Five years later, woman gets her stolen house back

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER It took Teresa Isabella five years to get her house on 18th Street back after it was stolen. Now she helps other victims of deed theft.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER It took Teresa Isabella five years to get her house on 18th Street back after it was stolen. Now she helps other victims of deed theft.
Posted: April 25, 2013

IT WAS THE HARDEST, longest fight of Teresa Isabella's life.

After five years of navigating the civil-court system mainly on her own, Isabella, 66, regained ownership last year of the massive four-story rowhouse just blocks from Rittenhouse Square that was stolen from her.

"It took so many years out of my life, and at what cost, when it could have been done simpler," Isabella said in a recent interview, surrounded by years' worth of court filings, tears streaming down her cheeks. "My full-time job was this."

In 2007, Isabella discovered that a bogus deed had been recorded showing that she had sold the decaying house on 18th Street near Delancey to Maureen McClay for $50,000. The city valued the house at $250,000.

That kicked off a series of fake deeds and sale agreements in which the house changed hands three times from McClay to Hien Nguyen and Anna Nguyen for $90,000, and then to Jack Trung Nguyen for $150,000, all in the space of a year.

"By the time I got the paperwork, a new owner had popped up," said Isabella.

She said she called the police, the District Attorney's Office, the state attorney general, the FBI and several legal groups for help.

"I wanted help from the city, and no one helped me," she said.

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the D.A.'s Office, said Isabella had contacted the office and was referred to Central Detectives in the Police Department. The case made its way to the Major Crimes Unit, which handles fraudulent deeds, but it has not been successful, said Sgt. Joseph Cella.

Cella says he urges victims to file an "action to quiet title," a civil complaint that is the only way the rightful owners can get their properties back under their names.

Isabella studied the court system and how to file various legal documents. Five years and thousands of dollars later, Common Pleas Judge Esther Sylvester ruled in Isabella's favor last year, after Jack Trung Nguyen challenged an earlier ruling.Nguyen is now trying to get back money for expenditures.

Isabella has taken all that she has learned from that terrible experience to help fraudulent-deed victims and friends facing foreclosure.

"I had to go through hell for 5 1/2 years to get my house back," she said. "Those are the steps I had to take to get to where I am today. [But] how many people don't know what to do?"


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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