Renter caught in the middle of landlords' US Marshals investigation

PHOENIX - In February 2018 U.S. Marshals showed up at a Phoenix home to let the tenants know they were seizing the house.

Tonika Talton was at work but says her 15-year-old daughter answered the door. 

"I freaked out, like panicked. Like scared. Why are they here? We didn't do anything so I didn't know what was going on," Talton said.

In a few weeks, she would learn that the landlords were in trouble with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Phoenix real-estate agents Daphne Iatridis, her sons, Spenser and Brendyn Iatridis, and her husband Arthur Telles were accused of committing fraud in the purchase of Tonika's and more than 2 dozen other houses around the Valley. 

According to the indictment, in 2008 real estate broker Daphne Iatridis was contracted by the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) to list foreclosed properties that did not sell at auction during the downturn of the housing market.

Instead, prosecutors say Iatridis and her husband purchased nearly 30 of the houses throughout  neighborhoods in west Phoenix, south Phoenix and Glendale. They are accused of hiding the ownership of those homes using false documents, forging signatures and not paying taxes on the rental income.

Brendyn was accused of serving as a notary on several of the transactions.

Tonika said she paid her rent to Spenser, Iatridis' son, after finding one of the houses on Craiglist in 2014.

In September 2017, Daphne and Arthur were sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion.

Brothers Brendyn and Spenser plead guilty to related crimes according to the U.S. Department of Justice.  Brendyn was sentenced to 10 months in prison. Spenser received probation.

They also had to forfeit 26 properties, including the house where Tonika and her family are living and paying rent.

Tonika said Marshals allowed her family to stay for now, but that she would have to move eventually so the house could be sold.

But in looking for a new place to live, she says her applications were repeatedly denied.  She could not understand why.

"I did a check with the bank and they said that my credit score was going up. I only have a car payment, and so I didn't understand why I couldn't rent a place," she said.

But after her most recent rejection, she said a realtor let her know what was going on.

"She contacted me and says I have no rental history. 'Where have you been for the past 4 years?' I tried to explain to her what was going on and they gave the house to someone else," Tonika said.

With so many homes seized, it's a problem Tonika wonders if others aren't having.

The U.S. Marshals told ABC15 that "tenant files were not part of the government's seizure."

The agency says it doesn't have access to rental history.  The 192-page Asset Forfeiture Policy Manual the Marshals provided ABC15 only show directives to "enter into an occupancy agreement" and "collect rent" in the event that a property is occupied.

Tonika is frustrated that there appears to be no plan for tenants in the seized houses.

"When they knew and opened up their investigation they knew these houses were occupied," she said.

We checked some of the other properties. Neighbors said some of the homes were recently vacated. We found at least one that still had people living in it. 

Tonika said between the $100 rental applications and her lack of verifiable rental history, she isn' t sure her next steps should be.

"Most families live paycheck to paycheck like us, you know?  We're surviving. I can' t believe they didn't think it through," she said.

The U.S. Marshals said Tonika and her family are not being evicted but were "advised multiple times this was a short-term arrangement to give the Tenant adequate time to secure new housing arrangements."

Concerning rental history, I'm told the U.S. Attorney General Office has been asked to get that information from the former landlord's attorney. No word yet on the status of that request. 

In the meantime, the Let Joe Know team has put Tonika in touch with a local property management firm to look for a home.

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