Laura R. Johnson, 47, Thomas Johnson, Sr., 54, and Cheryl M. Ashley, 72, all residents of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, were sentenced earlier this week, collectively to more than 21 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to take ownership of more than a dozen real properties without the consent or knowledge of the actual owners.
Public records reflect that the defendants used fraudulent documents from 2014 until 2019 to obtain titles to homes and other properties. The defendants primarily targeted real properties that had delinquent property taxes and therefore were subject to being auctioned by the Oklahoma County Treasurer’s Office. By paying off one or more years of back taxes, the defendants caused the properties to be removed from the county tax auction. The defendants then claimed they had purchased the properties at the county tax auction, when in fact they had filed fraudulent warranty deeds to transfer properties into the names of fictitious companies and individuals. The conspiracy also included fraudulent confidential stamp tax affidavits and fake mortgages, all of which contained forged notary signatures and seals.
Some homeowners vacated their homes based on phony eviction notices. When certain victims fought the takeover of their homes in court, the defendants filed pleadings with the names of fictitious lawyers and submitted affidavits in court signed by fictitious people.
The defendants targeted one home that had been owned by a woman who died in 2012. After they gained control of the decedent’s property, the defendants used bank records they found in the home and forged a power of attorney to lie to the bank in an attempt to withdraw more than $100,000 from the decedent’s bank account. When that attempt failed, the conspirators attempted to steal money by writing forged checks on the decedent’s account and causing electronic transfers out of the account for their personal benefit. They also filed a false will in Oklahoma County District Court after the woman’s nephew learned of the death and filed a probate action. Based on the fraudulent will, the court appointed Laura Johnson as the personal representative of the estate, which enabled her to withdraw approximately $146,000 remaining in the decedent’s bank accounts and obtain more than $45,000 from her oil and gas interests.
On December 19, 2019, a federal grand jury returned a 16-count Indictment against the defendants. The federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment on June 16, 2020, which added additional charges. On November 17, 2020, each defendant pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
At sentencings earlier this week, Chief United States District Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti found the defendants’ conduct preyed on more than a dozen victims, many of whom were vulnerable due to their age or financial status. Judge DeGiusti sentenced the defendants as follows:
- Laura R. Johnson was sentenced on November 14, 2022, to 151 months in federal prison. This term of imprisonment will be followed by 4 years of supervised release. She was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal Service at sentencing.
- Thomas Johnson, Sr. was sentenced on November 15, 2022, to 42 months in federal prison. This term of imprisonment will be followed by 3 years of supervised release.
- Cheryl M. Ashley was sentenced on November 16, 2022, to 60 months in federal prison. This term of imprisonment will be followed by 3 years of supervised release.
In addition, the Court will order the defendants to pay restitution to victims after a separate restitution hearing in approximately 90 days.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester.
This case is the result of an investigation by the United States Secret Service and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica L. Perry prosecuted the case.
Reference is made to public filings for more information.