$1M Bed-Stuy brownstone stolen from 80-year-old woman, DA says

May 22, 2019 Ned Berke
260 Clifton Place has been empty since a 2010 fire. Photo via Google Maps

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 at a hearing organized by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams that Brooklyn is facing an emerging crisis in housing theft cases, including deed fraud.

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“Too many bad actors are attempting to profit off Brooklyn’s popularity through illegal, ill-gotten schemes. I am grateful that District Attorney Gonzalez has been aggressive in going after deed fraud and the greater crisis of wrongful property seizures, but frankly our borough needs help,” Adams said today in a statement to the Eagle. “My call remains for a full-scale forensic audit and investigation on the federal, state, and city levels into the issue of deed fraud in the borough of Brooklyn, including the role that the TPT program may be unintentionally playing in defrauding homeowners of their property. Every legal and lawmaking entity with jurisdiction needs to prioritize this matter.”

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.

“I thank District Attorney Gonzalez for prosecuting this case. It is exactly what we need in our three-pronged approach to address deed and equity theft in our community,” said Sen. Montgomery. “We need the DA, we need the City Council and we need the State Legislature all working together to tackle this issue. The DA has been aggressive in his role and we will continue to push legislation like the Deed Theft Bill to address some of this behavior and make it easier for homeowners to seek justice.”

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.

Update (4:20 p.m.) — A quote from Borough President Eric Adams was added to this story.

Update (5 p.m.) — A quote from State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery was added to this story. 

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