A Long Island man is facing charges for allegedly scheming to steal a pair of brownstones, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced.
Nassau County resident Joseph Makhani, age 58, of Kings Point, was arrested this week for alleged deed theft and mortgage fraud after defrauding the owners of the brownstones by using forged and falsified real estate documents.
According to James, Makhani targeted the two Harlem brownstones using forged and falsified documents, numerous LLCs under his control, multiple property transfers, an unethical attorney, and abused court processes.
The stolen properties were located at 107 West 118th Street and 135 West 131st Street in Harlem, which were both stolen in 2012, according to New York State real estate tax filings, which claim he paid $10 for each.
The West 118th Street brownstone was allegedly stolen by Makhani using forged deeds and documents to steal it from an elderly disabled owner.
According to the AG, Makhani also allegedly illegally transferred ownership of the West 131st Street property in Harlem through the use of fraudulent deeds, shell companies, strawmen, and by abusing court processes.
Prior to Makhani’s fraudulent takeover, the last true deed recorded on this property was in the name of an elderly owner who died soon after the deed was recorded in 1975, James said.
Allegedly, a beneficiary of the estate looked after the building until his death in 2010. Soon after, a tenant of the building was approached by Makhani, who later returned and told the tenant he had purchased the brownstone.
Makhani — through the guise of offering the tenant a job — fraudulently obtained the tenant’s signature in order to misrepresent the tenant as the owner.
When the tenant questioned the validity of the deed in a housing court case, Makhani filed a new forged deed showing that the purported heirs of the last recorded owner from 1975 had transferred the property to Makhani’s shell corporation, One 35 West Corporation.
James said that as of Thursday, July 8, the two brownstones now have an estimated value of $2.29 million and $1.9 million, respectively.
It is alleged that after illegally taking over the two properties, Makhani used forged and falsified documents to cover up his fraud and maintain control of the properties from the true owners’ claims.
As of July 8, Makhani still is in possession of the West 118th Street brownstone, but lost the other property in December 2018 due to unpaid tax liens.
Makhani was charged with two counts each of criminal possession of stolen property, two counts of residential mortgage fraud, falsifying business records, and one count of scheme to defraud.
“Homeownership is a critical part of every community, but far too often, individuals like Joseph Makhani conduct elaborate schemes designed to steal New Yorkers’ homes,” James said. “Deed theft continues to be a crime that permeates our neighborhoods and preys upon our most vulnerable, leading to a cycle of displacement and grief.
“New Yorkers should never have to fear that their homes will be targeted by predatory individuals.”
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