Realtor Deon Britton snapped a picture at the title company of a couple selling a house in 2019.
“The pose that you see here is that of a husband signing first, and then pressing it to the wife,” Britton told WFAA.
But prosecutors say the house wasn’t theirs to sell.
Dallas County prosecutors allege Gerald and Akiba Pierce falsified deeds using forged signatures to gain control of seven houses in Dallas County. Some of those homes were then sold to unsuspecting buyers.
“I had heard of deed fraud, but to stare in the face of it was totally different,” Britton said. “To find out that you can take a deed and walk into the county, hand over documentation, and they record it, and the name changes in several days is unbelievable.”
Since 2019, WFAA’s “Dirty Deeds” series has revealed how scammers have taken control of properties that they don’t own. In some cases, the forged signatures of dead people have made their way onto property deeds filed with the county.
One man – already convicted in a deed fraud scheme – did it again while behind bars.
Chapter 1: A family charged
The Pierces have both been indicted in Dallas County on two counts of felony theft in connection with the scheme. Her mother, Merenthia Harris, and stepfather, Herbert Harris, have also been indicted on two felony counts.
In late August, WFAA cameras were there when Gerald Pierce came to court. He had been given probation for an assault charge committed in 2014.
Prosecutors asked a judge to revoke his probation because, they said, he violated the terms of his probation when he stole and sold houses that didn’t belong to him. Prosecutors also said he failed to report to probation from 2016 to 2019.
Pierce pleaded not guilty to the allegations.
“It's our position that Mr. Pierce was not present at these transactions,” his attorney, Kenneth Weatherspoon, told the judge. “That that was not him, that was his wife and someone else.”
Chapter 2: The scheme
During a three-hour hearing, prosecutors called witnesses who described a scheme involving homes with a combined value of more than $1 million.
Devon Lewis testified that he was the owner of a home on Elm Falls in Mesquite. In 2015, someone filed a deed at the courthouse that purported to transfer ownership from Lewis’ company to the Pierces. Lewis testified that his signature was forged on the deed.
Ernest Mays, owner of Live Happy Investments, testified that a few months later, he bought the home on Elm Falls from the Pierces. Mays testified he met the Pierces and her mother at the house, and he agreed to buy the home for $70,000. After a contractor looked at the property and found it needed more repairs, he agreed to pay $60,000.
Title company records show that at the closing with Mays, the Pierces presented their driver’s licenses, as well as their marriage certificate. Mays later re-sold the home, unaware of the property’s ownership troubles.
Lewis, the original owner, testified that he is now looking for help from a lawyer to get his house back.
Chapter 3: Three deeds in one day
Prosecutors said, on a single day in 2017, forged deeds transferred three properties belonging to the Federal National Mortgage Association – commonly known as Fannie Mae – to the Pierces.
On June 2, 2017, a leasing agent representing Fannie Mae went to one of the houses on Clover Hill Drive in Cedar Hill. There, the agent saw the Pierces – as well as prospective tenants, Cedar Hill Det. Brandon Woodall testified.
A real estate agent representing Fannie Mae called the police.
“Officers met.... with Ms. Pierce and she provided a deed for the property saying that she purchased the property on the previous day,” Det. Woodall said in an interview with WFAA. “They provided me another address in Cedar Hill. That particular address had also shown a deed that was filed for June 1, 2017. I suspected both deeds to be fraudulent at the time.”
Fannie Mae sued the Pierces. A judge ordered the deeds void and the Pierces to pay $13,183 for Fannie Mae’s legal bills. Title company records show the judgment was later paid – with money earned from the sale of another stolen house.
Chapter 4: Pierce arrested
In 2019, prosecutors say Pierce and his wife were on their way to close on the sale of another house that they allegedly stole through deed fraud. Investigators were waiting in the parking lot. Det. Woodall was there and said the couple appeared to spot the police and drove away from the title office. Det. Woodall and other officers pulled them over down the street.
“I advised her that the closing was canceled on the property,” Det. Woodall testified.
Woodall said Akiba Pierce had been arrested earlier that month on allegations related to deed fraud.
“And she said something to the effect of, ‘If he got caught doing this, that's on him,’” Det. Woodall told WFAA.
Det. Woodall said he then spoke to Gerald Pierce.
“I let Mr. Pierce know that his wife had just basically thrown him under the bus,” the detective testified. "And he advised that she had been doing this long before they ever hooked up.”
Chapter 5: Pierce fails to return
Just after Det. Woodall testified, the hearing paused for a mid-morning break. Gerald Pierce left the courtroom. His wife followed close behind him. State District Judge Nancy Kennedy returned to the bench about 20 minutes later.
The attorneys returned. The Pierces did not return.
“Where’s your client?” Judge Kennedy asked. Weatherspoon shrugged, saying, “I’ll get him.”
He returned without his client. He told the judge he had called his client, looked in the restrooms and the hallway.
“I’ve looked high and low,” he told the judge.
No one in court could recall the last time a defendant had taken off during their probation revocation hearing.
“I have called his phone three times and I have sent him a text message,” Weatherspoon said. “I've had no response.”
Pierce’s attorney asked the judge to postpone the rest of the hearing. “Your honor, I think proceeding in absentia denies Mr. Pierce some due process rights,” his attorney said.
The judge denied the request and ordered that the hearing continue. She also revoked Pierce’s bond and issued a warrant for his arrest.
“By Mr. Pierce voluntarily absenting himself from this process after it’s begun, he is waiving his right at this time,” the judge said. “That’s the court’s finding and we will proceed.”
Det. Woodall finished his testimony, saying that Pierce had told him he was merely there to drive his wife to the closing.
Chapter 6: Different names
As the hearing continued without Pierce, notary Calvin Brown told the court about his encounter with Pierce’s mother-in-law.
He said Merenthia Harris asked him to notarize a document in March 2017. “Every time I looked down at the documents, she’s kind of distracting me,” he testified.
He said he realized after she walked out that she had signed her real name in his notary book. But on the document that he had just notarized, Brown testified she had signed the name “Pamela Blanco.” The deed showed “Pamela Blanco” as the foreclosure agent acting on behalf of U.S. Bank National Association.
“It caught me off guard and I didn’t realize it until I’d done it,” Brown testified. He said he went outside and tried to get her to return to his shop. “She just ignored me and got in the car and drove off,” Brown said.
That deed transferred ownership of the Cedar Hill home on Copeland Drive to Gerald and Akiba Pierce.
In 2019, realtor Deon Britton testified he received a call from Akiba Pierce about selling the house on Copeland.
He said he met Gerald Pierce and came to an agreement to buy the house.
Britton testified that clients – who renovate and flip homes – bought the house from the Pierces.
Chapter 7: A photo of the Pierces
When the sale on the house closed, Britton took a picture of the Pierces – a practice he typically does at other closings.
He said he soon received another call from Akiba Pierce saying that they wanted to sell another house, this time on Golden Hills Drive in Dallas.
Prosecutors said the house had been transferred to the Pierces with a fraudulent deed.
Britton’s clients again agreed to buy the home.
A day before the scheduled closing, Britton testified that he received a call from his clients, asking him if he was sitting down.
He said they told him that federal investigators were on the line and they explained that the house on Copeland had been stolen.
“I go: ‘What? I am sitting down now,’” Britton told WFAA. “And I immediately have a headache.”
Prosecutors said Pierce was later arrested when he and his wife came to close on the deal to sell that house.
Chapter 8: Judge revokes probation
As the hearing ended, Judge Kennedy found Pierce had violated probation.
Prosecutors asked that he be sent to prison.
“He has committed theft,” prosecutor Phillip Clark said. “And in so doing he has violated the terms and conditions of his probation. Between the two cases, we’re talking about seven properties, we’re talking about $1,000,000 in value of properties that are owned by the true owners.”
Weatherspoon, Pierce’s attorney, contended that Pierce was not really involved in the deed fraud scheme and pointed the finger at his client’s wife.
Chapter 9: Pierce faces prison time
“I am going to sentence him to 10 years,” the judge said.
The judge later added that she cannot impose the punishment until Pierce is taken into custody and brought before her for sentencing.
Last year, Akiba Pierce pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft related to the deed fraud scheme. She was given seven years of probation.
Attorneys representing Merenthia and Herbert Harris declined to comment.
Looking at the picture he took at the title company, Britton said what he sees now is deception. “You’re sitting in a place you shouldn’t be in,” he said.
There will be a new picture of Gerald Pierce soon – this one taken in a Texas prison.