LABELLE, FL. (May 16, 2006) -- Attorney General Charlie Crist today
arrest of a Broward County woman for her involvement in a South Florida
land fraud scam. Sonia Hall, 35, is accused of participating in an
elaborate scheme that defrauded international victims out of valuable plots
of land in Highlands and Okeechobee Counties, today worth as much as
$910,000. In the last two years, county officials have seen
unprededented volumes of land transfers as vacant lots sales have
mushroomed throughout South Florida.
An investigation that began last July uncovered a land fraud ring
that created fraudulent deeds to transfer ownership of building lots in
several Highlands County and Okeechobee County subdivisions. The scheme
targeted landowners who lived in Canada or Puerto Rico. From June to
December 2004, members of the ring created the deeds and forged the
victims' signatures, making it appear as if the victims had willingly given
up ownership of their properties. Hall, a Notary Public, then notarized the
signatures indicating she had properly witnessed the signatures and
examined the victim's identification. Some of the signatures Hall notarized
were of individuals who died several years earlier.
"This is an outrageous abuse of public trust for financial gain,"
said Crist. "We intend to bring all who were involved in these
unscrupulous actions to justice."
The scheme was uncovered when the Highlands County Clerk's
Office in Sebring, Florida
contacted a victim regarding a problem with the deed he supposedly signed
over. The victim, who never signed the deed, contacted Hall directly and
discovered she had fraudulently notarized his signature.
The properties were transferred through various individuals to an
offshore corporation. At the time of the transfers, the properties were
worth more than $500,000. Today, they are worth a combined $910,000,
according to the propertie's developer.
Hall is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit organized
fraud, a second-degree felony, and six counts of false or fraudulent
acknowledgment by a notary, a third-degree felony. If convicted on all
charges, she faces up to 45 years in prison and fines up to $40,000. The
case was jointly investigated by the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, the
Broward County Sheriff's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The case will be prosecuted by the
Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution. The investigation into
the other ring members is ongoing.