Guilty Pleas in Long Island: Heirs Recover Their Stolen Deeds

Two New Yorkers — and one is a former lawyer and a licensed notary — have pleaded guilty to deed fraud charges in New York. The charges involve first-degree scheming to defraud, and additional counts related to forging and filing false documents to take deceased people’s titles in Nassau and Queens.

A company run by one of the pair pleaded guilty, too — to possession of stolen property and multiple forgery charges. The implicated real estate business will have to pay a $100,000 fine, and repay rents on the stolen properties. The other member of the pair, a landscaper, could be sentenced to a prison term of up to three years on January 30, 2024.

One of the would-be victims blew the whistle. As reported in the New York Daily News, she got a bad feeling about one of the pair. He walked into a coffee shop to meet her wearing a crumpled suit.

An investigation began. The outcome? The D.A. in Queens, Melinda Katz, announced that the Queens Supreme Court has voided the faked deeds. The ripped-off families are now able to recover their assets.

Grim Robbers

Starting in 2019 and continuing into 2023, per court documents, the pair was busy taking control of deeds. Their aim was to take homes and rent them out or sell them. Which homes did they target, and how?

The landscaper would scout for vacant homes. Empty homes would often turn out to be in some stage of foreclosure, or destined for the probate court. The pair would find relatives and check on the state of the house titles. They would then produce documents to fool these unsuspecting people.

The pair used stolen identities and forged property tax documents to transfer deeds. Prosecutors said one of them bought a notary stamp on

Deeds were placed under the name of that business, formed by the ex-lawyer and his spouse. The scammers might leave the prior owner holding a one-percent interest, while they signed 99% over to themselves. Or they would simply fake family members’ signatures and notarize them with seals ordered under a real notary’s name.

Pièce de Resistance

“The pièce de resistance,” as one reporter wrote from Queens, was that the former attorney “used his own legitimate notary stamp on documents” and the landscaper “ordered additional ones using the names of actual notaries, then filed the records with the city Department of Finance, according to the charges.”

In one instance, a homeowner’s nephew was in the home. So the fraud involved persuading the occupant to cut a deal with the fraudsters. The con artists didn’t hesitate to evict residents who weren’t useful to them.

They found distraught family members of deceased homeowners. Then they offered cash for the homes, promising to revive them from old debts and foreclosures. They got families to sign over power of attorney so deeds could be transferred into their own hands.

Ultimately they took control of a total of nine New York homes. They stole the ownership rights. They took homes away from heirs, away from families.

Crimefighters Strike Back

New York City sees this crime all too frequently. The city has set up an Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) to send out a Notice of Recorded Document to title holders whenever a claim has been recorded on the title. Many counties have similar title alert systems now. (Dear homeowner: Sign up, if your county offers one!)

But how can acts of deed thievery be nipped in the bud? New York is working on it.

New York State’s Attorney General Leticia James is on a mission — to put an end to deed theft. Referring to deed-snatching as “a merciless crime,” James has called out deed thieves who target older people, unprepared heirs, and the most vulnerable mortgage borrowers.

In 2023, the state created an actual crime called deed theft — so deed protection could become a priority. The law grants law enforcement more ways to head off bad actors. As the Attorney General announced in a press release:

The new provisions…help innocent homeowners. They provide guidance for suspending foreclosures pending deed theft investigations. And they assist in restoring title to the rightful homeowners.

And so the New York State Legislature put A06656/S6577 into the law books. Governor Hochul has now signed this law, along with a provision to strengthen prosecutors’ authority to intervene in falsification of documents and unfair evictions.

Some fraud targets end up pursuing quiet title actions to restore their deeds. Learn more on

Meeting Their Match

Queens County law enforcement saw the landscaper and lawyer coming. Now come the consequences. The county has announced that:

  • The pair now faces payback time. One of them finds out soon whether he’ll be going to prison. The other has agreed to pay restitution to the victims’ heirs.
  • A real estate business owned by the former lawyer and his spouse has also entered a guilty plea and has been fined. The business admitted to possessing stolen property and multiple counts of “offering a false instrument for filing” against New York law. This was all part of the plea deal that the former lawyer entered to avoid a prison term.
  • The Queens Supreme Criminal Court is concluding its case and the “partners” will have to disgorge their ill-gotten rental business gains to the victims’ heirs.
  • Best of all? The victims got assistance in regaining title ownership. Through plea negotiations, the court could cancel the falsified deeds.

“With the conclusion of this prosecution,” Attorney General Melinda Katz stated in a press release, New York’s Queens County “restored a total of 14 homes to their rightful owners.”

And so concludes a landmark deed-stealing case. Katz added: “This is the largest deed fraud case we’ve handled since I created the Housing & Worker Protection Bureau to protect homeowners.”

Good to know. The more a community knows, the better we all become at protecting our own deeds and helping others understand this issue. So we strive keep our readers posted on news events in deed fraud and deed protection.

Supporting References

New York State Senate: Bill S6577 (2023).

Press release, Office of the New York State Attorney General Letitia James: Attorney General James Applauds Passage of Legislation to Protect New Yorkers From Deed Theft (Jun. 20, 2023). “Deed Theft” Is a Crime, Says New York Legislature (Jul. 5, 2023).

Deeds.comNew York’s Attorney General Gets Tougher on Deed Thieves (May 17, 2023).

New York Daily News: Queens Real Estate Scam Unraveled by Woman Suspicious of Con Man’s Cheap Suit (Dec. 26, 2023).

Bill Parry for (Schneps Media): Two Con Men Plead Guilty in Deed Fraud Scam to Steal Houses in Queens, Nassau County: DA (Dec. 27, 2023).

Samantha Max with David Brand, for, by WNYC New York Public Radio: Two Plead Guilty to Stealing Nine Homes in Queens and Long Island, Denying Heirs (Dec. 27, 2023).

Janon Fisher for Newsday via Long Island Crime – West Hempstead Man Pleads Guilty in House Deed Scam (updated Dec. 27, 2023).

And as linked.

More on topics: Deed fraudNew York

Photo credits: TheEditor (Wikimedia Commons CC-BY SA 3.0 unported); and Katrin Bolovtsova, via Pexels/Canva.