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Seal to Steal: How a simple seal allowed a couple to steal a home, terrorize a family


Stephanie Kinley and Jeremy Davis were arrested, charged and convicted of five counts of theft of homes and other property in Cincinnati’s Northside, but the key to how they did it rests with a simple seal that makes any document appear to be legal. (WKRC)
Stephanie Kinley and Jeremy Davis were arrested, charged and convicted of five counts of theft of homes and other property in Cincinnati’s Northside, but the key to how they did it rests with a simple seal that makes any document appear to be legal. (WKRC)
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CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Stephanie Kinley and Jeremy Davis were arrested, charged and convicted of five counts of theft of homes and other property in Cincinnati’s Northside, but the key to how they did it rests with a simple seal that makes any document appear to be legal.

“FORGE A DEED AND TAKE YOUR HOME”

The deed Kinley and Davis filed with Hamilton County’s Auditor and Recorder offices appeared to be legitimate, but two very important signatures at the bottom of the paperwork are not.

Reno Runck and his wife, Betty, who own the home at 4679 Hamilton Avenue, never signed the paperwork, transferring their home to Kinley and Davis. The signatures are forged.

“I never imagined that someone could just forge a deed and take your home from you,” their daughter, Carrie Runck, said from the kitchen of the remodeled house that was the center of a tug-of-war between her family and the couple who, for a few weeks, stole their home.

IT’S PRETTY EASY

The forged signatures were part of a fraudulent deed submitted by Kinley and Davis filed with Hamilton County on Jan. 25. Just below those forged signatures are another signature and an official seal issued by the state of Ohio. It’s the section signed and stamped by a notary public, which is just as important as the forged signatures to pulling off this crime.

With that official seal and signature, Hamilton County, like other counties across the country, has no choice but to accept the paperwork and file the official transaction.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters admits it’s a simple process that relies on notaries to witness the signatures.

If you want to steal a home, Deters said, “It's pretty easy.”

THE NOTARY

Julie Kathleen Taylor is the name of the notary who stamped her seal on the deed that led to the theft of the Runcks' home. Local 12 found her through her business, 24/7 Mobile Notary LLC, which Taylor operates out her home in Reading, Ohio.

When asked what happened, Taylor said she met Kinley and Davis and agreed to sign the deed.

“I met these people in a parking lot, OK?” she said from her front porch.

Taylor, who has cooperated with detectives, says she agreed to notarize the deed to the Runck home because Kinley and Davis convinced her to do it even though Reno Runck and his wife were not there to sign, something a notary is not allowed to do.

Duane Pohlman: You did violate the golden rule, which is you're supposed to watch them sign it?
Taylor: Yep.
Duane Pohlman: So, in other words, you said, 'I'm not supposed to put a notary without them being here'?
Taylor: Right.

DEED WAS DONE

Once Taylor’s seal was placed on the document, the deed was done.

The documents now looked legitimate and, according to Deters, employees at the offices of the Hamilton County Auditor has no choice but to accept them.

On Wednesday, Kinley and Davis appeared in court for sentencing on the five counts of theft they pleaded guilty to. Judge Pat Dinkelaker described the home thefts as, “A heck of a scam,” adding it was also, “sneaky and mean.”

Davis was sentenced to two years in prison while Kinley received 18 months. While detectives did question Taylor, she has not been charged with any crime.

She also tells us she continues to notarize documents under her commission that expires in 2023.

NOT THE ONLY ONE

While Taylor notarized the stolen home with the biggest value on Hamilton Avenue, she wasn’t the only person to notarize the deeds filed by Runck and Davis.

Notaries signed and sealed the fraudulent deeds for four other properties, including a church and apartment building on Hamilton Avenue with a total value of more than $600,000, according to detectives.

While the case against Kinley and Davis is closed, the weakness they exposed in the system reveals how the most valuable thing we own can be vulnerable if the thieves convince a legitimate notary to stamp their seal.

“I would very much support a way to block it,” Deters said, adding, “but it's tough right now. It's tough.”

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