Alleged real estate scam leader arraigned

Theodore S. Thomas, 32, entered a plea of not guilty to several felony charges and asked to be released on his own recognizance. Attorney Ryan Stubenrauch from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office gave his reasons in asking for a $1 million bond.

“Mr. Thomas has an extensive felony history in Florida,” Stubenrauch told Judge Robert J. Lindeman. “He’s had a failure to appear twice in the state of Florida.”

Stubenrauch said it took 17 days to apprehend Thomas in Florida and that Thomas was found living at a hotel with a fake name, a fake driver’s license and a fake Social Security card. “We would consider him a serious flight risk,” Stubenrauch said.

Law enforcement officials say Thomas was the ringleader of a five-year-old scheme broken up earlier this year that had stolen up to $4 million from thousands of older landowners. The alleged scammers would call owners of mostly undeveloped land across the country and ask them for closing costs on the front end, telling them that their properties would be sold for up to 15 times its worth.

Thomas’ next court appearance was set for Aug. 27. The Florida resident is being held in Miami County Jail.

Defense counsel said Thomas works for National Hardship Solutions, which has an online presence claiming to work for citizens who have been affected by the Horizon Deepwater oil spill in 2010. The site said the BP Corporation has paid out millions of dollars to those with qualified claims.

Thomas registered United Property Sales, LLC, in Troy in 2007 and also was involved with two other companies doing the alleged scamming — Worldwide Land Marketing, LLC, and Nationwide Advertising and Marketing, LLC, in Florida.

A civil lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio against the land marketing firm and four of the alleged 18 scammers — including Thomas — asks for the forfeiture of an Intuit Payment Solutions merchant account number containing nearly $58,000. The National Hardships Solutions web page lists that the website building software and design is by Intuit Small Business.

Court documents filed by Columbus-based attorney Keith Yeazel, listed as chief trial counsel for the land marketing firm , offer several defenses as to why the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Another defendant, Ben Salafria, also pleaded not guilty on Monday and was given a $25,000 bond. Stubenrauch said Salafria, like Thomas, has multiple felony convictions in Florida. Salafria said he went to college to learn digital media production.

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