Brooklyn Boro

To combat deed theft in Brooklyn, DA Gonzalez and AG James join forces

July 16, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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Deed theft has been an ongoing problem in Brooklyn as fraudsters look to pilfer high-value properties. That problem not only affects homeowners, but renters too, and Attorney General Letitia James and District Attorney Eric Gonzalez are teaming up to help.

The two offices announced on Wednesday that they will expand their joint homeowner protection initiative to include protections for renters.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are on the verge of an acute housing crisis in New York,” said Attorney General James. “Longtime homeowners in New York City were already grappling with deed theft fraud, and economically challenged renters will soon be facing evictions. I am committed to working with District Attorney Gonzalez and our other government and legal service partners to use a combination of education and enforcement to help our neighbors stay in their homes.”

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The Protect Our Homes initiative was launched in January to educate New Yorkers about the problems of deed theft and other housing scams. James and members of her office even went door to door in Brooklyn that month to raise awareness. They say that deed thieves target elderly residents, particularly people of color in high-demand areas.

Protection for renters is aimed at stopping illegal evictions, and the COVID-19 pandemic and high unemployment rates have caused many people to predict a pending eviction problem in New York City and Brooklyn once the eviction-ban is lifted in the Housing Court on Aug. 20. James and Gonzalez say this will lead to an increased risk of fraud.

“The impending housing crisis in Brooklyn will have devastating effects on our community,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Gonzalez. “We must do everything in our power to protect homeowners and renters from unscrupulous actors. I look forward to continue working with Attorney General James to ensure every Brooklynite can be safe in their home.”

The Protect Our Homes task force includes district attorneys from all five boroughs and the NYC Sheriff’s Office. The group is expected to meet on Thursday, July 16 with the Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC and other eviction prevention services.

The task force will review complaints and discuss emerging trends that put people at risk of displacement. It also plans to educate renters facing eviction about their rights and connect them through lawyers.

Deed theft has been an issue that has drawn a lot of attention from local politicians and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last year, the governor directed the state’s Department of Financial Services’ Foreclosure Relief Unit to provide assistance to Brooklynites who have been victimized.

Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. held a press conference in November 2018 in which they called for a full investigation into the issue.

“When Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights, Brownsville and East New York were not attractive places to live, these families were there. And now that they’ve become gentrified, there’s an onslaught on Black and brown home owners,” Adams said in 2018.

Instances of deed theft in Brooklyn include the case of Jordan Horsford, then 29 years old, who was convicted after he convinced an 85-year-old neighbor to sign away the deed to his East New York home.

Winston Gregory Hall, then 37, was convicted by a jury in March 2019 after he forged documents naming himself a trustee of an 84-year-old woman and signed over her East Flatbush home to himself.

Craig Hecht, a 52-year-old man from Long Island, was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison in February 2020 for forging the deed to steal the home of an 80-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant woman.

“I urge seniors and their family members to protect their homes, especially as property values continue to rise in Brooklyn, by taking care not to sign any documents pertaining to their properties without the advice of a reputable attorney,” Gonzalez said after Horsford was sentenced in Sept. 2019.

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