CHICAGO (WLS) --He was convicted of hijacking a home - and now the I-Team has learned the same man is being accused in another real estate scheme known as "deed shifting."
It involves a program in which people can rent-to-own a home - a less expensive way to achieve the American Dream. But one homeowner discovered that a house he paid for was never really his.
Lauren Lake takes pride in his home on the city's far South Side. He started remodeling it after paying it off in May.
"I can't even explain to you the joy of owning a home because I had been homeless before," Lake said.
So imagine Lake's devastation when he learned the home isn't his.
"My dream could have been a nightmare," he said.
The Cook County Recorder of Deeds says Lake is a victim of what's known as "deed shifting." Recorder Karen Yarbrough and her fraud investigators say Ralph Schrader gave Lake a deed after completing his rent-to-own program.
"So I said, 'OK I am going to immediately go downtown and switch the deed,' and he said, 'Hold on, you got to wait for a minute. There is some things I gotta do,'" Lake said. "He said, 'Give me some time.'"
ABC7's Jason Knowles: "How much time?"
Lake: "Two weeks."
The recorder says Schrader shifted the deed from his personal name to his company "Chicagoland Rent to Own Homes" before Lake could record his deed, making Lake's worthless and giving Schrader the ability to sell the home again or take a mortgage out on the property.
"It is individuals who are many ways the most vulnerable individuals who cannot go to a traditional bank and get the financing, are looking to take advantage of what Schrader is offering," said Mario Reed, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office.
In May, Schrader slammed the door on the I-Team when asked about a separate case - a guilty plea to a charge of theft by deception.
The Cook County State's Attorney said he broke into Joanne Simmons' vacant home last September, changed the locks and falsely posed as a landlord. The renters refused to leave and Simmons lost her home to foreclosure.
The I-Team went back to ask Schrader about the latest allegations.
Knowles: "Hi Mr. Schrader, the Cook County Record of Deeds says you are deed shifting - what do you have to say about that?"
Schrader ran away, slammed the door and talked behind the door about Lake's deed.
Knowles: "Did you scam him?"
Knowles: "So who owns the home right now, you or him?"
Schrader: "He does."
Knowles: "But the deed is not in his name."
On the phone, Schrader said it was an oversight and that he would correct it. The Cook County Recorder of Deeds says Schrader owns at least 20 other properties, many being offered as rent-to-own homes.
"These properties are vacant and, in some cases, I don't think the banks even want them, the banks don't even want them at all," Yarbrough said. "And sometimes they haven't even gone through, they are called zombie properties, in between foreclosure."
Schrader says there is nothing illegal about his business, but he did admit that he owes property taxes.
"Based on public records we have found, with 20 properties, he owes over $40,000 in property taxes," Reed said.
Fraud investigators say their priority now is to convince Schrader to come in to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office to properly put Lake's home in his name.
"To take a poor person's , hard-working person's dream, their money, and have no regard for that - you are a very heartless person," Lake said.
The Cook County Recorder of Deeds says it's handed over evidence on Schrader to the Cook County State's Attorney.
If you're buying a home directly through an owner, you should hire an attorney and quickly register your deed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. You can also check their website to verify the owner of a property and sign up for fraud alerts.
The office says it's easier to steal a home than it is to steal a car.