RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Dozens of Midlands families are coping with ruined credit scores and the loss of thousands of dollars after they became victims of a mortgage scam spanning five years.
According to Richland County, as of the end of 2017, there were 23 lawsuits filed against Kingdom Connected Investments, a real estate company based out of Greenville. 61 cases have been filed in several counties in the Upstate.
Misti McGee moved to Kentucky in June 2015 after living in Lexington for eight years. She and her husband purchased their brand new home in 2007 and she said their mortgage payments were always on time.
"When my husband accepted a new job in Kentucky, we were looking to potentially work with a real estate agent to sell the house but then we got a mailer from Kingdom Connected Investments," McGee said. "They delivered a contract and we were excited about the idea that within 12 to 24 months the house would be financed out of our name."
McGee said she and her husband understood they weren't going to make any money on the house but were satisfied knowing they would not have to make the payments or deal with a renter.
"My neighbors called me the day after we left town and said another family was already moving in, so they definitely didn't waste any time," she said.
She later learned in a phone call with the new tenants that they paid $15,000 to Kingdom Connected Investments as a down payment when they moved in. After that, McGee said, they paid $1,000 a month toward the mortgage to the company.
Then, in October 2016, McGee said she got a phone call from her bank alerting her that her credit score was plummeting because the monthly payments were becoming increasingly late.
"We called the family living in the house and they sent us the receipts of payment to the company and we sent them screenshots of the notices we were getting that the payments were late," she said. "That's when I realized things were going downhill."
McGee said she believes the company was pocketing the $1,000 monthly mortgage payments.
She then traveled to South Carolina to sign a lease-purchase agreement with the family. Soon after, she said the family retained an attorney who directed them to stop sending the company monthly payments to recoup some of the money paid to Kingdom Connected Investments. As a result, the house entered foreclosure.
"In turn, that royally screwed us because now they're sitting there paying nothing and we can't afford the house payments. It's just been a mess," McGee said.
McGee estimates they've lost upwards of $20,000 as a result of the scam.
In February, the owners of the company, Michael and Dana Roush were federally indicted and are currently facing fraud charges. McGee said on Tuesday, the pair pleaded not guilty.
According to the indictment, the husband and wife led homebuyers and sellers to believe they were entering rent-to-own agreements and therefore no longer bound by mortgages.
It goes on to say the company collected payments from buyers for their own personal gain. It's estimated the company obtained more than $1 million as a result.
"Part of what they sold us on when they visited our home were good Christian values and looking back it's such a joke," McGee said. "Once the house is foreclosed on we'll be done with that aspect of this but our credit score is ruined. I think restitution is owed."
Experts say to be suspicious of any unsolicited offers coming through the mail or over the phone.
"You really want to be sure to do your homework, educate yourself and make sure the company doesn't have any bad reviews or complaints against them," Juliana Harris, communications director for the Department of Consumer Affairs, said. "Pick out a company or seek one you know is legitimate."
She also encourages people to seek help in reading official documents, such as contracts.
"They can ensure nothing is left out and make sure there is nothing that is going to open you up to liability or misfortune," she said.
According to Harris, people involved in rent-to-buy contracts can have a very difficult time making sure the company is paying the mortgage payments on time.
You can view the indictment below: