Disabled St. Albans veteran gets house back after deed theft conviction through pioneering use of new state law: DA

St. Albans
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, speaking at a recent meeting of the Greek American Homeowners Association in Astoria, used a new state law to return a St. Albans house to a disabled veteran who fell victim to a deed theft scam. (Courtesy of Queens DA’s office)

A house in St. Albans was returned to its rightful owners — a disabled veteran and his family — through the first-ever use of a New York state law enacted to protect deed fraud victims, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Monday.

In January, Jasmine Morgan, 32, of 179th Street in Jamaica, was convicted of filing a false deed for the St. Albans home on 198th Street and selling it without the owners’ knowledge or consent. One of the rightful owners, a 74-year-old disabled veteran, discovered the ruse when his son went to check on the property and found it was under construction.

In March 2020, Morgan claimed to be the granddaughter of a deceased homeowner and offered to facilitate the sale of his home, and then fraudulently transferred the property into her name, collecting more than $134,000 when she sold the home later that month.

After a recent hearing, Queens Supreme Court Justice Jerry Iannece, who presided over Morgan’s conviction, granted a motion filed by the Queens District Attorney’s Office to restore the property deed to its rightful owners.

New York State Criminal Procedure Law 420.45, enacted in August 2019, allows district attorneys to file a post-trial motion in Supreme Court on behalf of a victim when there is a conviction for offering a false instrument for filing in the first or second degree. By taking this action on their behalf, victims of real estate schemes are spared the burden of further legal proceedings in civil court to restore their property deeds.

“[In] the communities that are targeted by deed fraud, most people do not have the money or means to hire an attorney to file a civil suit and to litigate that suit against the deep pockets of mortgage companies, banks and title insurers that is customarily needed to bring such actions,” states the motion.

Assistant District Attorney Christina Hanophy, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Housing and Worker Protection Bureau filed the void ab initio motion under the supervision of Bureau Chief William Jorgenson and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney of Investigations Gerard Brave.

Katz established the Housing and Worker Protection Bureau during her first year in office to focus on investigating and prosecuting crimes related to homeownership, predatory lending, wage theft and workplace safety.

“This is the first time the law has been applied in New York state. The homeowner was wronged by a criminal scheme targeting the title of his family’s generational home for financial gain,” Katz said. “The action taken by my Housing and Worker Protection Bureau spares this family the distress and delay of having to go to civil court to get the property deed back.”