Imagine paying thousands of dollars for a property only to learn you didn’t buy it from the true owner.
That’s what Newtown Police says happened to Eugene Tortorici of Southbury.
Tortorici’s name was on the lakeside property deed, but Newtown Police say they discovered that he unknowingly bought it from someone they say didn’t own it.
Police recently arrested Edwin Robert Lewis III of Willington after a months-long investigation of alleged identity theft.
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Tortorici spoke exclusively to NBC Connecticut Friday about what he describes as the toughest situation of his life, waiting to see if he’d get the more than $75,000 he spent back.
Police say the real property owner and the suspect have the same first and last names and same middle initial, Edwin R. Lewis.
According to the arrest report, when the would-be buyer accidentally reached out to the wrong Edwin while cold-calling to buy the property, that’s when the trouble began.
“The first one was the real Edwin R. Lewis and the second one was a fraudster,” Tortorici said, describing his process reaching out to different phone numbers. “We called the first one, he didn't answer. The second one picked up the phone. You know, ‘Hey, how you doing? I'm interested in your property, yada yada.’ And he says, ‘You found me.’”
Newtown police say the suspect kept the scheme going and because it was a cash deal, there was less paperwork to be exchanged and they say a bank notary understandably signed the deed.
“You need to present ID, unfortunately when the ID has the same name on it, you know, this is what happens,” said Newtown Police Detective Chelsea Harold.
Neighbors called the real owner who lives out of state when they started seeing Totoricci doing work on the property and the owner called police.
“He realized that his house was no longer in his name, and we determined that it had been sold by a different individual under the same name,” Harold said.
Lewis is due in court next week. A lawyer representing Lewis sent a statement earlier this week saying: “Our client intends to plead not guilty and we intend to present evidence in the appropriate forum to confirm his not guilty plea.”
Newtown Police say while the chances of something similar happening are slim, monitor your real estate records and make sure to know your neighbors, even when the property is vacant.
“In this case, the neighbors were the ones that kind of saw something a little unusual and notified the actual property owner,” Newtown Police Detective Lt. Liam Seabrook said.
In this situation, police say both the buyer and suspect both had lawyers, too.
“There's truly nothing I could have done. I had a lawyer,” said Tortorici, who thankfully had title insurance and got his money back.
But this is where things get even wilder: after Tortorici quick deeded the home back to the original owner, he bought it from him.
“It was a stressful ordeal, but I got through it, and it all ended up working out for the good,” he said.