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Criminal Justice

Two lawyers are charged in alleged adverse-possession scheme

Posted Jan 16, 2014 8:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Two California lawyers are among five people charged in an alleged scheme to obtain title to abandoned homes through adverse possession.

Fresno lawyers Sheldon Feigel, 50, and Craig Merrill Mortensen, 60, are accused of helping four others identify abandoned properties and file for adverse possession to obtain title, according to a press release, the Fresno Bee, KQED News and 23 ABC News. The properties were restored, and sold or rented after the new owners obtained title.

A 288-count complaint (PDF) against the group includes charges of subornation of perjury, filing false court records and preparing false evidence. If convicted, Mortensen faces a maximum of 108 years in prison and Feigel faces a maximum of 15 years, according to the press release by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

California law allows acquisition of property through adverse possession if a person occupies a property for at least five years and pays property taxes.

At least 23 properties in nine counties were seized in the alleged scheme, which was uncovered when a property owner sought a home equity loan. The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County worked with the property owner to restore her ownership.

Mortensen did not respond to an email request for comment. An email sent to Feigel was returned as undeliverable.

Updated on Jan. 23 to state that an email to Feigel was returned as undeliverable.

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