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LISTEN: Deed theft at crisis level in Brooklyn

June 27, 2019 By Scott Enman, Paul Frangipane, Lawrence Madsen
Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

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Homes throughout the borough — mainly in black and brown communities — are increasingly being stolen through a number of predatory schemes. Most of Brooklyn’s deed thefts have been in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, East New York, Canarsie and Flatlands. 

With more and more elderly people being taken advantage of, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said more needs to be done to fight this systemic problem.

“It is clear that the district attorney and the police department should be more aggressive on this topic,” Adams said. “We have called on the city, state and federal government to conduct a forensic investigation.”

The most common methods for deed theft in Brooklyn are liens for minor unpaid bills, fraudulent documents, predatory foreclosures and the city’s controversial Third Party Transfer program.

Rising real estate values and thousands of foreclosures have helped create a dangerous climate for homeowners in the borough. Rose Marie Cantanno, associate director of the New York Legal Assistance Group’s Foreclosure Prevention Project, said perpetrators in many cases come from within the community, gaining the trust of homeowners.

“It’s hard to think that people would take advantage of other people the way they do, but I have seen people take advantage of 95-year-old women. I have seen people take advantage of those who don’t speak English,” Cantanno told Brooklyn This Week

“You’d like to think that that’s not going to happen, but especially in Brooklyn right now, it is such a hotbed. And unfortunately when money is involved, it absolutely brings out the worst in people.”

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One of the more recent known cases of deed theft in Brooklyn allegedly occurred on the Bed-Stuy doorstep of Dairus Griffiths, a 65-year-old former homeowner of 30 years. Griffiths said that a man named Eli Mashieh of August West Development convinced him — while he was inebriated and anxious over financial hardship — to sign his property away on the hood of a car for $630,000. 

The actual worth of the family home is between $1 million and $1.5 million, according to Griffith’s daughter, Doris Briggs.

“My father tries the best he can. Throughout our lives, he’s been there. He’s been supportive in every aspect of my life,” Briggs said. “To see him once he’s retired and this is supposed to be his days to just enjoy what he’s worked so hard for, and to be taken away from him like that so easily, it’s just ridiculous.”

  • Interview with Mary Frost at 1:07
  • Interview with Rose Marie Cantanno at 7:04
  • Interview with Doris Briggs at 9:24
  • Interview with Eric Adams at 13:47

Brooklyn this Week‘s host Lawrence Madsen is a native New Yorker. He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in History, and volunteers with the disaster relief group Team Rubicon.

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