Officer faces hearing on charges of falsification for deeds

Nearly two years after John E. Washington died of cancer in 2005, someone forged his name to sell his house on Hazel Avenue.
Nearly two years after John E. Washington died of cancer in 2005, someone forged his name to sell his house on Hazel Avenue. (RYAN S. GREENBERG/ Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 07, 2012

A West Philadelphia police officer will face a triallike hearing next week on charges that she falsified paperwork on multiple property deeds to avoid paying city and state real estate transfer taxes, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey disclosed Wednesday.

In an unusual move, Ramsey said he would open the Police Board of Inquiry hearing next Wednesday to journalists because of wide interest in the case of Officer Elaine P. Thomas.

A story Sunday in The Inquirer detailed a tangled web of houses that were stolen with forged deeds, with titles put in Thomas' name.

The District Attorney's Office investigated the incidents but sent the evidence against Thomas back to the Police Department, where the case ended up in the Internal Affairs Unit.

Ramsey said the charges in next week's hearing will include "five or six" incidents in which Thomas is alleged to have falsely stated in deed paperwork that relatives were selling her properties.

Family sales are exempt from the 3 percent city real estate transfer tax and 1 percent state tax.

Reached by telephone at the 18th District, 55th and Pine Streets, on Wednesday, Thomas' phone line went dead after a reporter identified himself.

Sunday's article documented how Thomas had not paid property transfer taxes on two separate home purchases from two women who have died.

According to the deed paperwork, Margaret Carruth was listed as the mother of Elaine P. Thomas on the 2005 sale of a three-bedroom house on 29th Street.

Five weeks later, an Elaine P. Thomas took title to Bulah Culver's four-bedroom house on Newkirk Street and signed a sworn statement that she was eligible for a tax exemption. In this case, Culver was listed as her mother.

After the article was published, Thomas' family members said in interviews that neither Carruth nor Culver was Thomas' mother.

Deed transfers specifically state that property buyers making false statements do so "under penalties of law or ordinance."

Ramsey said the investigation of Thomas' deed transfers was sent to the District Attorney's Office in December 2007 to decide whether criminal charges would be sought.

When police investigators believe there is evidence of a crime involving an officer, they typically send the cases to the District Attorney's Office.

While the district attorney reviews a case, police investigators must wait to take action. If the district attorney determines there is not enough evidence for criminal charges, police can proceed with internal charges - as was done with Thomas.

Typically, administrative hearings stemming from internal police investigations are not open, though similar proceedings involving citizen complaints are.

Ramsey said the district attorney's review of Thomas' case continued for more than four years.

He said the district attorney first notified the Police Department orally in February that there would be no criminal charges. Then, in June, the District Attorney's Office formalized the declination with a letter to the Police Department.

It was only then that police could renew their investigation of Thomas.

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, declined comment Wednesday on why no criminal charges were filed and why it took more than four years to review the Thomas case.

"This office does not comment on any case unless charges are filed," Jamerson said.

Deed records show several other property transfers in which Thomas did not pay transfer taxes in addition to those of the two mothers.

She paid no transfer taxes in the November 2004 purchase of 2915 W. Diamond St. from Christine Kibler. Kibler, who died in 2003, was listed as Thomas' sister.

At the time of her death, Kibler was 97. That would make her 64 years older than Thomas - and far older than Thomas' real mother.

On another deed, Eugene G. Hamilton supposedly signed over the title to 1813 N. 28th St. to Thomas. He was listed as the father of Elaine Thomas, but he is not, relatives say.

In at least two other deeds in which Thomas did not pay real estate transfer taxes, seller Allen McDonald was listed as her brother. McDonald is not her brother, relatives say.

Many of the deeds involving Thomas were notarized by Chavon N. Reese, who pleaded guilty in April to 23 counts of forgery. Among the forged deeds listed in Reese's guilty plea were those of Kibler and Hamilton.

Ramsey said that apart from the charges involved in Thomas' case next week with the police board, the department has received additional complaints against Thomas.

Those complaints, Ramsey said, are being investigated.


Contact Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or mfazlollah@phillynews.com.

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