TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a woman was sentenced to state prison today for engaging in a fraudulent scheme in which she used bad checks to purchase three homes in New Jersey.
Tara Stokes, 50, of Flushing, N.Y., was sentenced today to four years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Kevin T. Smith in Gloucester County. Stokes pleaded guilty on April 9 to a charge of second-degree theft by deception. Stokes was indicted in December 2016 along with an alleged co-conspirator, Lawrence T. Humphrey, 49, of Brooklyn, N.Y., as the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Humphrey is wanted as a fugitive and faces pending second-degree charges of conspiracy, theft by deception and passing bad checks.
Deputy Attorney General William N. Conlow prosecuted Stokes and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice. Detective Richard Loufik was the lead detective for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.
The investigation revealed that Stokes – and allegedly Humphrey – presented checks drawn on a closed bank account to buy three homes in New Jersey. In each case, Stokes used the name “Tara Humphrey.” Two of the properties are located in Gloucester County – in Greenwich Township and Monroe Township – and one is located in Winslow Township, Camden County. The closed bank account was in the name of a fictitious law firm, Law Offices of Tara Humphrey. Tara Stokes is not a lawyer.
“Because of the large sums of money involved, real estate transactions and mortgage loans are a prime target for con artists,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We are working hard to send these criminals to prison and deter this fraud, which imposes major costs on the industry that are passed along to consumers.”
“Stokes posed as a lawyer and, together with her alleged co-conspirator, used various ploys to make it appear they possessed the funds needed to purchase the three homes,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend the experts in our financial crimes bureau for exposing this couple’s deceptions and securing this prison sentence for Stokes.”
Stokes – and allegedly Humphrey – wrote multiple bad checks for two of the properties, writing new checks when the first checks bounced. Three bad checks for $240,000 were written for the Monroe property, all from the account of the fictitious law firm. Bad checks for $296,639 and $299,139 were issued for the Greenwich property, with the second check being drawn on a different bank account, which was open but did not have sufficient funds. A bad check for $305,684 drawn on the law firm account was written for the Winslow property. Bad checks for $2,500 and $10,000 were also written from that account to pay deposits on the Greenwich and Winslow homes.
While titles for the three properties changed hands at the closings, in each case the fraud was quickly uncovered, and two of the deeds were not recorded. The state’s investigation began with a referral from a law firm representing the title company that handled the closing for the Monroe Township property.
Assistant Deputy Public Defender Ronald Appleby, Gloucester County.