If you’ve already heard of Deon Derrico’s oversized Las Vegas family, that’s not by accident. He’s a very good salesman.
Dig deeper into the family’s background, however, and wonder: How much of what he’s selling is true?
Derrico became a quasi-celebrity in September after his wife, Evonne, gave birth to quintuplets. On top of that, the couple already had four young children: an 8-year-old girl, 3-year-old boy and 2-year-old twin boys.
The quints, who the couple says were conceived naturally, became an instant talker. Derrico arranged several national television appearances, including two stints on NBC’s “Today” show, to promote his children. He and Evonne call their kids the “Divine Nine.”
Seven months later, seated on a couch in a plush playroom in his impeccable North Las Vegas home, Derrico is an old media pro.
He runs through his talking points — he and Evonne’s storybook meeting in Detroit, the steep cost of caring for nine kids, and the generosity of the people who donated to his struggling family.
The quints, dressed identically in clothes with a Batman logo, rest in expensive infant seats donated by “The Steve Harvey Show.” The stack of diapers in the corner was given by “The View.” And those donations were just the tip of the iceberg.
“We are blessed by everyone’s kindness,” Derrico says.
That’s something he says often.
The 43-year-old is well-dressed, polite and charming, with a fixed smile that makes him look younger than he is. It’s obvious why reality TV producers are interested in his perfect family. It’s easy to see why people trust him.
But ask him about a pending criminal investigation into the family’s alleged welfare fraud, and he is dismissive.
Ask him about his eldest child, Derron — not one of the “Divine Nine” and never mentioned in interviews — and he bristles.
Ask him about the 13 felony and three gross misdemeanor charges he is facing for allegedly stealing people’s homes, and his smile is gone.
‘KARMA GETS YOUR BUTT’
“I’ve never had a criminal record in my life,” Derrico says, pleading his innocence in his kitchen, away from the kids. Why would he wait until his 40s and suddenly “decide to be this corrupt individual?” he asks.
“I would have never invited you into my home if I thought this was your intention. Not in my home, with my babies,” he says.
Gone is the warm, polite Derrico who was playing with his kids just minutes before. This Derrico is hostile, angry and incredulous.
Authorities say Derrico has many personalities and names. One is Marlo Abbott, accused real estate crook.
The Nevada attorney general’s office in December charged Derrico, also known as Abbott, with theft, fraud and false representation concerning a title, among other things. The charges, not mentioned in any of the media coverage of the family, are related to the purchase of two homes in the valley, according to court documents obtained by the Review-Journal.
“Derrico has scammed multiple families out of their homes. There may be more victims out there,” the attorney general’s office said in a written statement Friday. “If you have been, or believe you might have been a victim of mortgage fraud, please submit a complaint by going to the website: http://ag.nv.gov/Complaints/File_Complaint/.”
Derrico acknowledges that he identified abandoned homes around his neighborhood and offered to buy them for a few thousand dollars, taking a quitclaim deed from the owners.
The mortgage would remain in the original owner’s name, but Derrico would take over the property, renting it out to tenants. He also says he would keep up the property, preventing homeowner associations from racking up fines.
Derrico says having the deed, even if it wasn’t a clear title, would put him in position to buy the home months later in a short sale, after the foreclosure process was well underway.
“They’d get a couple thousand dollars, and I’d get the deed,” he says. “My goal was to work with the banks and eventually buy the house. This was a long-term investment for me.”
Derrico says he promised the owners they wouldn’t be liable if someone was injured on their property if he held the deed. It’s a claim that authorities say held no water, but Derrico says it worked.
“That was my sales tactic to get people to go (sign),” he says with a salesman’s grin. “No trick. It’s true.”
Derrico filed paperwork with the Clark County recorder’s office for several homes around the valley with the original homeowners’ signatures on each quitclaim deed.
He is convinced his plan was perfectly legal. Spend enough time with him, and he will convince you, too.
But the attorney general’s office disagrees.
In court papers, prosecutors allege that in at least two instances Derrico forged the signatures of the owners, took over their homes and never paid them a dime. Two different homeowners, Gertrude Marshall and Jose Aviles, accuse Derrico of breaking into their houses after they left, changing the locks and renting them out for his own profit.
Derrico claims that Marshall and Aviles reneged on the cash deals they each made with him. He admits he didn’t have a written contract that outlined the specifics of the arrangements, but says he has proof.
“They’re lying. Absolutely … I guess they got cold feet” about the deals, he says. “I can’t get too far into it, but I have serious proof.”
That will come out in court, he says.
But investigators found other signs of nefarious activity: The deeds were all notarized by Olujuwon Bryant, a family friend of Derrico, and Derrico’s name isn’t on any of them. Instead, the buyer’s name is Marlo Abbott.
Except Marlo Abbott doesn’t exist. That’s just one of several aliases Derrico uses, investigators say. And Bryant, 23, also has been charged as Derrico’s co-defendant.
There were other oddities. Derrico wrote $50,000 as the purchase price for each deed, although both he and prosecutors say he never paid anyone that much money.
Derrico also admits to using an alias, but insists he would never forge someone’s name.
“All of the things that I’m doing aren’t consistent with the crimes I’m being accused of. Squatters don’t move into a house and take care of it,” he says.
He says his only crime in life was stealing money from a Detroit drugstore years ago to buy a car. But then the car was stolen from him. The incident was proof that karma exists, he says, though he was never arrested for the theft.
“The AG’s office has a low burden of proof. … The people who know me, know that I don’t steal. If you do, karma’s gonna get your butt.”
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Few people know Deon Derrico better than his adopted son, Derron Derrico. He spoke about karma, too.
“It’s coming for my dad. I still love him, but karma catches up with everyone,” Derron says.
Despite being estranged from his father for the past year, Derron, 22, says he can’t escape his dad’s financial schemes.
During an interview at the Review-Journal last week, Derron, who lives in Las Vegas and works as an unarmed security guard, produced documents showing his father took out a $21,000 student loan in his name in 2007, when Derron was just 15 and had no interest in college.
The document lists Derron’s date of birth as 1983. He was actually born in 1991.
Derron says someone signed his name to the loan application, but he never did. After seven years of interest, the debt totals $84,000.
“I don’t sign like this at all,” Derron says. “My signature is nowhere near like this.”
Derron says he also discovered his father maxed out several credit cards in his name. He played a voice mail from the Bank of America fraud department that indicates he has been cleared in one of the cases, but other fraud cases are pending, he says.
Derron says he filed two police reports against his father, alleging fraud and harassment, but the cases haven’t gone anywhere yet.
Derrico has been uncooperative in sorting out the mess, Derron says.
“I told him, ‘You’re my father. Take care of it and I’ll leave you and the family alone,’ ” he says.
Derrico calls his son a liar and says he doesn’t want him in his life, or his kids’ life. Derron is hell-bent on destroying the family’s name out of sheer jealousy, Derrico says.
His youngest children deserve the “Divine Nine” name. But his eldest?
“Everything I stand for, he’s the opposite of,” Derrico says. “I feel like I helped raise the devil.”
Evonne says the family is wasting too much time on Derron. She wants him to leave them alone.
“I just want him to know that the best revenge against someone is, just be successful. Go do your thing, be successful, and leave us out of it,” Evonne says.
The fallout between father and son is dirtier than most family disputes. But their relationship was rocky from the start.
Derrico adopted Derron about a decade ago in Detroit after a chance meeting while Derrico was driving a school bus.
Derron was stuck in the foster system and needed a father. Derrico, who says he then believed he couldn’t have kids naturally, decided to take a chance.
There were some early struggles, which Derron readily admits. He was a troubled kid who often threatened to run away from home and join a gang.
After the family moved West so Derrico could pursue an acting career and start his real estate business, Derron was caught taking money from neighbors’ cars.
Derron admits he spent some time at Southern Peaks Regional Treatment Center in Colorado for awhile and has a juvenile criminal record, but says he’s been clean since turning 18.
“I made some mistakes,” Derron says. “I’ve gotten my life together since then.”
The Detroit Free Press covered Derron’s adoption and legal troubles in 2008 as part of a series on abused and neglected children.
Derrico, portrayed in the article as his son’s hero and protector, told the Free Press he was optimistic about the family’s future, despite Derron’s problems.
“I’m in this for the long run, and I hope that it’s beautiful,” Derrico told the reporter. “But in case it’s not, I’m still there.”
Derron says he is alone now and that’s hard. But he says he will continue to fight to clear his name, even if that means going to court and testifying against his dad.
“I’m getting my life together. I have a good job. I have a kid on the way. I want to go to school. But I need to fix my credit. I want him to own up to everything. As it stands, I have proof of everything.”
He hopes to reconcile with his family one day, he says, but barely recognizes them anymore. He has never met his youngest brothers and sisters, and he learned about their births through an article a friend sent him on Facebook.
Derron says he wonders if he even fits into his family’s new image, which he believes was carefully orchestrated for TV. How much is true, he asks, and how much is for appearances?
Derrico and Evonne say they are married; Derron isn’t sure. The couple supposedly married in California in 2005, according to Derrico, but the 2008 Detroit article on the family referred to Evonne as Derrico’s girlfriend.
If they married, Derron wasn’t invited.
“I had no idea of it,” he says. “My father turned down (her) proposal on multiple occasions because he said if they ever broke up, he didn’t want her to get anything he acquired.”
California marriage records weren’t immediately available, and Derrico declined to provide a copy of their marriage certificate. He says he forgot to tell the Free Press reporters, who followed his story for several years, that he and Evonne had married.
“Just didn’t think of it at the time,” he says.
What’s next for the Derrico family remains uncertain.
A reality TV show is in the works, but only if the price is right, Derrico says.
The family’s blog hasn’t been updated for months, though Paypal donations are still accepted through the site. And they have been busy keeping the kids in the spotlight. Their most recent gig was a 3,400-word cover profile in The Sunday, a free-distribution Las Vegas weekly.
Derron says he was surprised The Sunday article didn’t acknowledge him. He says he emailed reporters there months earlier, hoping to expose his dad.
Donations for the “Divine Nine” keep coming. On Saturday, the family was to appear and receive a substantial donation from the Legacy Ladies’ Torch Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.
LIFE OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
Derrico says he is confident he will be vindicated in the real estate case, but other investigations are looming.
The Review-Journal has learned of a separate state investigation into alleged welfare fraud by Derrico and Evonne. Charges haven’t been filed, but the couple is said to owe the state thousands of dollars for allegedly not disclosing income from Evonne’s former child care business while also receiving benefits.
Derrico flatly denies the family even received welfare.
“I’ve taken good care of my family forever. I actually take pride in being able to say I’m taking care of my family,” he says. “I don’t know where that’s coming from.”
Derron, however, says he often bought groceries for the family using a state-issued electronic benefits transfer card.
Is Derrico concerned that he and his wife could draw jail time and be separated from their family?
“That’s not going to happen,” Derrico says.
If the worst does happen, Derron says he will be there to pick up the pieces. He says he loves his dad, despite all the pain and mudslinging. And he says he wants a relationship with his siblings.
“I don’t want them to go into the (foster care) system, because I know how it is. But I’m not surprised this is happening. When it comes to my dad, the one thing I do know is that he would do anything to be rich and famous, and to gain money. And he’ll do that by whatever means necessary.”
Reporter Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at email@example.com.