Tenants facing eviction after third party fails to pay lease

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG has uncovered what some are calling a case of fraud and the victims are some of the Mid-South's most vulnerable people and those who donate to a major charity in Memphis.

The case involves 29 people facing possible eviction, the Metropolitan Interfaith Association and a Midtown apartment complex.

The complex's owner alleges money paid by MIFA on behalf of tenants they were helping to get back on their feet was never paid to the complex where the tenants are living. Instead, it disappeared into the hands of a third party sub-leaser.

We started looking into this story more than a week ago after we were initially contacted by a woman living here at the University Gardens Manor apartment complex. She was concerned and confused after receiving an eviction notice.

Toneshia Waterway wanted a new life with her four children. This past winter she was homeless and living in a shelter.

She says she went to MIFA for a hand up. MIFA, a non-profit, accepts public donations to help vulnerable senior citizens and families, like Waterway's.

She's lived at the University Gardens Manor apartments since February and claims she has been paying her rent, so she was shocked when she got a notice that the eviction process had started.

"Why are we getting put out of our homes?" she asked. "Everybody don't have a place to stay. Everybody can't get a place to stay because like I said through MIFA we had help. We have evictions on our backgrounds."

A previous eviction on her background makes it tough for her to find a place to live.

So she went through a sub-leaser, a man named Carlton Johnson, who runs a company called TAG Services. We found filings with the state under his name for this year.

Carlton Johnson

TAG took her $550 a month and was supposed to use it to pay her rent.

"I met him, actually he called me, MIFA got him to call me to try to find me housing," Waterway said.

So she met with Johnson, who it turns out runs his business out of a unit at the complex.

"I came to the office, I did what I was supposed to do, I paid my deposit fee, MIFA paid my rent for like two months. I've been paying my rent ever since."

When Waterway paid rent she went to Johnson's unit and dealt with a woman who apparently works for him. But she always felt like something was off, things were disorganized and seemed fishy.

"We're homeless, we're seeking help. And MIFA, they're the people you go to to get help and they send someone to call you and that's exactly what they're supposed to do," she said. "They're not supposed to con us."

Johnson got word we were at the complex asking around.

He called our station and said he was essentially the victim of fraud — a homeless person he hired to mow lawns stole his bank routing number, stealing thousands of dollars he was using to pay tenants rent.

That meant he wasn't able to pay the complex for the more than 20 units he was subleasing, so the tenants received eviction notices.

We checked with Memphis police. A report he filed on June 14 said he discovered an unauthorized transaction from his bank account to Dish Network for $201.

The report went on to say none of his checks were missing, he was closing out his account and no other information was available. No mention of thousands of dollars stolen.

We tracked down the law firm representing University Gardens Manor taking Johnson to court. The attorney handling the case sent us a statement saying, "It appears Mr. Johnson failed to provide the monies paid by MIFA, and potentially other charitable organizations, on behalf of the tenants to my client. My client is working to terminate any and all relations with Mr. Johnson due to the fraudulent misrepresentations made by Mr. Johnson."

As for Johnson, we tracked him down at a north Memphis gas station.

"I wish y'all would stop bothering me," he said. "I told you I would talk to you as soon as I get to talk to the lawyers."

The attorney Johnson said was representing him told us he had not officially been retained.

So we kept pressing Johnson.

When asked about the police report, Johnson said the person "Made several ACH transfers."

He went on to say we were only trying to show the bad side of things.

"They`re not going to lose nothing," Johnson said, denying that anyone was being evicted. "No. They already did back shady deals behind my back."

As of now it looks like multiple agencies are working together to make sure no one is evicted.

The attorney representing the owner of University Gardens said they're "Working with MIFA directly in order to prevent any of the actual tenants from being evicted due to the non-payments of rent through July of 2018."

He continued on to say the complex will not hold any of the tenants responsible for the payments that have disappeared.

MIFA's President said they have met with the complex. "The funds involved with this program are provided by HUD. While we are working to get a complete picture of this situation, at this point we are not clear what funds were paid or not paid to the owner. We have contacted our HUD representative for further direction or action. We are concerned about the situation and will continue working toward a resolution."