FRESNO, Calif. - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the arrest of five individuals who allegedly ran a statewide housing scheme by using adverse possession laws to fraudulently seize at least 23 homes in nine counties.
Sandra Elaine Barton, 30, Christopher Spencer Barton, 31, Daniel Paul Vedenoff, 29, Sheldon W. Feigel, 50, and Craig Merrill Mortensen, 60, all of Fresno, were arrested today and charged with 288 felony counts including perjury, filing false court records and preparing false evidence. Cambria Lisa Barton, 21, remains at large.
All were booked into the Fresno County Jail on bail ranging from $27,500 to $1,795,000 and face restitution payments of at least $3.5 million.
According to the Attorney General’s filing, the Barton family, along with Vedenoff, Sandra Barton’s boyfriend, allegedly worked with two lawyers, Mortensen and Feigel, to identify seemingly abandoned residential properties and file for adverse possession of the property in court in order to obtain title.
Once a Barton family member obtained ownership, the property would then allegedly be restored and was typically sold or rented.
Under California Code of Civil Procedure 325, a person can claim possession of real property if he or she has occupied or claimed it continuously for at least five years and paid property taxes for that period of time, among other requirements.
According to the Attorney General’s filing, since 2006, Barton family members and their attorneys allegedly provided evidence and statements in court that was factually impossible and knowingly fraudulent.
“It is reprehensible that these individuals lied to the courts in order to steal homes and in some cases to demand payment from the rightful owners,” Attorney General Harris said. “The conduct of the attorneys in this scheme is even more offensive because they violated their ethical duty to be honest to the courts."
The evidence was used to obtain at least 23 residential properties in nine counties: Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Sonoma and Tulare.
The following Kern County addresses were involved in the alleged fraud:
714 Dolores St., Bakersfield, CA
26945 Nichols St., Boron, CA
1153 Brady St., Ridgecrest, CA
3508 Montana Trail, Frazier Park, CA
16947 Glendower Ave., North Edwards, CA Kern
The alleged scheme was uncovered when Nancy Zelepsky, the true owner of a residence in Santa Barbara County, sought an equity loan in 2010 and contacted a title company in order to determine if there were any liens against her property.
Zelepsky was notified that Sandra Barton had been listed as the deed holder of the home in July of that year through documents filed by Mortensen.
A court determined that Sandra Barton’s prior claim to the property was fraudulent and restored ownership to Zelepsky.
The court then notified the California State Bar regarding Mortensen and the California Attorney General’s office opened an investigation in June 2011.
Sandra Barton faces a maximum state prison sentence of about 103 years, Mortensen faces 108 years, Feigel faces 15 years, Christopher Barton faces 7 years and Vedenoff faces 8 years.
The Attorney General’s Office was assisted in this case by the State Bar of California, Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Clovis Police Department and Fresno Police Department.
Please note that a complaint contains only allegations against a person and, as with all defendants, those named here must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.