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Squatter left lifeless man’s physique in luxurious LA house in elaborate scheme to take over property

A “greedy and grotesque” LA woman has been sentenced to 20 years behind bars for fraudulently obtaining real-estate property in a multimillion-dollar squatting scheme that included dismembering and disposing of a body.

Caroline Joanne Herrling, 44, of West Hills was sentenced Friday to 240 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $3,887,051 in restitution for the elaborate racket, the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.

“This defendant’s misconduct was both greedy and grotesque, causing profound pain to the victims and their loved ones,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said.

Los Angeles woman Carolina Herrling was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a squatting scheme that involved dismembering and disposing of a body. carrie.phenix/Facebook

“There must be serious consequences for those who prey on vulnerable communities, such as older adults, and my office will remain steadfast in bringing these offenders to justice,” he added.

Herrling, who also is known as “Carrie Phenix,” and her co-conspirators “preyed on vulnerable victims by searching for properties in affluent neighborhoods that appeared unkempt,” officials said.

She used online mapping programs and visited tony neighborhoods to look for algae-filled swimming pools and overgrown shrubbery to target homes whose residents were unable to care for their properties, according to the statement.

In 2020, she and her associates found a fancy home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, where a 71-year-old man identified as Charles Wilding lived, and they broke inside, officials said.

Herrling and her co-conspirators occupied the home of Charles Wilding in Sherman Oaks.

“At some point in September 2020, the victim died – investigators are uncertain how – and they believe that Herrling and others took over the property while his body decomposed in his home,” the US Attorney’s Office said.

“Rather than reporting his death, Herrling and others in the conspiracy left his body in his house while they looted his assets. Herrling used a forged power-of-attorney form so she could pretend to act on the victim’s behalf while stealing his real estate and financial accounts,” the statement said.

In October 2021, authorities began investigating the case when neighbors reported Wilding missing.

“Herrling identified herself to police as a close friend of the victim and his family. She also was listed as the trustee of the victim’s family trust – which purportedly had been created by the victim’s mother, who died in June 2017 – but in fact was a forgery,” the Justice Department said.

Herrling disposed of Wilding’s body in the San Francisco Bay after he mysteriously died in September 2020. carrie.phenix/Facebook

“She told police that the victim had moved from Sherman Oaks to Carpinteria, which was not true because the victim was already dead,” officials added.

Herrling claimed “she was working to get the house back in order, as it was in disarray and contained black mold,” reads a complaint viewed by The Post.

The cold-hearted woman and her co-conspirators had moved the body to her apartment, where they tried to dissolve it in a “concoction of chemicals,” authorities said.

When that gruesome plan failed, the group dismembered the corpse, placed the pieces in vacuum-sealed bags and took them to the Bay Area.

“Another member of the conspiracy who owned a sailboat assisted in disposing of the mutilated remains of the deceased victim into San Francisco Bay,” according to officials.

The victim’s remains have never been found.

What you need to know about squatters in New York:

What are squatter’s rights in New York?

Squatters in New York state can claim a legal right to remain on a property without the owner’s permission after 10 years of living there. However, in New York City a person only needs to be on the property for 30 days to claim squatter’s rights.

Why is it so hard to get rid of a squatter?

Squatters are allowed a wide range of rights once they have established legal occupancy, making it difficult to evict them.

How does someone become a squatter?

Some of the scenarios in which a person becomes a squatter include: a tenant refusing to pay rent, a relative of a former owner refusing to leave the property or even a stranger who entered the property and never left.

According to Manhattan-based law firm Nadel & Ciarlo, squatters must have a reasonable basis for claiming the property belongs to them and must treat the home as if they were an owner — such as doing yard work or making repairs.

How can a property owner get rid of a squatter?

A property owner must first send a 10-day eviction notice and then file a court complaint if the order is ignored. If approved by a judge, the owner can get a summons and have a sheriff evict the squatter.

Why does the law provide squatters with rights?

The law was designed to help prevent long-term tenants from getting evicted. New York City’s law was partially made in response to vacant and abandoned buildings that were becoming a blight on the city.

How can property owners protect themselves from squatters?

Owners should avoid keeping any properties vacant for an extended period of time. They should also make sure the building is secure, has adequate lighting and has surveillance cameras installed.

If a squatter does appear, owners should notify the police quickly before squatter’s rights are established.

On Friday, US District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong said Wilding  was “a man and a human being” whom Herrling treated “like a cash register.”

The “victim was the listed executor and beneficiary to the will of another victim, but this document was another forgery that Herrling claimed to have ‘discovered’ in a safe deposit box rented by the deceased victim’s mother,” according to court papers.

The forged document indicated Wilding was to inherit an estate worth over $1.7 million – assets that eventually fell under Herrling’s control as the trustee for his estate.

The group also defrauded a third victim identified as Robert Tascon and sold his home without his consent by using a conspirator with fake ID to pose as the victim.

Herrling also defrauded Robert Tascon by selling his home without permission by using a fake ID. Los Angeles Police Department

“Herrling set up accounts to receive the proceeds of the sale of this victim’s real estate, a transaction that generated approximately $1.5 million,” officials said.

“The victim, who was already suffering from mental-health issues, took his own life after losing his home. Herrling later used her ill-gotten gains to purchase a residence in West Hills,” they said.

“The buyer of Tascon’s property is currently in a civil dispute with Tascon’s estate. Tascon died of a gunshot wound to the head on September 11, 2022,” according to the complaint.

The group made about $1.5 million after selling Tascon’s Encino home. Google Maps

Herrling has been in federal custody since January 2023 and pleaded guilty two months later to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 

One of her accomplices, Matthew Jason Kroth, 50, pleaded guilty in October to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

He faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, and up to 40 years for meth trafficking when he is sentenced June 7.

Information on the other suspects was not immediately available.

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