The woman, identified as Jessica M. Carde, 58, was arrested this week in Flathead County, Mont., and booked into jail as a fugitive from justice. She also is under investigation there for obstructing a peace officer in the performance of his duties.
Prosecutors claim Carde spent the past five years hopping from mini-mansion to mini-mansion in the Puget Sound region, lying her way into homes and costing their owners hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At the same time, Carde is said to have defrauded several lenders after putting herself forward as a rich victim of identity theft.
In charges filed in March, prosecutors contend Carde even pretended to jump start the brain of a stroke victim who loaned her $140,000. When the man's family grew suspicious that her "brain wires" were a total fraud, Carde is alleged to have spread rumors that the man's wife was attempting to kill him while Carde also sought control over his financial affairs.
Carde, whose aliases include Jessica Hartman, Juanita Hofseth-Lammer and Juanita Frye, is alleged to have bilked at least seven people and three banks since 2006.
She fled the Puget Sound area and went on the lam after charges were filed. She now faces 12 felony counts, including four first-degree theft charges.
Deputy Prosecutor Hugo Torres says Carde wrongly accused at least five other people of committing crimes. One man accused by Carde of threatening her life was arrested and investigated before his name was cleared.
Writing the court in charging papers, Department of Financial Institutions investigator Steven Sherman said Carde spent the past five years posing as a wealthy potential buyer to move into luxury homes around King County.
Her activities drew a stream of civil lawsuits and judgments, as well as the attention of at least two state agencies and the King County Prosecutor's Office. Sherman credited a Prosecutor's Office mortgage fraud investigator and a state Department of Health agent with driving the criminal investigation.
The illusion of wealth that she maintained held the key to her success in gaining access to mini-mansions around the region and squatting in them until she was forced to leave and move on to the next one, prosecutors say.
Carde and her husband had been living in $650,000 home until they were foreclosed on in 2006. Since then, Carde is alleged to have weaseled her way into a series of luxury homes in Western Washington.
To do so, Carde presented herself as a well-to-do business owner with a significant line of credit who was interested in buying a home, Sherman told the court. But when the time came to make a down payment, Carde claimed to have had her identity stolen before pushing toward a lease-purchase agreement.
Lease-purchase agreements - also known as rent-to-buy plans - allow a would-be buyer to make payments to the homeowner overtime. After the agreed amount of money is paid, the home is signed over to the tenant.
Armed with letters showing her to be pre-qualified for a mortgage, Carde is alleged to have targeted upscale homes in the region. She is also said to have tricked private lenders into loaning her money, which she used, Sherman claimed, "to support her lifestyle and maintain the illusion that she was wealthy."
While she made initial payments in several cases, Carde never intended to honor the agreements she struck with the homeowners, Sherman told the court. Nor did she willingly leave.
Facing eviction, Carde retaliated against those whom she was defrauding by making false police reports, the investigator told the court. She accused one man of threatening to kill her and another of attempting to burn a house down around her.
King County officials said they had no information yet on when they might seek to extradite Carde back to Washington state to face charges.