BP Adams calls for investigation into Bed-Stuy deed theft allegation
One day after it was reported that a Bedford-Stuyvesant man may have been tricked into selling his home to a real estate developer on the cheap while drunk, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams announced a fundraising effort to help the man and his family with legal fees as they fight to keep the home they have owned for 30 years.
Adams — who has made fighting Brooklyn deed theft a priority for his administration — stood with former homeowner Dairus Griffiths on Tuesday outside the man’s Bed-Stuy home and denounced the alleged practices of the real estate company, August West Development, that now owns the three-story brick home.
“These are real people that have been here for 30-plus years, raising families, making sure that they can have a place in this city. Now they’re on the verge of losing their home,” Adams said, calling on the Brooklyn District Attorney to investigate the sale.
Griffiths said he was approached numerous times by a man named Eli Mashieh of August West in 2014. Griffiths was struggling financially at the time and was afraid he would lose his home. Mashieh said he could help, but then allegedly convinced an inebriated Griffiths to sell the property — worth $1 million to $1.5 million, according to Griffith’s daughter — for just $630,000.
Griffiths says he signed the document on a street corner on the hood of a car.
Days later, Griffiths says he told Mashieh he didn’t want to sell, but Mashieh said it was too late.
“This is where my dad tried to plant his roots,” said Doris Briggs, Griffiths’ daughter. “He came over from Jamaica and he became a citizen. He did well for his family.”
Briggs said that Griffiths, who was working in Manhattan at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, spent days after the terrorist attacks pulling debris and bodies from Ground Zero.
Speaking about the deal with August West, she said she thought “the goal was to get the property for a cheaper value than it’s worth. They got him to sign something to sell for under market value, in the presence of no counsel, outside on the hood of a car.”
This is not the first time the real estate group has come under fire for its allegedly shady business practices. A Queens man named Tejpratie Misir sued August West in 2018 for allegedly forging his signature onto a memorandum of contract for his home. That lawsuit was settled later that year for an unknown amount.
A lawyer named Raj Maddiwar, previously convicted of fraud for participating in a scheme to harass and coerce black homeowners into selling their homes far below market rate, was listed as Griffiths’ lawyer on the contract selling the Halsey Street home to August West, according to the Daily News, which first reported the story.
“His name is on the contract. He clearly was not around and doesn’t know my father and couldn’t pick him out in a lineup,” said Briggs.
After Griffiths signed the contract to sell the home, it was allegedly signed by a notary. But the notary claims he never signed a contract — only a letter — and that Griffiths did not have a lawyer present at the time, the Daily News reported.
August West took legal action against Griffiths, and — though Griffiths says he did not known about it — a judge ruled against him for not responding.
The deed was then transferred to August West on Dec. 14, 2018, according to city Department of Finance records. Briggs did not find out until she tried to pay the home’s monthly mortgage payment later that month and was notified that the entire mortgage had been paid off.
The deed was transferred by Betty Lugo, who was acting as a court referee. The property transfer report is signed by Mashieh and Lugo. Lugo is currently a candidate in the race for Queens District Attorney. She could not immediately be reached for comment. (The primary election for Queens District Attorney is taking place today).
Griffiths and Briggs are hoping to reverse the court’s ruling in favor of August West, but they’re low on money, don’t have a lawyer and are running out of time.
They are trying to raise $25,000 through their GoFundMe, to which Adams said he would contribute. In its first day, the campaign has raised just over $200.
“This is a call for help. This is an urgent call for help,” Briggs said. “We didn’t take any money. We just want to be able to stay there and pass it down, generation to generation.”
Briggs said final signatures on the transfer of the property will be done on Friday, after which the family will receive a 10-day notice of eviction, meaning the eight family members living in the home could be facing homelessness by early July.
Adams said he spoke with District Attorney Eric Gonzalez about Griffiths’ case yesterday. “He said, ‘Let me look at the file, Eric. I just saw the News story. I’m going to look over the file,'” Adams said. “I’m going to reach back out to him today to see how we can look at how this was done,” Adams said.
The Brooklyn DA has prosecuted 22 cases of deed theft since 2016, with 14 ending in convictions and eight still pending, according to a spokesperson, who said he could not comment on investigations when asked about the Griffiths case.
For Griffiths, the possible loss of his home is tearing him apart.
“Can’t sleep at night. Even with food, I can’t eat it. Because we’re going to be displaced,” he said. “That’s what America has given me.”
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