COCONUT GROVE, Fla. – This type of crime leaves a long trail of victims who are not just taken for their money, but their pride and reputation too.
A property deed is now at the center of a criminal investigation by police, tied to lucrative land in Coconut Grove that was secretly sold from underneath its rightful owner, 86-year old Shirley Gibson.
A second property Gibson owns had been listed for sale until the deal fell through on closing day.
“The first red flag, initially the gentleman told me not to put a sign on the lot,” said real estate agent Santiago Lizarazo.
Lizarazo, the realtor who listed the property, says the male crook posed as Gibson.
“His name is Shirley Gibson. He had an ID,” Lizarazo said. “For us to list the property as real estate agents, we need to have a full listing agreement and also need to have the proper identification of that person. He provided both things and it all checked out with property records and everything. We had no reason to suspect that it wasn’t him who was selling.”
It’s unclear if the mystery man who only worked by phone is tied to the sale that did go through at Gibson’s first property, purchased by a shell corporation out of New York.
But the licensed notary, whose name and official stamp appears on that transaction, says he’s a victim too.
“I have never heard of Miss Gibson. I have never heard of any of the witnesses on the case,” said notary Mohamed Chraibi.
Chraibi is an affordable housing developer who says he doesn’t do work in Coconut Grove. He showed Local 10 News his real stamp with an eagle, which is absent from the image on the fraudulent document.
“The signature is not mine, my handwriting is not it. The stamp that was used is not mine — meaning the logo on the stamp is not mine,” he said. “The only thing that matches I guess they copied the number, but everything else is different.”
It’s a scam on the rise across Florida, typically targeting low-income senior citizen property owners.
It’s forced the realtor in this case to change the way his company does business.
“If someone is gonna hire us, it’s horrible to have to suspect that we have to double-check if this person really owns that lot,” Lizarazo said. “But the circumstances the times, I think its best to have our clients protected.”