A decision Friday by Maryland’s top court means rapper Sandra “Pepa” Denton will not get back a Baltimore duplex that was sold by a friend of her ex-husband who falsely claimed he was an officer of her real estate investment company.
The conveyance was not void ab initio, the Court of Appeals found, because while Corey Johnson may not have been authorized to submit corporate articles of amendment for Scotch Bonnett Realty Corp., the house deed itself was not forged.
The court, considering the issue as a certified question from the U.S. Bankruptcy judge presiding over the homebuyer’s Chapter 13 proceeding, declined to extend the state’s forgery law.
“This would inject uncertainty into the law of conveyancing, beyond that already existing under the present rule under which a forged deed is void ab initio,” according to the decision.
Ellicott City solo practitioner J. Michael Broumas, who has represented the realty company in the long-running litigation, did not return a call for comment on Friday.
Susan Zuhowski, who has represented homebuyer Cateania Matthews’ lender, now JP Morgan Chase Bank, said the practical consequence of the Court of Appeals’ ruling is the bank gets to keep its lien on the property as Matthews’ bankruptcy goes forward.
“[The judges] drew a distinction between forged powers of attorney and forged documents that don’t rise to that level,” Zuhowski said, referring to two cases cited by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert A. Gordon and the seven-judge state panel.
“In this case, the forged articles of amendment were not the documents that resulted in the conveyance of the property; the genuine deed affected the conveyance,” Zuhowski said. “[The judges are] not going to go into step transactions, basically.”
Denton, a native of Jamaica who moved to New York and became a hip-hop star, actress and reality television character, became interested in Baltimore real estate after meeting Emora Horton in a downtown nightclub. The two married in October 2002. They were divorced in December 2003, but Horton continued to help Denton with her local investments.
Johnson was Horton’s friend and, in September 2005, managed to list himself as an officer of Denton’s SBRC by filing the articles of amendment with the state Department of Assessment and Taxation. Though the signature of SBRC’s attorney Richard J. Hackerman appears on that filing, he has denied signing it. Johnson’s whereabouts are unknown.
In December 2005, when Matthews bought the Pen Lucy house, Johnson signed the deed, purporting to be an officer of the corporation.
SBRC instituted proceedings in Baltimore City Circuit Court in June 2006, but when Matthews filed for relief under Chapter 13 in November 2007, SBRC filed an amended complaint in the bankruptcy court.
In October 2008, a trial to determine how Denton might get the house back featured a dramatic reconciliation between the two women — but no ruling on whether Denton would reclaim the East 41st Street house free of the liens placed on it as part of the bogus sale. In January 2009, Judge Gordon held another hearing on the matter, before eventually deciding to defer to the state court.