Broward’s chief judge calls it “reprehensible” that thieves can steal people’s entire homes — and that victims must spend months maneuvering the legal system to try to take back their properties. Able to do something, the judge plans to speed up the legal process to help these property-fraud victims.

Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter signed an order Friday giving those victims “expedited treatment” with hearings to resolve their fraud ordeal. He wants to make it easier for people fighting to be rightful owner of the property. He also wants his judges to pay extra attention to cases that might raise any red flags before signing off on them.

“The idea that someone has their home stolen, and that person has to spend thousands and thousands, and wait months and months to get what’s legally theirs because of some fraudster just seems reprehensible,” Tuter said.

The judge’s move comes in response to a string of news articles by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which in recent months has detailed the Broward Property Appraiser’s crackdown on the rise of property crimes. The newspaper shed light on how thieves have been stealing homes by filing fraudulent quit claim deeds, liens and litigation.

In many cases, thieves use identity theft to get loans, and find foreclosures to steal that might go unnoticed by banks. They also seek out seniors, who the thieves hope won’t notice documents that indicate their properties were recently sold or rented — even while the seniors are living in their homes.

In multiple cases, thieves lied on affidavits, saying people were heirs when they were not, but those fake heirs never had to show up in court and the true heirs lost the properties.

Tuter said he was outraged when he read a Sun Sentinel news article about a Dania Beach man accused of joining a theft ring that used fake documents to steal many Broward homes. The suspect was jailed on criminal charges, and then was allowed access to the one of those homes in question to have a month’s time to move his family out.

“That said to me we need to take a harder, faster look at these cases,” Tuter said. He added that there was “potentially a disconnect” between civil and criminal cases.

Although “expedited” can’t be quantified, the new order has the potential to move up a waiting period from months into “days or even weeks,” he said.

Marty Kiar, Broward’s property appraiser who created the team of detectives charged with snuffing out deed fraud, said he was thankful for the speed and the judge’s efforts.

Kiar said about 40 suspects are under investigation by his office now. Some of the investigations involve one property, and others involve “numerous” properties. About 100 properties are being investigated for possible fraud, which is a 300% increase from last year. Kiar said they expect more than 200 investigations by year’s end.

“I am extremely grateful that Chief Judge Tuter has issued this order,” Kiar said Friday. “The order will make it more difficult for criminals to steal properties, and will help ensure that victims of deed fraud will get their property back and their title unclouded in a much more expeditious manner.”

Tuter said that the cases will now have priority on the judges’ calendars, and he will “make sure the judges are aware of these cases and call to their attention things they need to be looking for in these cases.”

For example, “bad actors” can create fake companies, and paperwork would show people were served documents to clear a title to take over a property, but that “company” had no property interest — and the fake owner takes over. Investigators with Kiar’s office have also complained that banks who owned foreclosed homes don’t answer a thief’s lawsuit because they were never truthfully served and the judge approves a default judgment.

“If you see something that appears to be a flaw, do not sign any of the quiet title orders and instead hold a hearing in person, in your courtroom, bring all of these folks in, and start to inquire if something looks suspicious,” Tuter said.

“Hopefully we will handle these claims in a more effective way,” he said.

But although his courts will “proceed with a little more caution,” he knows it won’t stop all crime.

“If the courts are involved in any way to slow down this process, my order is an attempt to fix that,” Tuter said. “It won’t be perfect because we are imperfect on this, and the people involved are smart and are nonstop, they don’t give up.”

But still, “we got to do better on this for sure.”

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash

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