Two alleged fraudsters swindled an 80-year-old woman out of her Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone valued at more than $1 million in the borough’s latest case of deed fraud, according to the district attorney.
Craig Hecht, of Long Island, and another unnamed suspect set up a convoluted scheme involving dummy corporations and falsified documents in order to steal the brownstone at 260 Clifton Place. Though the victim lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades, the property has been vacant since a 2010 fire.
“This defendant allegedly thought he could take advantage of an elderly homeowner’s absence to steal her house and sell it before she or anyone else noticed,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement.
Hecht and the other defendant allegedly created two companies reflecting the victim’s name in 2015, then filed documents with the city indicating a transfer of the home to a third company, TDA Development, which they also controlled.
Hecht allegedly began shopping the property around to would-be buyers, and in November 2015 sold it from TDA to a buyer for $850,000. According to the district attorney, the defendants distributed the money through multiple accounts, with some sent offshore to Greece and more than $250,000 landing in an account owned by Hecht’s wife.
When the new owners of the home began construction on the property, a neighbor informed the real owner, who notified the district attorney’s office.
Hecht was charged with two counts of second-degree grand larceny and two counts of second-degree money laundering, and faces up to 15 years if convicted. The co-defendant has not been apprehended.
In March, lawmakers and housing advocates warned that Brooklyn is facing an emerging crisis in housing theft cases, including deed fraud. New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that her office receives more deed theft complaints from Brooklyn than the four other boroughs combined, and deed fraud scams disproportionately impact homeowners of color — particularly in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy.
In April, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein passed legislation that provides a means for victims of deed theft to recover their stolen homes when a defendant is found guilty, but it has not yet been delivered to the governor for his signature.
The district attorney is warning other homeowners about the risks of deed theft and urging residents to protect themselves.
“Brooklyn’s robust real estate market continues to be an attractive target for theft and fraud,” Gonzalez said. “I remain vigilant in my commitment to protecting homeowners and encourage them to protect themselves by registering with the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) so that they are automatically informed of changes made to documents associated with their property.”
You can do so on this page.
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