The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






Housing Scam Preys on Fort Campbell Soldiers
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Real Victims

Klein, unlike so many others, got to meet her alleged scammer.

On July 5, the day before their lease was to begin, the Kleins loaded up a moving truck, family dog and all, and drove 12 hours from Kansas to Clarksville. That's when what should have been a simple transaction turned into an obstacle course, Lauren Klein said.

"I got a call from [Hairston] that the air conditioning unit was broken," Klein said. "She said she had a repair man out there and it would be fixed. It was not a problem."

Klein said she met Hairston at the property the next morning.

"We pulled up in the driveway, and she was in tears, saying the house had caught on fire and an electrician had walked through and the entire home had to be rewired," Klein recalled. "She showed me a receipt from the electrician and everything."

The Kleins decided to go visit family in Georgia for a few weeks to allow time for the repairs. Klein said Hairston paid for all their belongings to be stored and for one night in a hotel room.

"She was wonderful. Sweet. I liked her," Klein said. "We fully believed her. We even talked about her being pregnant and her family."

When it was time to return to Clarksville, Klein tried to contact Hairston to make sure the home was ready, but there was no answer. Klein then got her mother-in-law to help track down alternative phone numbers for Hairston.

"The day I was set to leave, I'm calling every number every hour," Klein said. "I needed to hear from someone. I'm getting scared."

Klein said one of the numbers she had been calling eventually called her back. She said it wasn't Hairston on the other end, but it was a woman from Clarksville and she told Klein that Hairston had been arrested for running a massive housing scam.

"I broke down in tears," Klein said.

The Kleins lost all of the money they sunk into their security deposit and the first month's rent. They also had to spend two weeks in a hotel before they were able to find another home, only a few blocks away from 1021 McClardy Road.

"I should have been more curious," Klein said in hindsight. "Even though the house was 'damaged,' I should have insisted on seeing the inside of the home. My advice is to walk away if you can't see the inside of the home. Be careful, just because they are military doesn't mean they can be trusted. I learned it the hard way."

Left Homeless

For a military family, finding housing is not always simple.

"We are left on our own to find another home in another state," Klein said. "I've rented homes where I never saw it. This isn't uncommon for the military. We see a couple of pictures and that's all we have to go on. Out here, the homes move so quickly, you have to put a deposit down or it's gone."

Tyler Patterson, a soldier, said he too tried to rent the home at 1021 McClardy Road. Like Klein, he also said he found the listing on the Automated Housing Referral Network website.

"It's a military-sponsored website," he said. "You have to have credentials when you're on that website, automatically."

Patterson said he met with Hairston, paid his deposit for the house and soon put in a 30-day notice at his apartment.

"We saw the house, saw her at the house, saw her driver's license, got a receipt, all that stuff," Patterson said.

But, Patterson said, he soon realized the home was already occupied and he had been scammed. "My wife and kids had to go back to Missouri, and I was homeless for two weeks."

Protecting Soldiers

According to her arrest warrant, Tona Rochelle Virtue, 30, posted an ad while posing as an apartment manager named "Deanna Dupree" in another Campbell-area scam.

Four people were listed as victims after they each gave Virtue $300 or more for rent and deposit, Anderson said. Virtue is charged with two counts of property theft and being held on a $20,000 bond.

The Army received several complaints about the alleged scam and helped a few of its victims through the Financial Readiness program at Army Community Service.

Betty Geren, financial readiness program manager at the ACS, said she could not comment specifically on any Clarksville cases, but ACS has helped soldiers caught up in housing scams before.

"If a soldier comes in, we can issue emergency Army financial relief," Geren said, noting that the Army can't replace stolen money but can help with the bills that it would have covered. "We can help him or her with whatever their needs may be."

According to Rzepka, ACS also refers soldiers to legal resources to get compensation for money lost.

In addition, ACS handles consumer complaints and keeps a data base of resolved and unresolved issues to help better direct soldiers doing business in the community.

When it comes to finding housing, the Army gives this advice to its soldiers: "What we tell them is 'Always check. Don't go on Craigslist. Check with the housing office,' " Geren said. "They are the most reputable place to go. They have it broken down into what the soldier can afford and give them guidance, and tell them what's available on post and off post."

Geren said common scams soldiers face include purchasing used cars online and never receiving the car, phishing scams, false collections, door-to-door scams and mortgage modification scams.

"We try to educate every soldier," Geren said. "First-time soldiers, before they go to their assigned unit, we educate them to be aware of what's out there, how we can help and what services are available."

If a business is seeking them out, Geren said, soldiers should run from the deal and come to ACS so people there can look over the contract.

"If they are seeking you out, if you have any doubt, do not sign it," Geren said. "And if you question it or don't have a warm fuzzy feeling about it, come see us."