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Authorities: Scammers targeted would-be renters

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Oct. 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm with 2 Comments »
October 4, 2011 2:17 pm

Pierce County prosecutors have filed 17 felony counts against a woman suspected of bilking people seeking rental homes out of thousands of dollars.

Erica Brown, 39, targeted members of the military, people receiving state and tribal assistance and others, court records show.

Brown pleaded not guilty Monday to leading organized crime, identity theft, forgery and multiple counts of theft. She’s jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.

Brown ran businesses that acted as a go-between for landlords and people seeking rental houses and apartments in the Tacoma area. She advertised her companies – The Department of Relocation Services and Armed Forces Relocation and Referral Services – on Craigslist and other Internet sites.

Her employees would show houses to prospective renters then take money for security deposits or other fees, court records show.

In many cases, prosecutors contend, Brown would keep the money without finalizing a rental agreement, leaving victims without their deposits or a place to live.

Investigators with the Tacoma Police Department, Federal Way Police Department, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Puyallup Tribal Police have identified at least 11 cases of fraud involving Brown’s business dating to 2009, court records show.

Brown, also known by other names, also is accused of stealing $10,000 from a would-be investor, the records show. She promised the man a $2,500 initial return and $1,000 per month thereafter, the documents state.

The victim told police “that immediately after having received the check, (Brown) stopped communicating with him both personally and professionally,” the records state. “He stated that he requested the promised investment information but never received it.”

Two men accused of working with Brown, including her husband, also are charged in the case.

Kevin L. Brown, 34, and Kenneth Erbar, 55, are charged with multiple counts of theft.

Erbar pleaded not guilty today and was ordered jailed in lieu of $100,000 bail. Kevin Brown’s been summoned to court later this month to answer the charges.




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