CINCINNATI (WKRC) – Your home is probably the most valuable thing you own, but you might be surprised just how easy it is for thieves to steal it.
A Local 12 Investigation exposes the trauma faced by a Cincinnati family after a couple forged signatures and filed fraudulent deeds, stealing their home and moving in to claim it.
RENO’S FAMILY HOME
The old brick home on Hamilton Avenue in Northside has been in the Runck family for nearly 30 years. Reno Runck bought it as a rental property, but it was much more than that. His daughter Carrie called it home for years.
Now, the house is at the center of a case involving deception and theft, which forced the Runck family to break into their own home.
“I never imagined someone could just forge a deed and take your home from you,” Reno said, looking around the house he had just reclaimed.
Runck had just spent more than $150,000 to renovate the old house and get it ready for sale.
A BIG SURPRISE
In late January, Reno’s daughter Carrie, who’s a realtor, was helping her dad place the home on the market while Reno was on vacation with his wife in Florida.
But, as the family relaxed, they were about to get a big surprise. The house on Hamilton was already gone.
On Jan. 25, Stephanie Kinley, a former employee of the Internal Revenue Service and her common-law husband, Jeremy Davis, filed a fraudulent deed with the Hamilton County Recorder and Auditor’s offices, listing Kinley as the new owner. The deed transfer documents included signatures of Reno and his wife.
Carrie says the first sign of trouble was from a realtor who called to tell her the keys to the door didn’t work and that knobs and handles on the home appeared to have changed. Carrie says she immediately knew there was trouble.
“For someone to change the locks,” she said, “I knew there had to have a been a problem, like something illegal had happened.”
THE DEED WAS DONE
Carrie quickly checked the Hamilton County Auditor’s website, which revealed her dad’s house was in another person’s name.
“And that’s when I just about died,” she said.
And when she opened the documents, she found the deed with those signatures.
“I knew it was not my parents’ signature,” Carrie said, but she also knew the paperwork was legally binding. “I thought my parents just lost their house, and I felt helpless.”
Her sister, Kim Sbanatto, felt helpless, too.
But it was worse than they thought.
When she went to the house, it was clear someone had just moved in.
“I felt violated,” Sbanatto said, upon learning there were people living in the family’s home.
Carrie decided to park her car on the street and take video and photos from their car of people they didn’t know wandering around their home.
“I staked it out,” Carrie said, smiling.
She captured images of both Kinley and Davis now living inside the home.
MORE DEEDS, MORE PROPERTIES
Carrie quickly learned their family wasn’t alone. The couple had filed fraudulent deeds for other homes and properties.
“On paper, they own that house right there and that house right there,” Reno said, pointing out a home across the street, as well the home next door: an apartment building and a church.
Prosecutors and detectives confirm the deeds were filed around the same time that Kinley and Davis filed the paperwork to steal the Runck family home.
THE PROTECTION ORDER
Reno called his attorney, who quickly got to work filing a request for a temporary protection order, which was granted on Feb. 5. The family was joined by police officers, who helped them clear the home with guns drawn.
Kinley and Davis weren’t there, but the home was filled with their personal items — from toothbrushes and toiletries in the bathroom to food in the fridge.
“There was just stuff everywhere,” Carrie explained.
After cleaning the house, Carrie and Sbanatto changed the locks and posted a copy of the protection order.
“We taped it to the window so they would see it,” Carrie said, adding they were exhausted and went to dinner.
While they were eating, they got a notification that the alarm on the house had gone off. They rushed back to find police officers were already there, guns drawn.
“It was a nightmare,” Carrie said.
Kinley was warned by officers that she and Davis were trespassing. The couple agreed to leave the house, though they simply moved into a vehicle across the street.
“It’s crazy,” Sbanatto said.
And it wasn’t over.
ANOTHER BREAK-IN AND THE ARRESTS
The following Saturday, Feb. 9, Kinley and Davis returned.
“They broke in the door on a Saturday by chiseling the locks out,” Carrie explained.
This time, officers who responded charged Kinley with trespassing and forced them to leave for good. Two days later, on Monday, Feb. 11, while Kinley and Davis were at the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office trying to file even more fraudulent deeds, they were arrested. But on legal documents, the properties, including Reno’s house, were still owned by Kinley.
Reno ran up a big legal bill of more than $11,000, and it’s still growing, but his attorney managed to get the home returned to his name.
“A HECK OF A SCAM” AND A PRISON SENTENCE
Originally, Kinley and Davis told detectives and the assistant prosecutor they were sovereign citizens who don’t have to abide by the government’s laws. But after a few weeks, both decided to take a deal, reducing the 18 charges from forgery to tampering with records and theft to five felony theft charges.
In court Wednesday, April 24, both Kinley and Davis said they expected to be given probation instead of prison time. They were wrong.
Judge Pat Dinkelaker called it, “a heck of a scam.” He also said it was sneaky and mean like a burglary, only they went in and wouldn’t leave.
As Dinkelaker sentenced Kinley to 18 months in prison and Davis to two years, Kinley looked surprised. Davis addressed the judge.
“Sir, I reject this,” he said.
Dinkelaker answered, “You can reject it all you want.”
Even after handcuffs were placed on both of them, Davis continued to plead, “Please sir don’t do this!”
“IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYBODY”
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters made it clear what he thought of the couple:
“I think they’re nuts,” Deters said, adding, “They’re just crazy.”
But Deters says the pair is not the only ones who have figured out how to take over homes and properties in Hamilton County.
“We’ve prosecuted cases like this before,” Deters said.
But this case is somewhat unusual in that most of the homes and properties that Kinley and Davis stole were not vacant.
And had it not been for the ability to pay a steep legal bill, the Runck family says the home would likely still be in that couple’s possession and they would still be living in their home on Hamilton.
As Carrie talked about the trauma of wrestling their home back from thieves, she stopped and simply said, “It can happen to anybody.”