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Exceptional Detective Work Nabs Scammer Who Unlawfully Sold Local Property Out From Under Its Owner



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Newtown Police Chief David Kullgren is praising the tenacious efforts of local Detective Chelsea Harold and Detective Sgt Liam Seabrook after their months-long investigation resulted in the arrest of a man who unsuccessfully hatched a plan to sell a local home out from under its rightful owner.

It may sound like this week’s “News of the Weird” installment, but the story is legit.

According to the report, and Newtown Bee interviews with Kullgren and the detectives, last fall, patrol officers first learned there was something strange going on at an unoccupied waterfront home in town. In short order, suspicions about the investigation’s complexity shifted the case to the Newtown Detective Division.

According to sources, a neighbor and acquaintance of a local home owner saw work crews and unusual activity around the property, which resulted in a call to the rightful owner who was out of state. The property’s owner soon learned that, without his knowledge, the property had been unlawfully sold.

Det Harold explained that as the onset of the COVID pandemic progressed, most — and in some cases all — aspects involving the sale of property shifted to being done virtually. She and Det Seabrook said because of certain similar details between the property’s owner and the individual who was arrested July 27, that individual, Edwin Robert Lewis, 61, of Willington, was able to complete the fraudulent transaction.

They explained that all individual administrative steps in the process were legal and proper, and those involved did their due diligence. Nonetheless, taking advantage of the numerous virtual opportunities that presented, the accused was able to complete an expedited sale of the property to a private buyer.

At no time was the property marketed or advertised, and no Realtor was involved, Det Harold said.

“One of the suspicious aspects was the sale price being far less than the market value,” she said, “and there are a lot less protections when it comes to the cash sale of property between two parties.”

Over the course of the investigation and application for the arrest warrant, Dets Harold and Seabrook had to deal with numerous individuals and agencies, while sifting through complex transaction details to build their case, Kullgren said. Several search and seizure warrants also had to be justified and executed by the local detectives.

Their work generated charges of First Degree Larceny, First Degree Identity Theft, Criminal Impersonation, Forgery in the 2nd Degree, and Money Laundering in the 2nd Degree against the accused, who was initially held on a $150,000 bond. Upon making bond, the accused was issued an August 11 court date.

While the unsuspecting and otherwise uninvolved buyer was made whole as a result of obtaining title insurance, the detectives said the incident serves as a cautionary tale for property owners and buyers.

“In this case, obtaining title insurance protected the buyer,” Det Harold said. “And they were fully reimbursed.”

She and Det Seabrook said a scam like this can also be avoided if residents sign up for the Newtown Fraud Alert system, which would notify rightful owners by e-mail if a document, such as a deed or mortgage, is recorded under their name in the Newtown Town Clerk’s office.

Interested property owners can get more information from the Town Clerk’s Office, or by visiting newtown-ct.gov/town-clerk/pages/fraud-alert-registration .

In addition, Det Seabrook said in these times of increasing virtual legal transactions, residents could better hedge against being victimized by other types of fraud by acquiring some type of legitimate credit monitoring service that could alert them to suspicious or illegal activity across their financial and credit accounts.

The detectives, and presumably the victim, also credit the neighbor who saw something amiss and reported it, launching the investigation that culminated in this arrest.

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