South Florida Judge’s Error Puts Deed Scammers’ Guilty Verdict in Jeopardy

South Florida’s real estate market is hot, and while that means it’s the perfect time to build and invest for some, it also means there are many opportunities to commit fraud. With home title theft and deed scams on the rise, judges are cracking down on the perpetrators. 

Just last year, three scammers were caught posting elderly residents’ South Florida properties on Zillow to lure unsuspecting buyers in a deed scam.

And in Broward County, married couple Patricia Anne Tinker and Illya Tinker appealed their judgment to the Fourth District Court of Appeal after a jury found them guilty of 101 counts related to an alleged scheme to obtain properties via fraudulent deeds.

It’s a case that highlights the gravity of being found guilty of obtaining a fraudulent deed, but also how a judge’s error can change the course of a case.

According to an opinion issued Wednesday, the defendants faced over 115 counts of aggravated white-collar crime, grand theft, criminal use of personal identification information, criminal use of a deceased individual’s personal identification information, and unlawful filing of false documents or records against property at trial. 

The state alleged that the Tinkers, their son and other co-defendants owned properties with fraudulent deeds, according to the opinion. The Tinkers were listed as corporate officers for two companies the husband started, and the son was listed as a corporate officer during some of the schemes.

The opinion said witnesses testified they faked their signatures, or the signatures of people they were familiar with, on fake deeds or documents. Witnesses were the grantors of the property, family members of dead people who were the purported grantors of the properties, and notaries. 

‘This Was Error’

Patricia Anne Tinker was sentenced to 35 years in prison followed by 20 years of probation. Illya was given a total of 177 years in prison. But in a consolidated opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeals found a new trial was warranted.

We agree with defendants that the trial court erred in: (1) permitting a detective to identify defendant wife’s and the son’s signatures on documents; and (2) its handling of a document improperly given to the jury during its deliberations. We reverse and remand for a new trial,” Chief Judge Burton Connor wrote.

Broward Circuit Judge Barbara Anne McCarthy handled the litigation in the trial court, according to the ruling.

Connor wrote that when the trial court announced it had decided to give a curative instruction, the defendants said they were not given the opportunity to review the entirety of the document. 

“After the trial court stated it was going to give a curative instruction, defendants’ counsel began to ask, ‘What kind of curative –’, but the trial court cut off defense counsel and declared that it ‘made [its] ruling’ and was ‘going to have the deputy bring the jurors in.’ This was error,” wrote Connor.

According to law, if the defense doesn’t have the opportunity to address a jury’s question and a curative instruction isn’t given, a mistrial should be granted. 

Carla Lowry of Lowry at Law in Fort Lauderdale represented appellant Illya Livingstone Tinker. 

Public defender Carey Haughwout and assistant public defender Benjamin Eisenberg of West Palm Beach represented appellant Patricia Anne Tinker. Attorney General Ashley Moody of Tallahassee, and assistant attorney general Richard Valuntas Assistant of West Palm Beach, represented the state of Florida.

They did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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