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Second arrest in real estate scheme that hit SWFL home buyers

Posted at 5:47 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 15:41:16-04

LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement alleges Kiana Kiara-Alexis Russell, 22, worked alongside Tabria Josey, 20, in a complex real estate fraud scheme that lasted two years and collected more than $140,000 in earnest money or down payments for Lee County real estate that neither Josey nor Russell owned.

Russell is charged with Scheme To Defraud, Aggravated White-Collar Crime and Money Laundering and in the Lee County Jail. In total, the FDLE said Russell and Josey collected more than $217,000 from properties throughout Florida. This includes eleven properties in Lee County – nine in Lehigh Acres and two in Bonita Springs.

Josey, scammed more than 45 victims into purchasing real estate that totaled over $300,000. Josey would do this by listing properties without the knowledge of the homeowners and post the homes on many different websites then would act as the title agent to finalize the closing.

MORE: Report details how this scam was pulled off

The affidavit alleges Russell “conducted financial transactions by creating Stripe accounts and having the victims wire funds for the fraudulent sale of the property to said accounts” and that Russell “knowingly obtained the funds from the fraudulent real estate transactions and, in an effort to conceal the nature of the crimes, routed the funds through Stripe, ultimately ending up in their personal bank accounts.”

Investigators found, between November 2020 and April 2022, that Josey created seven fictitious title companies and also fake names of real estate agents. She also set up websites, Facebook accounts, email addresses and profiles on sites like LinkedIn. The FDLE also alleges that Josey impersonated licensed agents to achieve these “sales” and collect money that buyers believed were for down payments or earnest money.

While the investigation points to Josey as the mastermind behind the scheme, Russell also lived with Josey as the two were in a relationship. The FDLE claims that, once Josey collected money from prospective buyers and cut off further communication with them, Josey would transfer the money into bank accounts for herself and also a joint account at a Regions Bank with Russell.

For one of the 21 properties, in Palm Beach County, the FDLE alleges a Stripe account, used to receive payments from clients, was in Russell’s name and date of birth, doing business as “Reflections Interior Design”, with an address from Detroit, Michigan.

In another case, investigators claim Josey and Russell set up a corporation called, “Pawfect Doghouse”, in February 2022, as a dog boarding business. The FDLE notes that Russell was a certified nursing assistant but had not worked in a year.

FDLE agents interviewed Russell on May 11 and said Russell claimed she originally believed Josey was a web designer. Agents arrested her the same day.

Of the 21 properties FDLE alleges Josey’s involvement with, we looked at the eleven from Lee County. In total, investigators say that Josey defrauded people out of $141,295 in these earnest payments from Lee County alone.

Property #2, Lehigh Acres. April 13, 2021 to June 9, 2021. A victim tries to purchase a property for her daughter through Facebook Marketplace, for sale by an “Angela Duggan” (one of Josey’s aliases). The first victim wired $2,500, which was the start of numerous victims for this one property. Another wired $5,000 on May 11, 2021. A third victim wired $2,500 on June 7, 2021. Two others sent $3,000 more for a total of $13,000 in “earnest money” from five victims and an attempt to defraud another person.

Property #3, Lehigh Acres. July 28, 2021. Victim wired $2,500.

Property #5, Lehigh Acres. August 18, 2021 to August 23, 2021. Three victims wired in a total of $11,700 to try and “buy” this property.

Property #6, Lehigh Acres. September 1, 2021 to September 24, 2021. Five more victims, this time for a total of $23,500 to “purchase” this property.

Property #8, Lehigh Acres. October 6, 2021 to October 22, 2021. Five victims in total for this property for a total of $22,445.

Property #9, Lehigh Acres. October 22, 2021. Property listed on Zillow. One victim for $4,500.

Property #10, Lehigh Acres. October 22, 2021. One victim sent $6,400. Also the time when investigators tracked more than $21,000 going from Josey’s Stripe account (where the earnest money payments would go) into her personal bank account.

Property #12, Lehigh Acres. November 23, 2021. One victim for $5,500.

Property #18, Bonita Springs. February 2, 2022. For this property, prosecutors say Josey took two different victims for $14,000 in total.

Property #19, Lehigh Acres. February 7, 2022 to February 15, 2022. One victim for $12,750.

Property #21, Bonita Springs. April 11, 2022 to April 12, 2022. One victim for $25,000.

The investigation is ongoing and there are said to possibly be more victims. For those who may have further information contact FDLE Fort Myers at (800)-407-4880.

FOX4's Chris Earl also assisted with this report.