A family of four in Pendleton is scrambling to find a place to stay after a man duped them into a bogus rental deal.
Jasmine Weems, 22, said she and her mother along with Jasmine’s newborn daughter and 4-year-old niece had 24 hours to be out of a house as winter hits.
“We gave him all of our money,” she said. “Now we’re going to have to start all over next month.”
The family is so broke, she said, it lacks money to buy minutes for a cellphone.
Weems said her sister, Laura Weems, placed an ad on the website Craigslist seeking a place to rent for her and the family. A man named Matt McCarty of Portland responded, Jasmine Weems said, and claimed he had a home available at 646 N.W. Ninth St. on Pendleton’s North Hill.
Jasmine Weems said she lived in Portland for the past couple of years but moved back to be with her family. She said her sister and niece live in Pendleton, but recently Laura Weems had to go into a Portland hospital because she suffered complications in her 30th week of pregnancy and will need surgery. So Jasmine Weems said she and “McCarty” met Sunday at Taco Bell in Pendleton to discuss renting the home.
He had rental applications, Weems said, and knew water and electricity were working at the house. Though McCarty said he lived in Portland, he drove right to the residence and took her and her baby girl inside.
McCarty wanted $1,600 for first and last months’ rent, she said, but the family had a total of $1,400 cash. He agreed to that and gave her the key. Weems said she thought the deal was done.
Monday afternoon Weems said she answered the front door, and a woman asked her why she was in the home. Property manager Pam Lebsock of Pendleton said she works for the man buying the property and was there to show the home to a possible tenant. She said she was surprised to find it occupied.
“I could not even believe it because I had just shown the place a week before,” Lebsock said. “I felt like I was getting punked or something.”
Lebsock called real estate broker Vicki Dick, who confirmed the owner has not approved any rental agreements. Lebsock also called Pendleton police, and after a long discussion, the parties decided the Weems had to leave because they were legally trespassing and the new owner wants to rent out the home. The Weems then had one day to relocate.
Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said officers don’t have much to go on and have not been able to verify any claims. He said if police can make a case, this could be theft by deception. The East Oregonian also wasn’t able to verify who McCarty was.
Dick and Lebsock said the Weems are the victims in this, but there were red flags, such as renting the property without a signed agreement. Still, the con man was slick, they said — he even changed locks on the house. Dick said in 38 years in the business this was a first.
“What it seems like, is this is a really well-thought-out scam,” Lebsock said. “It’s unconscionable. I was shaking my head — how can somebody do that?”
Weems said her mother was searching Tuesday for a place for them to stay, but she did not have answers about what they would do or where they would go.
“We just have to leave,” she said.
Lebsock said she also is trying to find a place for the Weems, even on a short-term basis.
“It’s sad, it’s just horrible,” Lebsock said. “They seem like really nice people that got taken advantage of and ended up in a really bad situation.”