A Fort Worth man was arrested Friday on federal charges that he stole actual houses in an elaborate scheme involving fake buyers and fraudulent titles, prosecutors said.
His alleged take: 100 homes and other properties worth more than $1 million.
Norris Lynn Fisher, 62, was arrested by U.S. Postal inspectors at his home without incident and appeared before a U.S. magistrate on a mail fraud charge, prosecutors said.
The case started when a citizen complained to the Tarrant County District Attorney's office that a property was sold without their approval or knowledge, said David Lobingier, an assistant prosecutor in the DA's economic crimes unit.
"To my knowledge, it's one of the biggest property scams to ever hit this county," Lobingier said. "They just made up names and, later, those non-existent persons would sell the house to another person and to another person. Eventually it would go to a shell corporation Fisher controlled."
Fisher stole properties by forging the signatures of real property owners and transferring titles to fictitious buyers, prosecutors said.
The Tarrant County clerk's office was not aware of the scheme and accepted the paperwork as authentic.
The alleged thefts went undetected for months. He allegedly fooled clerks by faking his own notary stamps and diverting mail to a post office box he rented to receive the fraudulent deeds, postal inspectors said.
"That's not their job to question if the documents were valid or not," Lobingier said.
Another scheme involved identifying houses whose owners had recently died and claiming to be the owner's sole heir, according to the allegations filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth. Tarrant County prosecutors said they transferred the case to federal authorities because of its size.
Fisher profited by leasing mineral rights to the property he did not rightfully own, prosecutors said.
A detention hearing has been set for March 3.
The federal public defender's office, which is representing Fisher, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.