Two brownstones allegedly stolen in sophisticated $4.7M deed-theft operation

August 1, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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A Long Island man, Joseph Makhani, has been indicted and arraigned on deed theft charges, according to a recent announcement from New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The 60-year-old from Kings Point is alleged to have stolen two Harlem brownstones, located at 107 West 118th St. and 135 West 131st St., valued at over $4.7 million, through a scheme involving forged deeds, falsified documents and shell companies in 2012.

“This crime harms entire communities, especially those facing population displacement and gentrification,” said Attorney General James. “I will continue my efforts to address deed theft and hold people like Joseph Makhani accountable.”

According to the indictment, Makhani masterminded a multi-layered and complex scheme. His machinations resulted in the wrongful seizure of the two above-mentioned Harlem brownstones, through actions undertaken in 2012. Exploiting the vulnerabilities of the homeowners and the tenants, Makhani allegedly falsified property ownership documents and created shell companies to veil his illicit activities.

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In the case of the brownstone located at 107 West 118th St., Makhani’s deception reached staggering proportions. His corporation claimed to have bought the property for a paltry $10, but then used a falsified mortgage application to gain a $650,000 construction loan for nonexistent renovations, according to the charges.

After securing this loan, Makhani then refinanced, obtaining a long-term mortgage loan of $1.2 million on the property. Furthermore, he took steps to convert the building into market-rate apartment rentals and collected hefty monthly rents while the elderly and vulnerable owner, unaware of the deed theft, was forced to live in a homeless shelter.

The 135 West 131st St. property was allegedly stolen by means similar to the first. Makhani approached a tenant of the brownstone under the pretense of offering a job, and during the visit he secured the tenant’s signature and used it to forge a new deed. This falsified document, showing the tenant as the owner, was then used to transfer ownership to a company controlled by Makhani. In the face of questioning, Makhani further twisted the narrative by claiming the property was legally transferred to his company by the heirs of the last recorded owner, according to the charges.

This indictment is the latest action in Attorney General James’ efforts to combat deed theft, a crime that often targets Black and minority homeowners.

Earlier this year, the attorney general had proposed new legislation, which received support from State Sens. Brian Kavanagh and Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, to establish a crime of deed theft and strengthen protections and remedies for victims.

“No one’s home should be stolen by a scammer without warning or reason,” said Attorney General James at the time of the proposal. “Victims of deed theft are often older adults and people of color who are asset rich but cash poor.”

Makhani has pleaded not guilty to two counts of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of eight and a third to 25 years in state prison.

Attorney General James has encouraged New Yorkers who believe they may be a victim of deed theft to contact the Office of the Attorney General.


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