Brian X. McCrone

He Sold Houses He Never Even Owned: A Norristown Man's Elaborate Real Estate Scam

Sometime in late 2016, Troy Pickens decided to venture into the world of house flipping.

By February, he had flipped four rowhomes in his hometown of Norristown for a total of $28,500 in cash.

The 28-year-old with no apparent real estate experience augmented his flipping with rental income from a fifth home he began renting in December to a woman for $800 a month. He’d already collected roughly $2,400 from the renter.

But one rather large problem emerged from Pickens’s budding real estate empire: Police say he didn’t own any of the properties he sold or rented.

Instead, Pickens constructed an elaborate ruse that involved two layers of fraud, according to a criminal complaint filed by Norristown police. He faces numerous counts of theft, identity theft and forgery related to the real estate deals.

First, he allegedly forged documents signing over ownership of the properties from the actual owners to himself, using an unsuspecting aunt as a notary. Then, he allegedly sold the houses using the initial fraudulent documentation as proof of ownership.

Those properties were 13/15 W. Oak St., 877 Cherry St., 119 W. Airy St. and 1106½ Swede St. All of the properties are owned by different people, and none knew of Pickens, the complaint said.

“Troy Pickens, acting on his own behalf or working under the business alias, Pick1 Real Estate Co.,’ sought out vacant properties within Norristown to illegally transfer the deeds into his own name or his business’ name,” the complaint said. “After obtaining the deed, now in his name or Pick1 Real Estate Company, Pickens sold the property to perspective [sic] real estate investors.”

As for the rental arrangement, Pickens allegedly fooled a woman into thinking he owned 223 E. Oak St., police said. However, the rowhouse was owned by a Pottstown man and was supposed to be vacant, the actual owner told police.

Pickens allegedly hooked up electricity to the house illegally, allowing for the woman to live in the home, police said. The renter started living in the house in mid-December and paid Pickens $1,600 up front. She paid another $800 in January.

The alleged rental scam was busted by police when a neighbor of 223 E. Oak St. called cops to report a possible burglary in progress. When officers arrived they found the renter’s boyfriend in the window of the house and arrested him.

Back at the police station, he told detectives his girlfriend was renting the house.

Brian X. McCrone/NBC10.com
A woman rented this row house in Norristown from a man who pretended to be property manager, police said.

When police tracked down Pickens, who had allegedly pretended to be the property manager in dealings with the rent, he “produced a letter from a 3rd party, who Pickens alleged to be the owner of 223 E. Oak St.,” according to the criminal complaint.

That person didn’t exist and a phone number in the letter is registered to Pickens’s girlfriend, the complaint said.

As detectives unraveled Pickens’s various real estate dealings, they found none of the proper accreditation or supporting documents normally associated with real estate brokers and deals.

“None of the sales transactions from Pickens or his company … involved the purchase of title insurance,” the complaint said. “None of the sales adhered to the guidelines of the National Association of Realtors. None of the sales appeared to go through a recognized brokerage. None of the sales involved a sales agreement.”

Brian X. McCrone/NBC10.com
A would-be developer of a row house on West Oak Street in Norristown won't be building anything soon. He bought the property from a man who didn't actually own the house, police say.

Pickens is being held on separate charges, according to police. It is unclear when he will appear in court.

Pickens is charged with theft and fraud related to the property sales and rental agreement.

Norristown police are asking anyone who interacted with Pickens or his company, Pick1 Real Estate Co., to call detectives at (484)754-2157.

Attempts to reach Pickens at his listed address in the 100 block of West Airy Street were unsuccessful.

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