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For decades, Jessica Carde told vicious lies, cheated and stole to get what she wanted — whether it be custody of her children or living a plush life in luxury homes without paying rent, prosecutors say.

People went to jail and faced bogus charges; lives were demolished while Carde came out on top time and time again. That was until last week, when a voluminous set of charging documents emerged from the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Last week, Carde was charged with 12 criminal counts. Prosecutors say that she’s a fugitive wanted in lieu of $150,000 bail and that police are looking for her.

For the past five years, they say, Carde has engaged in an elaborate scheme to dupe home sellers out of their properties. Presenting herself as a legitimate — and wealthy — buyer, Carde would enter into lease-with-option-to-purchase agreements with homeowners, move in and then stop paying rent, according to an investigation by prosecutors and the state Department of Financial Institutions.

“To stay in the home, Carde would engage in deceptive retaliatory acts against the homeowner to prevent or delay eviction, which in turn allowed her to maximize her time in the home, rent-free, until the homeowner was finally able to evict her,” according to the court documents.

When it came to retaliation and deception, Carde allegedly took her scheme to the maximum degree — accusing one homeowner of threatening to kill her, accusing another of dealing drugs, claiming another tried to burn down the rental house while she was inside. She said another owner embezzled her deposit money and yet another had stolen from her, the investigation said.

Carde “has a history of retaliating by making false, exaggerated or retaliatory accusations against her victims,” Deputy Prosecutor Hugo Torres wrote in charging papers filed last week.

Torres said Carde allegedly kidnapped her two sons from Minnesota in the 1980s, resulting in her being placed on the FBI’s five-most wanted list in Minnesota. “To justify her actions” she “accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing her children.”

In a lengthy story about Carde in 2011, the Seattle Weekly said neither Carde nor her former husband were convicted of any crimes involving the boys.

The 58-year-old Carde goes by a number aliases, including Jessica Hartman, Juanita Hofseth-Lammer, Juanita Hofseth and Juanita Frye. She has been charged with four counts of first-degree theft, two counts of securities fraud, attempted first-degree theft, three counts of mortgage fraud and two counts of second-degree theft. If convicted, she faces nearly 5½ years in prison, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Since 2007, Carde has moved from one luxury property to another. Investigators say she paid each homeowner a minimal amount of rent, and when things got too hot for her she concocted elaborate lies to divert attention from herself to her victims or their families.

In one instance, according to charging papers, she borrowed $142,000 from a local businessman and his family between 2007 and 2010. After he was hospitalized with a debilitating stroke, she claimed the man’s family wanted him dead. An investigation launched by the man’s nursing home found that Carde was lying. She was banned from the facility. Prosecutors say the money was never paid back.

In a 2007 case, Carde moved into a North Bend home after securing a lease-to-own agreement. Chock full of excuses about problems with the financing and troubles with her health, she managed to live in the home for 18 months while paying little of the rent, charging documents said.

When the homeowner was finally able to evict Carde in 2008, he had to pay $400,000 in repairs to the nearly $1.8 million home, charges said.

In another instance, Carde borrowed $25,000 from a businessman in 2007, allegedly to pay for the same North Bend home. When the man tried to collect, Carde accused him of “meddling in her affairs” and “slandering her,” charges said. Again, the money was never paid back, prosecutors say.

In 2008, after being evicted from the North Bend home, Carde approached another homeowner about a self-built home he had for sale in North Bend. She convinced the man that she was a motivational speaker who had a $3 million line of credit to pay for the $2.4 million property, charges said.

Although the man’s real-estate agent told him not to accept Carde’s offer, he and his wife were won over, charges said. Soon after moving in, Carde demanded several changes to the home and claimed that her mortgage company would not pay a dime because a poisonous grout cleaner had been used — which was not the case, according to the charging documents.

The next spring, the property was foreclosed on. The homeowner had to file for bankruptcy and shutter his business because of Carde’s actions, charges said.

Carde continued her search for luxury homes in North Bend, Kirkland and Woodinville through March 2012, charges said.

Donohoe, of the prosecutor’s office, said that it took a year to file charges against Carde because “it was a long investigation.”

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.