Kevin Betha’s Struggle to Retrieve His Stolen Home
Junious Ricardo Stanton
They say, “you can’t fight city hall” and “resistance is futile”; don’t tell that to Kevin Albert Betha. Since 2018 he has been attempting to recover his family residence at 905 Belmont Avenue in West Philadelphia which he alleges was stolen from him by an unscrupulous real estate agency in collusion with the city of Philadelphia. Betha claims the city said he owed back taxes on the property; but he possesses documents which disprove the city’s claims. Betha has lived in the house his parents purchased in 1976 since he was a teenager. The house was left to their children upon his parents’ decease and Betha was living in the house and paying the taxes. Because he refused to swear an oath in Municipal Court when he appeared in court, due to his beliefs, the court declined to hear his case. The case was continued for several months
In 2019 the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office posted an eviction notice on his property. He went downtown to straighten the situation out and ultimately ended up at the offices of GRB Law the collection agency the city uses to recoup back taxes, liens, interest and fines. He showed his documentation proving he had paid taxes for the years in question. The people at GRB told him they would send him a letter clarifying the situation.
Several months went by and he didn’t hear anything from GRB Law. Later Sheriffs deputies come to his home. Neighbors informed him the deputies were there and when Betha and his uncle arrived he saw a Ramsey’s moving van with men removing his furniture and possessions from the house.
The deputies informed him he wasn’t allowed to go into the house. Betha spotted two Philadelphia police officers up the street and he went to them and they accompanied him back to his house. Betha’s uncle told him to go downtown and get a copy of his deed, which he did. He returned but by the time he returned there was only one police officer there. Betha showed him his paperwork and the officer left. Betha called his cousin who is a locksmith and they put new locks on the door to replace the locks the Sheriff placed on the door
Later that evening several police officers returned to the house and Betha showed them the paperwork. However a Sargent arrived and told the officers to arrest him for trespassing and illegally being on the property They took him to 55th and Pine. He stayed in jail for twenty-eight hours. After he was released he returned to his house to discover he had been locked out.
The COVID lock-downs subsequently closed the courts and for three years Betha was homeless living in an abandoned house. According to Betha both his home on Belmont Avenue and his rental property at 4315 Westminster Avenue had been fraudulently taken. When he finally went to court on the trespassing charges his court appointed lawyer and the D.A. advised him he should take a plea. Betha refused because he suspected they were trying to trick him so he would have a criminal record and the Real Estate agency and the city would use that to keep his properties.
In his efforts to resolve the situation Betha used several unique approaches. First he established a trust and put his properties in the trust with his siblings and nephew as trustees, he represented himself in the court proceedings and he filed paperwork under the Foreign Judgment Act which allows states to enforce a judgment from another state without the expense of litigation.
During the proceedings Betha asked the city Revenue Department to show proof he owed back taxes and that Giller Real Estate had purchased his house. They were unable to show he owed taxes or provide any documentation his property had been purchased. None of the property paperwork listed the names the Trust Betha had established for his property.
Subsequently all the trespassing cases were dismissed in Municipal Court and Betha returned to his home. Betha went to the District Attorney’s office to complain that his Belmont Avenue property and its contents had been stolen. The D.A.s office didn’t respond for three months; when they did they did not provide any relief or solution to his problems.. This made Betha all the more determined to get his houses back.
In 2021 Betha filed a motion/petition for the return of his property in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The Commonwealth Court subsequently issued an order for the defendants to return his property. Betha has a copy of the Court’s order in his possession which I have seen. To date the defendants have not complied! Betha plans to take the case to Pennsylvania Superior Court to seek to have the lower court’s order enforced.
His tenacity and perseverance seem to be paying off, Betha and several others whose homes have been fraudulently obtained will have their day in court. House stealing is a common practice in Philadelphia, real estate agencies, speculators and other unscrupulous persons target working class people to fraudulently gain ownership of their homes. In January of 2022 Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Economic Crimes Unit busted a group that was swindling and fraudulently stealing people’s property using forged deeds. D.A. Larry Krasner stated deed theft and illegal property transfers are a growing problem in the city.
The FBI has been following this kind of fraud since the early 2000’s. The rate of these crimes is increasing. The FBI created the phrase “house stealing” describing it as a combination of: identity theft, document counterfeiting, records falsification, mortgage fraud, government indifference and corruption. Many of these properties are stolen from the elderly or the heirs and estates of Philadelphia residents who do not know they have been fleeced and lack the resources or knowledge to do something about it.
Betha’s case does not exactly match the FBI profile, nonetheless it is fraud. Betha’s situation is different he is a younger living individual who has been victimized by document counterfeiting. Betha is to be commended for his tenacity and resourcefulness to keep fighting to right these wrongs. He and several others are in the process of filing a class action lawsuit to seek relief and overturn the fraud.
I will follow up on this and similar cases in the near future.