MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars just to claim a home you already own. That's what happened to the family of Miami-Dade resident Lycienne Prince Barber.
When Barber died in September of last year, her cousin, Richard Anderson, had to manage her estate and was tasked with selling her duplex on Northeast Second Avenue.
Anderson estimated he has spent anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000 to date on legal fees.
"We listed the property and it was sold right away. Until this phantom Mr. Dorsey appeared. That's when all the problems started," Anderson told Local 10 investigative reporter Amy Viteri.
That phantom, according to Anderson, is a man named Hencile Dorsey. He said the family learned through neighbors Dorsey had broken into the property.
"He had told the neighbors that he was the new owner and that he was fixing up the property to rent it," said Monique Lavender Greenberg, the attorney representing the family. "None of this was true."
Greenberg said once the home was under contract to sell, they discovered a problem.
"They discovered there was a wild deed," she said.
Essentially, Greenberg explained, a wild deed is a fake document claiming ownership of the property. Dorsey filed the paperwork with the County Recorder in the Clerk's office.
"In Miami, this is really scary. I can go and write a deed that says from myself, to myself, that says I own your house," she said.
Records show that's exactly what Dorsey did. The problem, according to Greenberg, the burden is then on the homeowner to take legal action to remove that deed before they're free to sell. It's a process that is not easy, cheap or fast, according to Greenberg.
"He just goes as far as he can go hoping that we would back off or probably give him some money to just forget about it," Anderson said. "But that never happened with us."
Meanwhile, they say Dorsey found a way to break into the vacant home again, taking all the real estate agent's lock boxes off the doors. Miami-Dade police responded to the property and eventually arrested Dorsey. Investigators sent Local 10 News several reports saying Dorsey has done the same thing at least at 10 other properties all over Miami-Dade County.
Real estate attorney Chelsea Silvia has also been assisting with the effort to clear the title on the home.
"This is a crime, the moment he walks in and records a deed that is a felony," she said. "There is no gatekeeper that is the problem."
Silvia said the legal process to remove Dorsey's fraudulent deed can drag on for months as he files appeals to delay any resolution.
"He's abusing the court system to abuse these victims," she added.
The issue is, no one with the county is evaluating the phony paperwork before it's officially filed. That's because no one is required to. No one at the Miami-Dade Clerk's office would grant an interview, but officials told Local 10 News by state law the office's role is "strictly ministerial with no executive authority." That means if a deed comes in with the proper signatures and requirements, the office is required to file it, legitimate or not.
"This is a countywide problem with one individual," Silvia said. "He preys on the deceased, the most vulnerable victims there are."
"I think he's caused a lot of pain with people," Anderson said. "I think he needs to be incarcerated for a good number of years so he learns his lesson."
Dorsey now faces several felony charges in the criminal case against him. A representative from the clerk's office told Local 10 News it would require a change in state law to grant them authority to approve or deny deeds before filing them into the official county record.
Greenberg said there is currently no way for a homeowner to keep someone from doing this, but she recommended homeowners check Miami-Dade's Clerk of Courts and Property Appraiser websites to search for their property and check if any suspicious deeds have been recorded, particularly if someone connected with the home has recently died.