The faded pink house along 544 Pepper Street is less than one mile away from Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.
It’s a quick 7 minute car ride into Old Town Pasadena.
An easy jog to the luxurious Tournament of Roses House on Orange Grove Boulevard.
And with its convenient locale to Downtown Los Angeles, La Canada and Eagle Rock, this simple home on Pepper Street is ripe with real estate potential.
But for Pasadena Police Department’s Detective Derrick Carter, the 3 bedroom north Pasadena home is the scene of a financial crime case he has been working on for the last several years and a prime example of how people can lose control of their property.
Today, the Pepper Street home sits abandoned. Plants are dry, overgrown and brittle and the once green lawn is yellowed by the California sunshine. The front door is sealed shut and the inside of the home is in disarray after Pasadena Police Department dealt with squatters who had taken over the home and were trying to steal it from owner.
“We got a call on our We Tip Line from the owner of the home who was getting letters from the bank saying she was opening credit cards. But she wasn’t. She was living in a convalescence home,” Carter said. “But squatters found out about her property, stole her stuff and were able to get to her will and bank statements. They tried to take all her money. But she was able to stop it.”
Detective Carter, has been with the Pasadena Police Department for 34years, leads the financial crime cases and took the helm of the Pepper Street case, where people were taking advantage of an aging and ill older adult who didn’t have anyone to help her.
His own experience of having a childhood neighbor, who was more like a mom to him, get swindled out of her home has made him relentless when it comes to solving these cases.
“The owner of Pepper Street is elderly. She has early Alzheimer’s setting in and there was no one who secured the property. It was just sitting there. “Carter said. “The home sat here untouched until the squatters came in, so they were able to open credit cards in her name. But when they tried to wire money to themselves … the bank was able to stop it.”
Neighbors along Pepper Street watched helplessly as squatters overtook the home that belonged to their longtime neighbor, according to Carter.
“The neighbors saw people pulling into her home at night, the doors were left wide open and people were trying to move in,” Carter said. “One of the neighbors nailed the door shut, but the squatters kicked it open. They tried to look out for her, but there was so much they could do.”
At Pasadena Police Department’s Financial Crimes Division, Carter and the team of three investigators continue to see cases such as Pepper Street land on their desks as homeowners who struggle with illness or facing foreclosure end up falling victim to real estate crimes.
“For the Pepper Street case, the owner had no family, so people were just taking advantage of her,” said Lt. John Luna. “Detective Carter was very helpful to help steer her with getting the help she needed. These cases require a constant amount of investigation and man power to solve.”
The Pasadena Police Department was able to help solve a title fraud case that occurred with a new home owner Jennifer Smith, who had to fight for her home when she received a letter in the mail saying her home title was signed over to someone else.
The scam was done by someone she knew and trusted, but who had her sign paperwork that gave the title to them. She called the Pasadena Police Department and they were able to help save her home.
“Part of what is going on is this whole housing crisis in California,” said Carter. “You can come up with a fake rental agreement, turn the power on and then when they call the police, they show us a fake rental agreement and then these (squatters) have standing in this property that doesn’t belong to them. These cases are time consuming and expensive and people can’t always afford to fight them.”
The Pepper Street home is still being investigated and the case is ongoing, according to Carter. The homeowner has a public guardian now assigned to her from Los Angeles County.
Carter says it’s important for homeowners to:
- Check your title once a year
- Don’t abandon your home
- If you are away from your home for any long stretches of time, make sure to check on it.
- Have a will or living trust and keep it updated
- If you don’t have any trusted family members then have an attorney or guardian to help
“This can happen to anyone, but seniors do have more of a chance for this to happen, especially if they are having a beef with their family. No one is coming out to take care of them and these things can happen,” Carter said. “When I went to Pepper Street for the first time I just wanted to help take her trash out and board it up.”