DALLAS — Arnold Young never married, never had children and served in the Army. He taught elementary school in Dallas.
Over the course of his 82 years, he amassed a small real estate empire: nine homes in Dallas County, part ownership in a funeral home, and land in East Texas.
“He was about family and he was just a hard-working man,” his niece, Audrey Hogg said.
So, his family was heartbroken when he fell ill of prostate cancer last fall. His decline was rapid. Surrounded by family, he passed away in February.
Young’s family thought settling his estate would be a simple matter. Young meticulously listed the relatives who would inherit his properties in a 2014 will. He designated Hogg and his sister as executors.
But within weeks of his death, family members discovered deeds, which transferred ownership of nine of Young’s houses, had been filed with the Dallas County Clerk’s office.
The houses had a value of more than a million dollars. The deeds transferring titles had allegedly been signed by Arnold Young.
One deed transferred ownership to a tenant. The other eight deeds transferred ownership to a nonprofit called Mutual Freedom, registered to a mailbox at a UPS store in Dallas.
The deeds were dated July 8, 2020 – seven months before Arnold Young’s death.
Young’s niece told WFAA that she knew immediately that the signatures on the deeds were not her uncle’s.
The notary on the deeds: Belinda Tucker.
Tucker and her husband Anthony are the founders of Mutual Freedom, the nonprofit now claiming ownership of eight of the homes. One of the properties deeded to Tucker’s nonprofit was Arnold Young’s personal residence.
“He would not have done that,” Hogg said. “In all my 52 years of living, he never said anything about the Tuckers.”
Young’s family and their attorney, Alisha Melvin, question how Belinda Tucker could notarize deeds giving control of the properties to herself.
According to the Texas Secretary State’s rules for notaries, a notary is a “third party who has no personal interest in the transaction.”
“You are not supposed to notarize anything that you have an interest in,” Melvin said.
Tucker and her husband both face one felony count for theft in connection with the alleged deed fraud scheme. Belinda Tucker also has been arrested on a separate charge, accusing her of fraudulently selling one of the houses to an unsuspecting buyer.
Since 2019, WFAA has detailed how easy it is to forge people’s signatures on property deeds – even the signatures of dead people. Once those deeds are filed with the county clerk, scammers can take control of properties they don’t own.
Belinda Tucker declined to answer WFAA’s questions. However, she did provide a six-page statement denying that any deed fraud occurred. Tucker also alleged that she and her husband were victims of a conspiracy involving Young’s family, the police and city officials.
“My husband and I are merely the victims of false allegations by a disgruntled family member,” she wrote.
Tucker, a former Lancaster mayoral candidate, said that after she was shot by a neighbor in 2019, Young reached out to console her. She said he later asked her to notarize some documents.
“As we talked, I noticed there were several deeds that were transferred to my nonprofit organization,” Tucker said. “It was hard to say no to someone who was being so generous to me.”
She said he also showed her a copy of his will, which named her charity as the beneficiary of those properties.
“Still struggling with bouts of depression, I did nothing with the properties that were transferred to my organization,” she said.
She also provided WFAA a handwritten note that she claimed Young sent her around that time. WFAA could not make out the signature on the note.
After learning of Young’s death, Tucker filed the deeds with the Dallas County Clerk’s office which transferred the title for eight of the properties to her nonprofit. She said she soon contacted tenants to schedule inspections and to determine if she could offer them a new lease under her nonprofit housing.
Young’s niece said the first sign of trouble began when one of the tenants refused to pay rent on his Lancaster home. During an April 5 eviction hearing, the tenant presented a deed to a justice of the peace.
Hogg said she looked at the deed and told the judge that it was not her uncle’s signature. Hogg called Melvin, who found eight other of Young's properties had been transferred to Mutual Freedom without the family’s knowledge.
Hogg filed a report with the Lancaster Police Department the next day.
Around that same time, the Tuckers sent out 30-day vacate notices to the tenants living in Young’s houses. Hogg provided WFAA video of Belinda Tucker placing a vacate notice on Arnold Young’s personal residence.
Bennie Williams received one of the vacate notices. She and her family have lived in the house for 40 years. Williams said Young never had her sign a lease.
“He was a person that kept his word,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, Belinda Tucker was in contact with real estate investor Andrew Howard. He runs ads on a Dallas radio station, offering to buy properties from owners seeking to sell quickly.
Howard maintains an electronic record-keeping system for his real estate business. He kept records of all his contacts with Belinda Tucker. According to his notes, the first time he heard from Tucker was on April 7.
“Belinda called in from radio,” his notes say. “Says she loved the AD and it really caught her attention.”
His notes say they reached an agreement for him to buy the house Williams was living in that same day. He agreed to pay $68,000. Two days later, Howard’s notes say Belinda told him the tenants have been “unresponsive since they sent notice to vacate.”
A few weeks later, Bennie Williams received an eviction notice. Williams said she was shocked when Belinda Tucker and a locksmith showed up to change the locks a few days before the hearing.
“I spoke to Miss Tucker on the phone, and she told me she was coming in,” Williams said. “I told her you cannot go in my house, and if you go in my house, I’m going to have you arrested.”
A judge dismissed the eviction case, allowing Williams to stay in the home.
On May 19, the Tuckers filed a contest to Young’s 2014 will, contending that their nonprofit was the rightful owner of the eight houses.
That same day, according to Howard’s notes, Belinda Tucker agreed to sell the house to him for a reduced price of $63,000, once he agreed to buy the house with Williams still living there.
On May 21, Howard closed on the property. The next day, he went to see Williams.
“That didn’t go well at all,” Howard said. “She met me at the door and told me that this whole thing was a Ponzi scheme, that Belinda didn’t own the property so I couldn’t possibly own it.”
Melvin, the Young family’s attorney, had filed paperwork with the county clerk’s office to block the sale or transfer of the houses. But the title company missed it, allowing the sale to the Howards to go through.
That left Howard and his wife on the hook for a loan on a house that they lacked clear title.
“What we would like to happen is for it to not be so easy for people to steal property,” Howard told WFAA. “We want to buy it, but we want to buy it from the rightful owners.”
After Hogg filed a police report, Lancaster Detective Senad Deranjic was assigned to the case.
Deranjic says he investigated the deed transferring ownership to a tenant. The tenant initially denied knowing the Tuckers, Deranjic told WFAA.
Deranjic said the tenant eventually admitted that Anthony Tucker had been his caretaker. The tenant told police that Anthony Tucker came up with the idea to put the house in the tenant’s name and gave him the forged warranty deed.
“He said that he fired Anthony after he discovered that Anthony Tucker forged all of the deeds, and not just the deed to his house,” Deranjic told WFAA.
Deranjic said he spoke to Belinda Tucker on May 25. He said she denied wanting to sell any of the homes. The detective said Belinda Tucker told him she met Young at a 2015 fundraiser. She denied knowing the tenant, the detective said. Anthony Tucker also denied knowing the tenant, according to police records. But police obtained documents showing Anthony Tucker had been the tenant’s caretaker.
Deranjic told WFAA that Belinda Tucker would not provide any evidence – no phone records, no emails, nor text messages – indicating that she knew Arnold Young.
In late October, a justice of the peace ordered the $55,000 check paid to the Tuckers’ nonprofit be returned to the Howards’ lender.
Belinda Tucker remains adamant that she and her husband have done nothing wrong, but the legal fight between the Tuckers and Young family is far from over.
In late January 2022, Young’s family and the Tuckers will face off in court over the Tucker’s effort to overturn his 2014 will.
“For them to come in and just take what he built for his family, his legacy, without a thought is painful,” Hogg said. “It makes you angry.”