11 Others Charged In Crackdown
A man who allegedly forged a deed to a Bushwick home as part of a fraud scheme was one of 12 individuals charged by the office of Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes last Wednesday, Mar. 7 for various real estate crimes.
Jonathan Smith, 41, was charged with creating a phony deed to a home on Cornelia Street, valued at $480,000, and making a deal to sell the property in which he accepted $10,000 as a down payment.
He is also charged with using a stolen identity to transfer a home on Greene Avenue in Bedford- Stuyvesant from the estate of its rightful owner, a deceased Manhattan resident, to himself. He later contracted to sell the property for $410,000, accepting $25,000 from an unsuspecting purchaser.
Charges against Smith include grand larceny in the second degree, identity theft in the first degree, and forgery in the second degree. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
“Defendants who commit real estate crimes do far more than steal property and money: they rob their victims of the American Dream of homeownership,” said District Attorney Hynes in a statement. “Particularly troubling is the use of so-called ‘reverse mortgages,’ available only to senior citizens, to steal the equity from homes belonging to elderly victims.”
Sal Lauria, 36, and an unidentified accomplice are charged with obtaining a reverse mortgage in the name of an 81-year-old victim who met Lauria after the man responded to a TV commercial for debt assistance. Lauria worked for a company that was associated with the owner of the ad.
Lauria is charged with offering the victim a “streamlined” mortgage and collecting all of his personal information to apply for it. He then allegedly set up a false bank account in both his name and the victim’s name, into which he deposited the $350,000 in proceeds from a reverse mortgage. Lauria kept all the money for himself, according to the indictment.
Lauria is charged with grand larceny in the second degree as a hate crime (against the elderly), which carries a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
Nicholas Baucom, 26, is charged with forging a deed and moving into a vacant, foreclosed property on Macon Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The victim in this case had purchased the building a few weeks prior to discovering Baucom and several “tenants” living in the home.
Baucom is currently charged with criminal trespass and criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree. According to the Kings District Attorney’s office, he is suspected of forging deeds to as many as five other abandoned properties in the neighborhood, and the investigation into his activities is ongoing.
Wilhemina Smith, 61, is charged with running an illegal rooming house in a building she did not own, which had no heat or hot water. She is also charged with threatening to evict a tenant who was late with the rent. She was charged with unlawful eviction and harassment in the second degree.
Margarita Alava, 60, and Glenn Currence, 59, are charged with forg- ing Alava’s brother’s name on a deed to sell his house, which they sold the same day, earning more than $88,000. They are charged with grand larceny in the second degree and forgery in the second degree. They each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Alvin Ashby, 36, is charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree and offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree for forging a deed giving ownership to a Canarsie home in which his child’s mother and grandmother lived.
Five defendants-John Rondell, 32, Van Mobely, 52, Josef Perlstein, 29, Rene Tenpow, 32, and Eleanora Temis, 24-are charged with using a Clinton Hill home to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Perlstein owned the property, but the mortgage exceeded the property’s value. Perlstein transferred the property to himself, Rondell and Mobley, and Mobley recruited two loan processors, Tenpow and Temis, to find a straw buyer. They found a 59- year-old man from Sheepshead Bay with minimal assets, and made it appear on paper as though he possessed enough assets to qualify for a $1.6 million mortgage, according to the indictment.
Next, according to the indictment, they arranged for the straw buyer to use the mortgage to purchase the property from Perlstein, Rondell and Mobley.
The scam came to light when the straw buyer reported to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office that her identity had been stolen and used to obtain a mortgage for a property in Nassau County.
The Mortgage Fraud and Real Estate Crimes Unit started in March of 2009, from a federal appropriation. Since its inception, the unit has achieved many successes, undertaking well over 300 investigations, resulting in over 50 prosecutions. Courts in these cases have ordered restitution in excess of $400,000 dollars and seven homes have been returned to their owners.
The cases were investigated by Joseph Ponzi, Chief Investigator, Special Investigations Unit; Michael Seminara, Supervising Detective Investigator, Special Investigations Unit and Jeannette Sbordone, Detective Investigator.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Kurtz; Assistant District Attorney Andrea Clarke; Deputy Bureau Chief of the Rackets Division, Frank Dudis; Lawrence Oh, Rackets Division Bureau Chief; and, Richard Farrell, Chief of the Mortgage Fraud and Real Estate Crimes Unit in the Rackets Division. Michael F. Vecchione is Chief of the Rackets Division.