Former Citi Habitats agent charged with conning renter out of $100K

New York /
Oct.October 10, 2008 09:11 AM

A fledgling former Citi Habitats sales agent, Leif Lopez, was busted for allegedly scamming an apartment hunter out of $100,000 in a phony transaction negotiated at Starbucks.

Lopez, who was arrested Monday on charges of second-degree grand larceny and is being held in lieu of $7,500 bail, stole $100,000 in cash from a client this summer, according to the criminal complaint. The client believed she was renting two apartments at Rockrose’s Midwest Court at 410 West 53rd Street for a two-year period, but Lopez absconded with the money, the complaint said.

It was not immediately clear whether Lopez was working for Citi Habitats when he committed the alleged crime, but he is currently licensed as a real estate salesperson at Citi Habitats’ 465 Columbus Avenue office, according to the Department of State, which grants and oversees real estate licenses. The managing director of that Citi Habitats branch office, Eric Hamm,
said Lopez hasn’t worked for the company in several months.

While at Citi Habitats, Lopez did very little business, Hamm said. “He
just wasn’t producing,” Hamm said. “We just sort of parted ways.”

Citi Habitats spokesman Christopher Dente said that Lopez was terminated in March, but the state was behind in its paperwork.

Patxy Peguero, a daytime doorman at 410 West 53rd Street, said the victim discovered the loss months later when she attempted to move in.

“She came here to move in with this funny lease,” Peguero said. “She was asking me for the key to move in, and I said, ‘are you kidding me? How could you give somebody that much money in cash?'”

The victim said she’d signed a lease and given Lopez the cash during three meetings at a nearby Starbucks, the doorman said. But Lopez never filled out paperwork at the on-site leasing office for the building.

Lopez and the victim had come into the building several times to look at apartments, but “didn’t do any business here,” Peguero said.

Peguero called the police when he heard of the woman’s plight. The $100,000 — the woman’s life savings — has not been recovered, the New York Post reported today.

Lopez will plead not-guilty in court today, according to his attorney, Daniel Lynch.

Lopez had a short stint at Living Real Estate Group, based at 225 West 35th Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues. According to Jodi Beaubien, director of commercial leasing and sales at the firm, Lopez trained at the company in late spring, but then fell off the radar.

“He just trained with us, and we never saw him again,” she said.

Lopez will next appear in court October 10. The Department of State said there were no complaints filed against him.

Lopez started in real estate about five years ago as a rental agent for Boaz Gilad, the founder of Brooklyn-based ORE International, a real estate portfolio management and development company.

Gilad, who is the author of McGraw Hill’s “Real Estate Millionaire: How to Invest in Rental Markets and Make a Fortune,” said Lopez worked for him for about four months, and he remembers him as a “nice guy,” but an average salesperson. “He wasn’t brilliant at it,” he said.

Lopez moved to Miami after they worked together and they haven’t spoken in over a year, Gilad said, adding that he’d thought Lopez was no longer in real estate.

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