Southeast Queens homes will be returned to rightful owners after couple plead guilty to deed fraud scheme: DA

District Attorney Melinda Katz delivers remarks to the Queens Civic Congress while her office worked to obtain justice in two separate cases dealing with deed fraud schemes.
Photo courtesy of the DA’s office

A South Ozone Park couple pleaded guilty to a deed fraud scheme to steal homes in Southeast Queens following a long-term investigation.

Justin Joseph, 45, and his wife Latoya Hewitt, 49, of 132nd Street, were arrested on Apr. 12 after a probe by the Queens District Attorney’s Housing and Worker Protection Bureau.

Joseph pleaded guilty to a deed fraud scheme that resulted in five properties being stolen from their rightful owners, while Hewitt pleaded guilty in connection to the theft of one of the homes, Queens DA Melinda Katz announced on Thursday. As part of the plea, the couple agreed to pay restitution for homes that were sold to others, including one that was demolished, unbeknownst to its proper owner.

According to the charges and plea agreements, in March 2019, Joseph and Hewitt filed a false statement with the city’s Department of Finance recording a deed transfer of a home on Pinegrove Street in Jamaica from a 78-year-old woman who was the rightful owner, to Hewitt. The deed included the seal of a notary public, who denied that it was his signature on the document and that the seal was authentic. Hewitt, while working in concert with her husband, proceeded to sell the home after she obtained a forged death certificate to facilitate the transaction. The property was sold in November 2019 for $315,000. She received a check for proceeds of $48,751.48 and her husband and his mother received a check for $40,000 each.

In September 2019, Joseph filed a false deed transferring property on 181st Street in Springfield Gardens to himself after forging the signature of the rightful owner, who lived elsewhere. In November 2019, he sold that home for $355,000. Joseph received a check for $255,256.76.

The home was later demolished, which the rightful owner discovered when she drove past her property with a new home built in its place.

In December 2019, Joseph submitted a false deed to the city to transfer property on 155th Street in Jamaica to himself. He falsely represented that he bought the property for $50,000.

In March 2020, Joseph submitted a fraudulent deed transfer to the city and forged the signature of the rightful owner of a property on 207th Street in Queens Village. In April 2020, Joseph submitted a deed transfer to the city for a property on 131st Street in South Ozone Park near his real home after forging the signature of the rightful owner and creating a fake identity for himself.

“No one should think they will get away with stealing the most valuable asset most people ever work to attain,” Katz said. “My Housing and Worker Protection Bureau focuses on safeguarding homeowners from predatory real estate scams.”

Joseph pleaded guilty before Queens Supreme Court Justice Leigh K. Cheng to a scheme to defraud and three counts of offering a false instrument for filing and is expected to be sentenced to one to three years in prison on June 18. He also agreed to void the deeds to five properties and make restitution of $355,256.76, proceeds he received from the fraudulent sale of two of the homes. Hewitt pleaded guilty to offering a false statement for filing and is expected to be sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge after agreeing to void the deed and make restitution of $48,751.48. Katz thanked the New York City Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case.

“Preventing and prosecuting deed theft continues to be a priority of Mayor Adams’ Administration and the Sheriff’s office,” NYC Sheriff Anthony Miranda said. “We will continue to combat deed fraud and collaborate with our partners in all agencies to bring justice to those criminals victimizing the elderly and families from our communities.”

The District Attorney’s office will file a motion to apply a state statute to restore the deeds for the five properties to their rightful owners, sparing the victims the time and expense of additional legal proceedings in civil court.