Immigrant families scammed out of $5M in fake Bay Ridge condos
Families from China get assistance from AG in finding man who sold them non-existent condos
More than 20 families who were duped while trying to start a life in Bay Ridge are hopeful that they’ll be able to get restitution after Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday that her office will sue the man responsible for selling them non-existent condos in Brooklyn.
Xi Hui “Steven” Wu, his ex-wife Xiao Rong Yang, and their companies TCJ Construction Inc., and 345 Ovington LLC nearly got away with millions when they took advantage of 20 Chinese immigrant families by illegally selling them condos that they could not deliver.
They accepted monthly mortgage payments and building fees that totaled to over $5 million, and they never gave buyers deeds to their new homes.
“Steven Wu took advantage of hardworking immigrants and sold them and their families a lie,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “He earned their trust as a pillar of the community only to exploit it and steal their life’s savings. These families were cheated out of their livelihoods, so we’re taking action to ensure they get their money back.”
The AG’s Office is seeking $5 million in its lawsuit. It also is seeking to permanently ban Wu, Yang, and their companies from conducting real estate business in New York.
The ordeal started in January 2013 when Wu submitted a plan to the AG’s Office for a new 25-unit condo building located at 345 Ovington Avenue in Bay Ridge. Wu never filed the necessary paperwork with the Department of Finance and as a result NYC never divided the building into separate tax lots and no deeds were created.
Wu didn’t have the deeds or the legal ability to sell the condos. However, he was known and trusted in the community and used that trust to trick purchasers into buying the condos without formal congrats, according to the lawsuit. Some signed a single-page document written entirely in Chinese. All the families made payments and moved into the condos even though Wu never legally transferred the titles.
Wu collected monthly payments and either called them Mortgage fees or building fees, according to the lawsuit. He collected more than $5 million in total and most of the money went directly into his bank account, according to the AG’s Office.
Wu even went as far as to personally fund escrow accounts, each with $5,000 in them, in an attempt to trick the Attorney General’s Office into thinking that his single-page “purchase agreements” were proof of valid, legal sales.
Foreclosure proceedings are currently under way and the 20 families who were duped into moving into 345 Ovington Avenue face potential eviction. A group of the purchasers forced 345 Ovington LLC into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and the AG’s Office says that this may provide purchasers an opportunity to negotiate with Wu’s creditors to assist in the return of the money they lost.
“The immigrant families of 345 Ovington Avenue were hoping to establish themselves as homeowners for the very first time — the American dream. Instead, they were sold a lie by a crooked developer who knew better,” said New York City Council Member Justin Brannan. “I thank Letitia James for once again acting as the people’s lawyer and moving to ensure those responsible for this egregious fraud will face consequences. These families deserve compensation and security in their homes, not the mass eviction they’ve been threatened with.”
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