HOUSTON – Police arrested a woman, her husband and her mother -- all three accused of setting up fake leases for houses that did not belong to them.
At least six families fell victim to the crime, police said.
One victim, who wanted to remain anonymous, got a new job in the area and was moving his family from Alabama to the home when he paid a deposit of more than a thousand dollars, only to find out he had been taken.
He said it sounded like the perfect deal: $1,500 a month for a four-bedroom home. Then his soon-to-be neighbor gave him the bad news.
“I asked him who he leased it from and he described them, and it wasn’t the people who own the home,” said the neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified.
Investigators said Ariel Sustaita, 23, posted rental ads on Craigslist for homes she didn’t own, and then got the keys to the houses from an inspection company where she used to work. Some of the victims even moved in and paid her for several months rent.
Deputies also arrested Sustaita's mother, Flora Sustaita, 39, and Ariel Sustaita's husband, Gabriel Jimenez, 20. They say more arrests are likely to follow.
“She was able to change the locks on a majority of the houses, she put her own little realtor key lock on the outside of it—she ran a pretty good scam if you will,” said Assistant Chief Mark Herman, with Harris County Constable Precinct 4.
It all unraveled when the victim called investigators and they set up a sting. He agreed to meet Sustaita at a coffee house to pay rent. When she showed up, constables put her under arrest. She was charged with felony theft.
Realtor Larry Campanello said he believes Ariel Sustaita targeted one of his homes for lease last May. Deputies said there’s good chance she’s been swindling people for months.
“It upsets us, it makes us angry, it makes us want to go out and find these people,” Campanello said.