A woman authorities say bilked people seeking rental houses in the Tacoma area out of thousands of dollars pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony counts and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Erica Brown, 41, was originally charged with 17 felonies, ranging from leading organized crime to multiple counts of theft. She was convicted of one count each of inciting criminal profiteering and forgery in a deal reached with Pierce County prosecutors.
Brown was arrested in October 2011 after an investigation by multiple police agencies into her business dealings.
She ran companies that acted as go-betweens for landlords and people seeking rental houses and apartments, court records show, and advertised on Craigslist.org and other Internet sites.
Her employees would show houses to prospective renters and then take money for security deposits or other fees, the records state. In many cases, prosecutors said, Brown would keep the money without finalizing a rental agreement, leaving victims without their deposits or a place to live.
Her attorney, Kirk “Chip” Mosley, on Wednesday described his client as an intelligent woman with a lot going for her. Mosley said she hired several people with shady reputations and suffered as a result.
“I truly feel that Ms. Brown, once this is behind her, is going to be a productive member of society,” Mosley said. “I think she needs to not run so fast and loose with the business.”
Brown apologized for “any inconvenience” and said she was only trying to help people. She pointed out she found homes for many people, including members of the military and domestic-violence survivors.
“When I started my business, none of this was supposed to happen,” she said. “It was a business to help people, to help people other companies didn’t want to help.”
Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper said he was skeptical of Brown’s explanations.
“It appears to me she’s guilty of some crimes, not just sloppy bookkeeping,” Culpepper said.
Still, the judge adopted the low-end sentencing recommendation proposed by Mosley and deputy prosecutor Sven Nelson.adam.lynn@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/crime @TNTadam