Written by Sally Kestin, Asheville Watchdog.
On paper, Eddie George was a savvy real estate investor, chairman of VLM Investments LLC that bought and sold nearly $1 million worth of properties in Buncombe County in a little more than a year.
But George, who is 65 and lives in a modest home in Gary, Indiana, alleges he had no knowledge of VLM or its business dealings and did not sign the legal documents bearing his name, according to relatives and a 2018 complaint he filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State.
George is the uncle of Lisa K. Roberts of Asheville, who, as Asheville Watchdogpreviously reported, has negotiated deals for investor Robert Perry Tucker II to acquire houses and lands from Buncombe homeowners, many of them elderly and/or Black, at far below market rates.
Roberts’s attorney, Ilesanmi “Ile” O. Adaramola of Asheville, was the registered agent for VLM and notarized deeds, mortgages and court cases filed by the company that were purportedly signed by George. By notarizing the documents, Adaramola affirmed that George signed in her presence on eight occasions from July 2017 through August 2018.
But George said in his complaint, dated October 2018, that he was unfamiliar with Adaramola or VLM and that the property transactions in Buncombe “were executed without my knowledge or consent.”
His niece, Erin George — Lisa Roberts’s cousin — told Asheville Watchdog that George “rarely ever leaves the state of Indiana.”
“He is 100 percent certain that he did not sign those documents,” Erin George said.
Adaramola and Roberts did not respond to phone messages and an email request for comment.
Never Received a Response
The Secretary of State investigates violations of North Carolina’s notary public law. Erin George said her uncle never received a response to his complaint.
Tim Crowley, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, told Asheville Watchdog Dec. 22 that the 2018 complaint had been “received during the initial stage of a newly created online submittal system.”
“Since this time,” Crowley said, “the Secretary of State’s office has made technology and system improvements.”
However, Erin George said her uncle was unable to submit the complaint electronically and mailed it.
Crowley confirmed Dec. 28 that the complaint “was received and manually scanned into our system. It’s at this point the tip should have been directed in a way that would have elevated its review status instead of being put into a general complaint category.”
The complaint will now be reviewed. “As a practice, we do not confirm whether there is an active investigation or not,” Crowley said.
Series Results in Actions
The Secretary of State has the authority to suspend or revoke a notary’s commission. A notary may be charged criminally with a misdemeanor for administering an oath or affirmation “without the principal appearing in person” or with a felony if “the notary does so with the intent to commit fraud.” It is also a felony to administer an oath or affirmation “if the notary knows it is false or fraudulent.”
The Secretary of State is the fourth government agency to take action on the transactions revealed in Asheville Watchdog’s investigative series, “Equity Erased.”
- Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller has assigned a detective to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted, said sheriff’s spokesman Aaron Sarver.
- The North Carolina Attorney General’s consumer protection division is investigating, said spokeswoman Laura Brewer. She declined to provide any details. According to the Attorney General’s website, the consumer protection division fights “unfair business practices like scams and frauds” and helps consumers recoup losses.
- The North Carolina State Bar is investigating transactions involving Robert Tucker, who is also an attorney, according to court testimony in one case and sources who said they’ve been questioned about two others.
In a grandmother’s name
Lisa Roberts’s father, Freddie, who died in 2006, was Eddie George’s brother. Eddie George has no children and is close to his nieces and nephews, Erin George said.
“He’s very much into his family, very trusting,” she said. “Knowing that someone was willing to exploit him in this manner, for him, is more than hurtful.”
VLM were the initials of Roberts’s grandmother, Vera Lee Morris. “I think this is what adds insult to injury,” Erin George said.
After being contacted by Asheville Watchdog in December, Eddie George’s family consulted an attorney, who advised him not to comment, Erin George said. “We’re trying to make decisions on, who do we go to?” she said. “We have to figure out what level of authorities that we need to contact.”
VLM was formed in March 2017 with Eddie George as “member/organizer” and Adaramola as the registered agent. A 2018 annual report filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State lists George as chairman at his address in Gary, Ind, an 822-square-foot home assessed at $32,500.
“The Articles of Organization document was not signed by me, nor am I familiar with the person that is listed as the registered agent of the Company (Ile Adaramola),” George wrote in his complaint to the Secretary of State. The annual report “was also submitted and filed without my knowledge or consent, nor did I electronically sign this document.”
George also wrote that VLM’s property sales in Buncombe in 2017 and 2018 “were executed without my knowledge or consent.”
Roberts, who also uses the name Lisa Roberts-Allen, notarized four deeds to VLM, and some of the company’s funding appears to have come from one of Robert Tucker’s companies. VLM took out two deeds of trust, similar to mortgages, from Tucker’s company totaling $315,000; both loans are purportedly signed by George and notarized by Adaramola.
‘We never signed in front of anybody’
VLM’s first property purchase in June 2017 arose from the estate of Barbara Jones, who owned a house in Black Mountain with a tax value of $157,600. A bank had recently initiated a substitution of trustee, the first public filing in a foreclosure, on an $86,000 mortgage Jones had taken out in 2003.
Jones’s daughter, Cynthia Pierce, said Roberts came to her home in Marion, east of Asheville, with papers that included an unexecuted deed to VLM for her mother’s property.
“They told me if I didn’t sign the paperwork over, I would be responsible for all of her bills,” Pierce told Asheville Watchdog. Children are generally not responsible for the debts of a parent who has died.
Pierce’s brother, Henry Jones, and his wife, Tonya, also of Marion, said they understood from Roberts that the debt on the house was higher than its value. “It was just a far-fetched amount that we were like, there’s no way we could pay on it or do anything with it,” Tonya Jones said.
When shown the deed recorded in her name, Pierce said the first and last name appeared to be her signature, but the middle initial looked as though it was added in. “I don’t write my J’s like that,” she said. “I always write a cursive J.”
Pierce and Henry Jones said they signed paperwork at Pierce’s house in McDowell County with no notary present. The deed, notarized by Adaramola, certified that Pierce and Jones “personally appeared before” her and signed the document.
“I was in Marion,” Pierce said. “We didn’t even go to Asheville.”
Tonya Jones said Roberts later said she needed another deed that included her signature since the first one mistakenly referred to Henry Jones as unmarried. Pierce and Henry Jones again signed in Marion, they said, and Roberts dropped off the new deed for Tonya Jones at her workplace in Asheville, where she said she signed it. That deed is also notarized by Adaramola, affirming that Pierce, Henry, and Tonya Jones signed in her presence.
“We never signed in front of anybody,” Tonya Jones said.
The family said they did not receive any money from the sale of their mother’s property and did not know what became of it. Henry Jones said he thought VLM was going to “give it over to low-income housing … for people that needed a home.”
Asheville Watchdog previously reported on another transaction by VLM. The company purchased a half-interest in an Arden property and filed a court actionagainst the other owner, David Shroat, to force a sale of the property.
Peter R. Henry, an Arden attorney who is Robert Tucker’s lawyer, was appointed as a neutral guardian ad litem to represent Shroat’s interests. Henry and Adaramola reported in court that Shroat could not be located. He’d been a local cop for decades and had recently retired from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office at the courthouse where the case was filed. Asheville Watchdog located Shroat’s fiancé and Shroat, who is now 74 and in an assisted living facility.
With no response from Shroat, the property was sold at a court-ordered sale to Asheville Home Funding, whose president is Roberts, for $145,000. It resold within two months for $210,000, the deed indicates.
VLM bought two other properties, records show, including one from a widower in Asheville’s Grove Park neighborhood for $180,000 that the company sold in a month for $320,000, deeds indicate. That sale was reported by Buncombe County’s Adult Protective Services to the Asheville Police Department for possible fraud, but no charges were filed.
In the other transaction, VLM bought a half-interest in a Black Mountain property for $3,000, according to the deed, and then filed a court action against the other owner to force a sale of the property. The second owner then signed over his interest to VLM, also for $3,000, and VLM sold the property a month later for $110,000, deeds indicate.
In all, signatures purporting to be Eddie George’s appear on four deeds, two mortgages and two court actions initiated by VLM, all notarized by Adaramola.
Asheville Watchdog “uncovered so much more damage than I even knew about, which has me just fuming,” Erin George said. “When you’re talking about someone unknowingly having mortgages taken out in their name, having their names signed to deeds and especially knowing that it potentially has caused people some real hurt and pain, it’s a lot to take in.”
A family confrontation
Eddie George first became aware of VLM in 2018 and asked Erin to look into it, she said. She said she confronted Roberts but declined to reveal what Roberts said or how her uncle learned of VLM.
The last public document VLM filed in Buncombe — a mortgage satisfaction from Robert Tucker — was on Nov. 30, 2018, a month after Eddie George submitted his complaint to the Secretary of State.
Erin George said she followed up with two phone calls to the Secretary of State’s office. “At least on one of those calls, there was acknowledgement of receiving it,” she said. “It just continues to infuriate me because they had the information right in front of them.”
Roberts continued negotiating property deals to Tucker’s companies, including one in 2020 from a Swannanoa minister who said he didn’t know he was signing a deed selling his family’s South Asheville house for just $500. That case resulted in a court finding the deed was obtained by fraud.
The transactions under Eddie George’s name may have stopped, Erin George said, but other homeowners continued “to be victimized” because the Secretary of State “overlooked the complaint.”
Her uncle is disabled, Erin George said. She declined to elaborate but said “he only has so much mobility.” Yet according to documents notarized by Adaramola, Eddie George was in Buncombe County eight times in 2017 and 2018.
“He doesn’t really travel anywhere,” Erin George said. “There’s no possible way he could have signed all of the documents.”
Her brother, Nate, said the family’s primary concern is protecting Eddie George. But after reading Asheville Watchdog’s investigative series, “Equity Erased,” he said, “We do recognize that there are people being taken advantage of, and we would like to see that stopped.”
Asheville Watchdog gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Duke University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, with special thanks to Danielle Siegel.