in 2022. Adaramola is charged with six counts of notary fraud, a felony, and Roberts faces 43 felony counts of fraud and forgery.
Now, after more than a year of hearings, continuances, and indictments by grand juries in Buncombe County, District Attorney Todd Williams said he has referred the cases to the North Carolina Secretary of State, the agency that investigates notary fraud and that brought the charges in 2022.
A new provision in the law that went into effect last month allows “the Secretary of State, the agency charged with regulating notaries public, to prosecute cases involving notary public fraud,” Williams said in an email to The Watchdog. “These matters were referred to SoS in accord with the new law and because the SoS conducted these investigations.”
Tim Crowley, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, said in an email, “The paperwork for the appointment of a special prosecutor has just been completed. Because the request and appointment have just been made, I don’t have any additional details to share about the timing of any future court matters.”
Crowley said the prosecutions would take place in Buncombe County. David Lampert, an attorney with the Secretary of State, was named as the special prosecutor, according to a July 31 letter to Williams from Elaine F. Marshall, the secretary of state.
“We appreciate your interest in pursuing violations of the Notary Public Act and are happy to provide the resources of this agency in support of your efforts,” the letter said.
Stephen Lindsay, an Asheville attorney representing Adaramola, said the case had been in “a holding pattern” in Williams’ office as prosecutors changed.
“The sense I got from them is they didn’t think very highly of the case,” Lindsay said. “They didn’t think it was that strong and that may be why they’re referring it back. The other thing could be because it involves a local attorney and they could sense that that creates some sort of a conflict of interest.”
Williams disputed both theories.
“Defense lawyers retained to represent clients frequently argue that the prosecution’s case is weak,” he said. “There was/is no conflict of interest. The case was transferred in accord with the new law.”
Lindsay also revealed the possibility of a federal investigation. He said he had been contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and that, as he understood, “they’ve reached out to Roberts.”
“I don’t know really what they’re investigating, but when the feds get involved, it usually means that the U.S. mail has been involved in some way or a federally insured bank has been involved. .. It usually moves a lot faster, so it may not be the most important thing on their plate right now.”
Lia Bantavani, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said she could not “comment on the existence (or nonexistence) of an investigation.”
Roberts’ attorney, Jack Stewart, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Homeowners lost years of equity
Roberts and Adaramola figured prominently in Asheville Watchdog’s investigative series, Equity Erased, which revealed how Buncombe homeowners, many of them elderly and Black, lost years and sometimes generations of property wealth in deals with Roberts and Asheville investor and attorney Robert Perry Tucker II. For many of the homeowners, their homes were their only assets.
Tucker has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Roberts, who called herself a housing advocate, notarized deeds and negotiated deals for Tucker’s companies to buy properties, many facing tax or mortgage foreclosure, at a fraction of their market value.
Roberts also purchased properties through VLM Investments LLC, which was incorporated in 2017 with Adaramola as the registered agent. Roberts’ uncle, Eddie George of Gary, Ind., was listed as chairman.
Adaramola notarized deeds, mortgages, and court petitions filed by VLM in Buncombe County that were purportedly signed by George.
But George said in a complaint to the Secretary of State that he was unfamiliar with Adaramola or VLM and that the property transactions in Buncombe “were executed without my knowledge or consent.” His family previously told Asheville Watchdog that George is disabled and rarely left Indiana.
In June 2022, Adaramola was arrested and charged with six felony counts of notary fraud. A Buncombe grand jury returned indictments on the charges in August 2022. “As a notary commissioned by the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State,” the indictments said, Adaramola took an acknowledgement or administered an oath of affirmation “knowing it to be false or fraudulent.”
Lindsay said Adaramola, 38, has moved to Virginia.
“I think it’s just important for people to remember that accusations are merely accusations,” he said. “The grand jury only hears part of the story and hears the part that the DA wants them to hear, so it’s not unusual that people get indicted when things are taken in front of the grand jury, but a large number of those people end up being not guilty.”
Roberts, 61, was arrested in February 2022 on nine counts of notarizing an action by fraud or forgery, a felony. In June 2022, she was arrested again on seven counts of forgery of deeds and 27 counts of check forgery.
Arrest warrants allege Roberts, who was booked under her married name, Roberts-Allen, forged her uncle’s signature on four deeds and two mortgages.
VLM also maintained a bank account at Capital One. On 26 occasions from August 2017 through September 2018, Roberts “did forge, falsely make and counterfeit a check” containing “the forged signature of Eddie George,” the warrants allege.
The checks, totaling more than $97,000, included $1,793 for “furniture and repairs,” $3,801 to a Toyota dealer, $20,000 for “hauling and work in progress,” $7,429 to “Lisa Roberts-Allen,” $2,500 to Lisa Allen “for home improvements,” $450 for landscaping, and $50 for “hair appt.”
Roberts was indicted on the charges by a grand jury in March 2023.
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 email@example.com. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.