Court documents are revealing what led Newtown police to arrest a Willington man who is accused of selling a house that he never owned. The case is one of alleged identity theft by a man who has a name very similar to the actual owner.
The Newtown police investigation started on Aug. 24, 2021, and Edwin Robert Lewis, of Willington, was arrested on July 25, 2022, nearly a year after the sale happened.
The actual owner, a man in East Dennis, Massachusetts, who owned lakefront property in Sandy Hook, called police last August to report potential identity theft after his neighbors alerted him to what was happening at his home.
His neighbors told him that another man had visited the property and identified himself as the owner, but the owner had not sold. He told police the property had been vacant for years and the home was uninhabitable, but he was holding onto it as an investment.
Get Connecticut local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Connecticut newsletters.
Police learned that the property, which is assessed at more than $250,000, had been sold on July 26, 2021 for $65,000 and sale documents were filed with the town.
When police talked to the man who bought the property, they began to discover what happened.
He told them he’d been interested in land on Lake Zoar and saw a property that looked vacant and abandoned, so he asked the neighbors who owned it. They said the owner had been thinking about selling, but it was not for sale at the time, according to court paperwork.
Then, the prospective buyer contacted a real estate agent who gave him the name of the owner and several phone numbers listed for someone by the same name, according to police.
The buyer called the first number and the person who answered said he did own the property and agreed to sell it for $65,000, police said. The sale and wire transfer were completed on July 26, 2021.
As police looked into the sale, the attorney representing the buyer presented police with a notarized deed provided by the town clerk’s office in Newtown, according to court documents. It had been notarized at a bank and signed by Lewis, according to court documents.
Police wrote that it’s believed that because Lewis and the real owner have such similar names that the notary believed the two men were the same person. And police believe that Lewis used his bank account to fraudulently represent himself as the property owner, according to court paperwork.
Lewis has been charged with money laundering in the second degree, identity theft in the first degree, larceny in the first degree, criminal impersonation and forgery in the second degree.
NBC Connecticut called the phone number listed for him and the person who answered initially hung up but later referred NBC Connecticut to a law firm.
Christopher Cerami, an attorney with Willinger, Willinger & Bucci, who is representing Lewis, provided NBC Connecticut with a statement Wednesday.
“Our client intends to plead not guilty and we intend to present evidence in the appropriate forum to confirm his not guilty plea,” Cerami said.
The person who bought the property from Lewis told NBC Connecticut that he lost around $75,000, but eventually did buy the property from the actual owner.
In a text, the legitimate property owner told NBC Connecticut, "I'm grateful the Newtown PD did the work to finish the investigation. And I'm very glad there was no violence making the collar."
Sign up for our Breaking newsletter to get the most urgent news stories in your inbox.