In today’s housing market there are home sellers, home buyers… and home stealers.
At least two home stealers face 25 years in prison after the Kings County District Attorney’s office uncovered scams where they basically forged their way into owning someone else’s property and then tried to profit off of it.
In one of the cases, two not so run-of-the-mill real estate dealers were charged with selling the same property in Crown Heights to two different straw buyers.
After tinkering with some figures to illegally inflate the second straw buyer’s income, suspects Mavis Samuel, 40, and Carlyle Ebanks, 53, helped their second victim get a mortgage, officials alleged. Once they were given the money, the two paid off the first mortgage and pocketed upwards of $300,000, according to a grand larceny indictment filed against the two.
In a straw buyer scam, one can con someone into getting a mortgage on the property, even though they never get ownership of it.
In Samuels and Ebanks’ case, the two got a man recovering from a brain injury to act as if he was buying 1162 Pacific Street in Crown Heights for $440,000, officials alleged. After he got the mortgage, Samuels and Ebanks, pocketed the money, gave him $2000 and allowed him to hold onto the deed, although he never took control of the building, officials alleged.
Their alleged scam was only uncovered when the Fire Department began investigating a fire in the building, and questions about its ownership came to light.
But probably the most successful land swindler targeted by the Kings County District Attorney’s office is 40-year-old George Marks, who is accused of forging the deeds to two properties in East Flatbush and then trying to sell the homes as if he owned them.
With the help of his local stationery store and a common computer printer, Marks managed to forge deeds on 243 East 54th Street and 5501 Church Avenue, police alleged.
Prosecutors said that the elderly woman who had owned the East 54th Street property had died in 2006. While her family was trying to figure out what to do with the property, Marks allegedly swooped in and filed the forged deeds, claiming that the elderly woman had sold it to him before she passed away.
According to city tax records, Marks claimed to have bought both the East 54th Street property and the Church Avenue property for $20, even though both properties were valued well over $1 million.
His swindle got the attention of the Kings County District Attorney’s office when he allegedly sold the East 54th Street property to a married couple in late 2006. He allegedly took a $10,000 down payment from the couple, but refused to give the money back when questions about the actual ownership of the home surfaced, officials alleged.
While Marks allegedly backdated the deed to make it look like he purchased the home before the original owner died, he was betrayed by a small date his printer left on the margin, which proved that they were generated well after her death, officials said.
Besides trying to sell the East 54th Street home to an East Flatbush couple, Marks is also charged with selling the same property to a straw buyer and pocketing the $495,000 from the mortgage the sale generated.
Marks was charged with grand larceny and falsifying business records, officials said.
“This case highlights the cracks in the system that scam artists exploit to swindle over eager home buyers and mortgage brokers and companies,” Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes said while announcing the indictments last week. “The case against Marks shows how easy it can be to steal a house, but there are several steps you can take to make sure that you have not been victimized. People are entitled to three free credit reports each year, so request one every four months. That will let you know if anyone had stolen your identity or taken out a mortgage in your name.”
Hynes also recommended that homeowners check their property records, which the City Registrar’s Office puts online, at least once a year, to make sure that there are no sudden changes to them.
“In shopping for a home, it is always important to watch out for crooked dealers,” Hynes said. “If something seems amiss, trust your instinct. Break off the deal and contact the authorities.”
Anyone who feels that they have been a victim of a real estate crime can contact the Kings County District Attorney’s action center at (718)250-2340.