12 arrested for housing scam in Mercer County

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12 arrested for housing scam in Mercer County. Jeff Chirico reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on April 6, 2018. (WPVI)

A dozen people are facing serious charges for allegedly pulling off an elaborate housing scheme in South Jersey.
A dozen people are facing serious charges for allegedly pulling off an elaborate housing scheme in South Jersey.

Prosecutors say Barbara Brooks of Trenton was the ringleader of an elaborate countywide housing scheme.

The 48-year-old was among a dozen charged Friday by the Mercer County prosecutor for unlawfully occupying vacant and foreclosed homes.

Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri said, "They would then break-in to those homes, change the locks, then they would rent the properties.

According to Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, Brooks located the target houses online and drew up fraudulent leases. She allegedly enlisted Michael Wilmore, a Trenton Water Works employee to turn on water service to properties. And she trained so-called tenants how to get away with it.

When police went to homes they knew everything to say as if they'd been coached.

Thirty-two-year-old Latasha Love is accused of living rent-free for months in a home on Sabrina Drive in Ewing.

"I saw the handcuffs go on her," one neighbor said.

Neighbors saw Love arrested a second time as she attempted to move back into the home.

"Terrible. How do you get away with it?" added neighbor Jack Devlin.

Armed with legitimate looking leases, squatters have plagued police departments here for years.

When local agencies combined forces in 2016, investigators began to unravel the sophisticated scheme.

Onofri asks the public to be vigilant in helping them stop future incidents more quickly.

If you're a neighbor and there are people you don't think should be in a house, give the police a call. It doesn't hurt.

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