Earlier this year, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner mocked his predecessor for taking a lackadaisical approach to housing theft — the growing problem of grifters forging deeds and posing as heirs to steal properties. He said he was different.
The previous district attorney, Seth Williams, had a rule not to pursue cumbersome and paperwork-intensive cases of house thievery unless the crook swiped at least 20 homes, Krasner said.
“Imagine a world where we only went after car thieves when they hit number 20,” Krasner said in February. “Well, that is not how it works anymore.”
It turns out Krasner left out part of the story.
His office still won’t investigate allegations of house theft that involve only one property, his staff recently confirmed. Nor does it have the staff to investigate every complaint, the lead prosecutor for house thefts said. Instead, the office often tells victims who have had a single property ripped off to go to the police.
If police then do build a case, the District Attorney’s Office will prosecute. Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Esack said that’s an improvement from past district attorneys who she said would decline to prosecute single-theft cases.
Since February, Krasner’s office has announced criminal charges against six suspects for multiple-house thefts. Prosecutors, in cooperation with police, have brought one case involving a single property theft.
Krasner’s spokesperson, Jane Roh, said there was nothing misleading about Krasner’s statement.
“District Attorney Krasner has absolutely shifted the mission of this office away from callousness toward low-income vulnerable people and toward remaking a system of justice that works fairly and effectively for everyone,” she said.
“If we had the resources that I believe we need, then we would go after everything if we could," she added.
Some victims who have been recently rebuffed decry the district attorney’s practice. They tell of being trapped in a maze of bureaucratic pass-the-buck in which police tell them to seek help from the DA and the DA tells them to go to police.
One victim who says her family got the brush-off from both police and prosecutors is Shannon Driggins, 35, a state social worker. She discovered last year that a man named Jose Vazquez had filed a deed saying he had bought the family’s home on Hancock Street in Kensington from her grandmother in 2017.
The deed bore the signature of her grandmother. But she died in 1983, her death certificate shows. The deed says her signature was stamped and verified by a notary named “Albert Rothstein.” That’s faked, too. State regulators say there is no such notary in Pennsylvania. Vazquez did not respond to a letter seeking comment.