Archives For Fake Deeds

Tanya M. Howard, 47, Jersey City, NJ and her son Trevon Howard, 26, Far Rockaway, Queens, New York have been charged with burglary, grand larceny and other crimes for allegedly assuming a prior owner’s identity in order to obtain false title papers and take possession of a home in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. The pair allegedly occupied the home on several occasions through September 2021, despite the rightful owners’ attempts to get them out.

According to the charges, on several occasions in September 2021, the defendant Tanya M. Howard and her son Trevon allegedly forced their way into a house on Beach 15th Street near New Haven Avenue. The home already had two tenants, who were renting from the legitimate owners. As alleged, the female defendant claimed to own the two-story brick house. The Howards moved in with their belongings and appliances and took control of several rooms on the first floor of the home. The renters – including an elderly, disabled individual – were cut off from using parts of the house, including the kitchen and bathrooms.

On September 2, 2021, defendant Tanya M. Howard exploited the similarity between her name and that of the prior owner – Tanya L. Howard – and allegedly filed for a new title in both her and her son’s names with the Department of Finance Business Center in Queens. The true owners of the property purchased the house from Tanya L. Howard in 2019 for $500,000.

On September 18, 2021, the victims – a man and his mother who are the actual owners of the property – discovered the Howards and a third individual inside the house and contacted the police to remove them. When law enforcement arrived, defendant Tanya M. Howard refused to vacate the premises and continued to insist she was the rightful owner of the house. After being arrested, the defendants allegedly returned to the home and barged inside again refusing to cede occupancy.

Then on September 29, 2021, the male homeowner discovered the defendants Tanya M. Howard, her son Trevon Howard and a teenager inside the house again. He called police and the pair were again arrested.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz today made the announcement.

District Attorney Katz said, “As alleged, the defendants in this case became tenacious squatters who repeatedly forced their way into a house they did not own and obtained a false deed to steal the property from the rightful owners.”

The pair were arraigned yesterday before Queens Criminal Court Judge Jeffrey Gershuny on a seven-count complaint charging them with burglary in the second degree, grand larceny in the second degree, offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, three counts of identity theft in the second degree and criminal trespass in the second degree.  Judge Gershuny ordered the defendants to return to Court on December 16, 2021. If convicted, Tanya and Trevon Howard each face up to 15 years in prison.

The investigation was conducted by Detective Michael Trano of the New York City Sheriff Office.

Assistant District Attorney William Jorgenson, Bureau Chief of the District Attorney’s Housing and Worker Protection Bureau, is prosecuting the case under the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney for the Investigations Division Gerard Brave.

Joseph Makhani, 58, Kings Point, Long Island was arrested and indicted today for stealing two brownstones in a complex scheme to defraud owners by using forged deeds and other falsified real estate documents

Makhani targeted the two Harlem brownstones located at 107 West 118th Street and 135 West 131st Street, Harlem, New York, using forged and falsified documents, numerous limited liability corporations under his control, multiple property transfers, an unethical attorney, and abused court processes. Makhani stole the two Harlem brownstones in 2012, and, according to New York state real estate tax filings, he claimed to have only paid $10 for each. Today, the two brownstones have an estimated value of $2.29 million and $1.9 million, respectively. After illegally taking over the two properties, Makhani used forged and falsified documents to cover up his fraud and maintain control of the properties from the true owners’ claims. To this day, Makhani still fraudulently possesses the West 118th Street brownstone, but he lost possession of the West 131st Street brownstone in December 2018 due to unpaid tax liens.

West 118th Street Property

Makhani allegedly used forged deeds and other falsified documents to steal the brownstone located on West 118th Street from an elderly disabled owner. In a New York state tax filing used to further his scheme, a Makhani-controlled corporation claimed to have paid only $10 for the brownstone in 2012. Makhani also falsely claimed that he paid $975,000 for the brownstone when he obtained a $650,000 construction line of credit on the property. Additionally, Makhani fraudulently received a $1.2 million mortgage loan by claiming he had a legitimate title to the stolen brownstone. The elderly and disabled owner of the brownstone never received any money from Makhani for the brownstone, which is now valued at approximately $2.29 million. In 2016 — after renovating the apartments from single room occupancy units to full apartments — Makhani rented each unit out for between $3,000 and $3,400 per month, allowing him to collect a monthly rent income of more than $12,000.

West 131st Street Property

Makhani allegedly illegally transferred ownership of the West 131st Street property in Harlem through the use of fraudulent deeds, shell companies, and strawmen, and by abusing court processes. Prior to Makhani’s fraudulent take over, the last true deed recorded on this property was in the name of an elderly owner who died soon after the deed was recorded in 1975. Allegedly, a beneficiary of the estate looked after the building until his death in 2010. Soon after, a tenant of the building was approached by Makhani, who later returned and told the tenant he had purchased the brownstone. Makhani, through the guise of offering the tenant a job, fraudulently obtained the tenant’s signature in order to misrepresent the tenant as the owner. The tenant, who had not purchased the property and was never the owner of the brownstone, later learned that his signature was forged on a fraudulent deed that had been filed with the City Register’s Office, transferring the brownstone to Makhani’s company, One 35 West Corporation. The Real Property Transfer Report filed along with the fraudulent deed created by Makhani  falsely listed the sale price of the brownstone as $10. When the tenant questioned the validity of the deed in a housing court case, Makhani filed a new forged deed showing that the purported heirs of the last recorded owner from 1975 had transferred the property to Makhani’s One 35 West Corporation. In 2013, the transfer tax documents filed with this deed contained a fake social security number listed for a man who was one of the purported heirs and the seller of the brownstone to Makhani. That social security number, however, belonged to a woman born in 1902. In 2015, Makhani’s One 35 West Corporation and Makhani were fined over $1 million for their failure to install a roof, upgrade the electrical wiring system, and implement an extermination plan for the rodents and cockroaches in the Harlem brownstone. In early 2015, Makhani eventually abandoned the property after the New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development issued a $1 million judgment. The property was later transferred to a not-for-profit after a tax foreclosure action. Today, the value of the property is estimated at $1.9 million.

Makhani was yesterday charged with one count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the first degree with respect to the brownstone located at 107 West 118th Street; one count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the second degree with respect to the brownstone located at 135 West 131st Street; one count of Residential Mortgage Fraud in the First Degree and one count of Residential Mortgage Fraud in the Second Degree, both with respect to the two residential mortgage loans he obtained for the West 118th Street brownstone; two counts of Falsifying Business Records submitted to a New York bank; and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree between August 7, 2012 and June 28, 2021 for engaging in a scheme constituting a systematic and ongoing course of conduct to obtain property from more than one person by false or fraudulent pretenses.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

In 1998, Makhani pleaded guilty in federal court to taking part in a scheme involving the bid rigging of foreclosed properties in Queens, New York, and for submission of a false tax return, for which he was fined and sentenced to two months in prison. In 2008, Queens LLC, HPD LLC, and Floor One, LLC, three companies allegedly owned by Joseph Makhani, pled guilty to Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a class “E” felony. The criminal complaint alleged that Makhani, personally or through one of his corporations, forged signatures on deeds filed with the New York City Department of Finance to unlawfully gain control of three properties in Queens from their legal owners.

New York Attorney General Letitia James made the announcement.

Homeownership is a critical part of every community, but far too often, individuals like Joseph Makhani conduct elaborate schemes designed to steal New Yorkers’ homes,” said Attorney General James. “Deed theft continues to be a crime that permeates our neighborhoods, and preys upon our most vulnerable, leading to a cycle of displacement and grief. New Yorkers should never have to fear that their homes will be targeted by predatory individuals. My office will continue to collaborate with our government and community partners to bring these schemers to justice and protect these homes.

The Sheriff’s Office is strongly committed to investigating criminal activity concerning real property fraud,” said New York City Sheriff Joe Fucitto. “These crimes are financially devastating to the victims and their families, many of whom are elderly and have spent a lifetime working hard and saving to buy a home. The Sheriff’s Office looks forward to working collaboratively with Attorney General Letitia James and her team.”

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) wishes to thank the Social Security Administration, the Office of the Inspector General, and Special Agent Gilberto Camilo for their assistance on this case.

The OAG also wishes to thank the New York City Sheriff’s Office and the New York City Register’s Office for their assistance.

Deed theft has become a common tool of career criminals and unscrupulous real estate developers to illegally obtain real estate so they can sell it at a huge profit in high-demand housing markets. This illegal scheme especially affects people of color, the elderly, and other vulnerable homeowners who are scammed into signing over the deeds to their homes to con artists. Deed theft usually happens when scammers forge deeds to look like they purchased the home, or when homeowners are tricked into signing their homes over to a scammer without knowing what they are doing. Scammers then seek to evict the homeowner and sell the house to a third party at a significant profit.

In January 2020, Attorney General James launched the office’s “Protect Our Homes” initiative, a program that uses prevention and enforcement actions to combat deed theft in New York City. The OAG also formed an interagency deed theft taskforce with members that include the district attorneys from all five boroughs in New York City and the Office of the Sheriff of the City of New York. The anti-displacement program builds off these efforts by focusing on the neighborhoods most at-risk of deed fraud, enlisting community members to talk about deed theft with their neighbors, and educating community members about how to spot deed fraud scams.

Those who believe they have experienced deed theft are encouraged to contact the OAG by calling the office’s help line at 1-800-771-7755, emailing deedtheft@ag.ny.gov, or filling out the online complaint form.

This investigation was conducted by Investigator Angel LaPorte, under the supervision of Supervisors of the Major Case Unit Michael Leahy and Mario Rivera and Deputy Bureau Chief Antoine Karam. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Nazy Modiri of the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, with additional assistance from Assistant Attorney General Gregory Morril and Legal Support Analyst Grace Koh — all under the supervision of Real Estate Enforcement Unit and Public Integrity Bureau Chief Gerard Murphy. Financial analysis was conducted by Audit Investigator Karishma Tukrel, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro and Chief Auditor Kristen Fabbri of the Forensic Audit Section. The Investigations Bureau, the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, and the Public Integrity Bureau are all part of the Division for Criminal Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

Jacqueline Graham, 54, formerly of Antioch, California, and Levittown, Pennsylvania was sentenced today to 132 months in prison in connection with a $38 million fraudulent mortgage debt elimination scheme.

According to the Indictment in the case, the evidence presented at trial, and statements made in public court filings and proceedings, including Graham’s sentencing hearing:

From at least 2011 to at least 2012, Graham partnered with Bruce Lewis, 67, formerly of Alaska and Washington State, and John Ruzza 49, formerly of Mahopac, New York in operating the Valhalla, New York-based Terra Foundation, which held itself out as a business that would investigate and eliminate mortgage loans in exchange for fees, soliciting clients who were having difficulties making their mortgage payments.  In fact, however, Terra engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud clients, county clerks’ offices, and banks.

The fraudulent scheme, which was created by Graham and Lewis, involved Terra performing “audits” of clients’ mortgages, sending pseudo-legal paperwork to the banks and/or lenders holding the mortgages, and ultimately filing purported mortgage discharges with the relevant county clerks’ offices.  As a result, anyone doing a title search for one of Terra’s clients would see that the client’s mortgage had been satisfied.  The mortgages had not, however, been discharged, and the mortgages were eventually reinstated, after the clients paid their fees.

In order to effectuate the scheme, Graham, Lewis, and Ruzza involved others, including Rocco Cermele, 57, Yonkers, New York the director of operations, Paula Guadagno, 62, Verplanck, New York, who filed discharges on behalf of Terra, and Anthony Vigna, 61, Thornwood, New York, a lawyer and CPA who worked in Terra’s offices.  Vigna was formerly an Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Yonkers, and a college accounting and law professor, including stints on the faculties of Mercy College, Iona College, SUNY Maritime College, College of Mount St. Vincent, and Westchester Community College.

In total, Graham and her co-conspirators filed over 60 fraudulent discharges in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York, and in Connecticut.  The fraudulent discharges claimed to discharge mortgages with a total loan principal of nearly $38 million. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Jacqueline+Graham

In addition to her prison term, Graham was sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution to her victims in the amount of $694,450 and forfeiture of $138,941.86.

Lewis was previously was sentenced by Judge Román to seven years in prison, three years of supervised release, and forfeiture of $149,408.

Vigna was previously was sentenced by Judge Román to one year and one day in prison, three years of supervised release, and $250,500 of restitution.

Ruzza was previously pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud relating to the Terra scheme, as well as one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud, two counts of wire fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice.

Cermele and Guadagno previously pled guilty to their participation in the scheme.

Graham previously was convicted in June 2019 after a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Román, who also imposed today’s sentence.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made the announcement.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Jacqueline Graham brazenly defrauded vulnerable homeowners during the housing crisis by falsely promising that, for substantial fees, she could make millions of dollars of their mortgage debt disappear.  In reality, she pilfered her victims’ money, leaving them far worse off, and some ended up losing their homes.  Now Graham will spend 11 years in federal prison for preying upon her many victims.”

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Mr. Berman also thanked the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their assistance in the case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Felton, Michael Maimin, and James McMahon are in charge of the prosecutions.

Jacqueline Graham, 53, formerly of Levittown, Pennsylvania was convicted at trial on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, of participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud in connection with a fraudulent debt-elimination scheme to defraud homeowners and banks.

According to the Indictment in the case and the evidence presented at trial:

From at least 2011 to at least 2012, Graham partnered with Bruce Lewis, 67, formerly of Alaska and Washington State and John Ruzza in operating the Valhalla, New York-based Terra Foundation (“Terra”) ,which was originally known as the Pillow Foundation, which held itself out as a business that would investigate and eliminate mortgage loans in exchange for fees, soliciting clients who were having difficulties making their mortgage payments.  In fact, however, Terra engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud clients, county clerks’ offices, and banks.

The fraudulent scheme, which was created by Graham and Lewis, involved Terra performing “audits” of clients’ mortgages, sending pseudo-legal paperwork to the banks and/or lenders holding the mortgages, and ultimately filing purported mortgage discharges with the relevant county clerks’ offices, which discharges were signed by Lewis or other co-conspirators, claiming falsely to represent the banks and/or mortgage lenders.  As a result, anyone doing a title search for one of Terra’s clients would see that the client’s mortgage had been satisfied.  The mortgages had not, however, been discharged, and the mortgages were eventually reinstated, after the clients paid their fees.

In order to effectuate the scheme, Graham, Lewis, and Ruzza involved others, including Rocco Cermele, 56, Yonkers, New York , who was Terra’s director of operations and who recruited clients, among other duties; Paula Guadagno, who did real estate title work for, and filed discharges on behalf of, Terra; and Anthony Vigna, 61, Thornwood, New York,  a lawyer and CPA who worked in Terra’s offices.

To profit from their scheme, Graham and her co-conspirators charged various fees to Terra’s clients.

In total, Graham and her co-conspirators filed over 60 fraudulent discharges in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York, and in Connecticut.  The fraudulent discharges claimed to discharge mortgages with a total loan principal of nearly $38 million.

Graham was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud.  The count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Lewis pled guilty to one count of wire fraud relating to the Terra scheme, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Vigna pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud relating to the Terra scheme, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Cermele pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and bank fraud, and one count of wire fraud, each relating to the Terra scheme, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison, and three additional counts of wire fraud relating to other crimes, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

Graham was found guilty of the one count she faced after a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Román.

The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the court.

All defendants are awaiting sentencing.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made the announcement.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Jacqueline Graham preyed on vulnerable homeowners who could not afford their mortgage payments during a time of crisis in the housing market.  Because of her greed, these homeowners ended up financially worse off than when they found her.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who victimize the vulnerable.”

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Mr. Berman also thanked the Office of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their assistance in the case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Felton, Michael Maimin, and James McMahon are in charge of the prosecutions.

Blanche O’Neal, 49, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York , a former New York City police officer, has been sentenced today to six months in jail and five years’ probation for transferring the title from a neglected three-family house in Bedford-Stuyvesant to herself. The defendant filed a deed transferring the property from the deceased owner’s nephew to herself in 2012, only to see her scheme unravel when the nephew was approached by an actual potential buyer in 2014.

According to trial testimony, on September 12, 2012, the defendant, who was an NYPD officer, executed a deed that stated that she bought the property, 23A Vernon Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York from the nephew of the deceased homeowner, Lillian Hudson, who died in 1993. The nephew and several relatives inherited the property, though it sat vacant and neglected for many years.

The defendant, according to trial testimony, falsely indicated in her filings with the New York City Department of Finance, Office of the City Register, that she purchased the property for $10,000 from the nephew and the deed was purportedly signed by him. The Office of the City Register recorded the deed on October 11, 2012.

Furthermore, in connection with a burglary involving the property, the defendant falsely testified before a grand jury on September 29, 2014, that she owned the property.

In 2014, the nephew and the other heirs were approached by a buyer in the form of a business entity known as 23A Vernon LLC. That is when Lillian Hudson’s heirs discovered the 2012 deed that was filed by the defendant.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant has now been held accountable for this fraudulent real estate scheme. I will continue to protect Brooklyn homeowners whose valuable properties may be targeted by scam artists. I urge property owners to register their homes with ACRIS (Automated City Register Information System) so that they are automatically informed of changes made to documents associated with their property, such as occurred in this case.”

O’Neal was sentenced today to six months in jail and five years’ probation by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun. She was convicted of first-degree perjury, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing in February following a bench trial before Justice Chun.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Frank Dudis and Assistant District Attorney Ellen Koenig of the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Unit Chief, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.

 

Daniel Barraza Nevarez, Arizona, has been indicted on multiple felony counts of Fraudulent Schemes & Artifices, Money Laundering, Forgery, and Criminal Impersonation in connection with an alleged scam designed to defraud homeowners and lenders.

Nevarez allegedly filed a series of forged quitclaim deeds transferring ownership of at least 18 different homes to himself. The homeowners did not know Nevarez and were unaware the deeds to their homes had been transferred to him. The homes were located in different parts of Maricopa County, Arizona including Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.  One of the property deeds transferred is valued at approximately $3.5 million. Nevarez is then accused of contacting home equity lenders to try to take out cash loans on those same properties. To date, we believe Nevarez was unsuccessful in taking out a loan on those properties.

Nevarez was arrested during an undercover operation conducted by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Scottsdale Police Department.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich made the announcement.

Concerned homeowners can go to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office website to check to see what documents have been recorded in their name.

Assistant Attorney General Adam J. Schwartz is prosecuting this case.