A Far Rockaway man and his accomplice from Long Island pleaded guilty to a wide-ranging scheme to steal residential properties in Queens and Nassau County by filing forged deeds, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Wednesday.
Russell Carbone, 69, of Beach Ninth Street, and Terrell Hill, 40, of West Hempstead, worked together to target homes where the owners died and their heirs had not taken title to them. To help find the properties, Hill, a landscaper, would alert Carbone, a disbarred attorney, to homes that appeared abandoned. Most of the properties turned out to have gone into foreclosure.
As part of the plea, the court voided the bogus deeds to seven homes across Southeast Queens and two homes in Nassau so they could be returned to their rightful owners.
According to the charges and plea agreements, between November 2019 and February 2023, Carbone and Hill forged signatures on property records to transfer to themselves the ownership of multiple properties. The signatures were notarized with fraudulent notary stamps that Hill ordered from Amazon in the names of actual notaries. Carbone also used his own, legitimate notary stamp on some documents.
The fraudulent documents pertaining to the Queens homes were filed with the city’s Department of Finance. In some instances, the deeds were transferred more than once among the defendants and entities connected to them, resulting in 14 deeds to nine homes. For example, in the case of a home on 116th Road in Jamaica, Hill called a Bronx woman in November 2019 about possibly selling the house, which she had inherited from her brother.
Following the phone conversation, Hill introduced the woman to his “business partner,” Carbone, who met the woman at a coffee shop to discuss the sale. The woman declined the purchase offer. A deed transferring title to the property was filed nonetheless on March 12, 2021, indicating the RC Couture Realty, Inc, a corporation run by Carbone and his 61-year-old wife Galyna Couture, and Hill each owned 48% interest in the property and the victim and her sibling each owned a 1% share.
Carbone and Hill forged the siblings’ signatures on the deed transfer documents, which were stamped with a fraudulent notary stamp and Carbone’s legitimate stamp. The actual notary told investigators that the stamp was not hers. Hill’s Amazon records showed he ordered a notary stamp with the notary’s information and had it shipped to his West Hempstead home.
In another case, a 2021 deed transfer for a home on Sutter Avenue in Jamaica included the purported signature of an heir to the property’s original owner. The document said the home was transferred to Carbone and Hill with the heir retaining 1% ownership. The heir said he did not sign the document. The notary whose stamp was on the paperwork also said he did not sign, nor stamp, the document.
A nephew of the property’s original home was living in the house and Carbone wrote to him, portraying himself as the new owner trying to “make a deal” to get him to leave. Carbone started eviction proceedings against him. Facing a civil lawsuit, Carbone and Hill agreed to void the deed, returning the home to its rightful owner.
“When I started the Housing and Worker Protection Bureau three years ago, I promised to protect homeowners from predatory real estate scams that often target vulnerable neighborhoods,” Katz said. “Since then, we have undone the criminal handiwork of scammers and con artists and pioneered the use of a state statute to return stolen properties to their rightful owners. With the conclusion of this prosecution, the largest we have undertaken so far, our office will have restored a total of 14 homes to their rightful owners.”
Carbone and Hill pleaded guilty before Queens Supreme Court Justice Leigh Cheng to scheme to defraud and six counts of offering a false instrument for filing. RC Couture Realty, Inc. pleaded guilty to criminal possession of stolen property and six counts of offering a false instrument for filing and must pay a $100,000 fine.
In addition to forfeiting the ill-gotten deeds, Carbone will pay $56,960 in restitution as part of his plea deal but will not be getting prison time, according to the DA’s office. The money represents rent payments he collected after illegally taking over properties and leasing them out. The money will go to the heirs of the legitimate property owners. Carbone’s license as a notary was also revoked. Hill, who is a repeat offender, is expected to face up to three years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 30, 2024.