Aiming to deter a type of crime he says is becoming “epidemic,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes today announced the indictment of 12 people in alleged mortgage and real estate scams.
The cases are the result of investigations by the DA’s new Mortgage Fraud and Real Estate Crimes unit, created in February 2009 by an $875,000 grant by Sen. Charles Schumer. The unit is part of the DA’s Rackets Division.
At a press conference announcing the indictments this morning, Hynes said the arrests “should send a strong warning to all those who think they can come up with some new scam. It ain’t gonna happen anymore. We are fully staffed and ready to go.”
Hynes described real estate crime as “an epidemic” that “demanded an innovative response,” which prompted the funding of the new unit.
The arrests show that “we will not tolerate this type of crime,” said New York State Senator Carl Kruger, who also attended the press conference.
The 12 people indicted include several attorneys and repeat offenders . Some of those indicted face up to 15 years of prison time, including Victor Koltun and Jarrett Haber, who were charged with second-degree grand larceny, residential mortgage fraud and possession of a forged instrument after they allegedly used several Brooklyn homes they did not own to secure a fraudulent $225,000 mortgage.
Two others, Joseph Nykian and Nitza Jones, are the first the new Mortgage Fraud unit has indicted on charges of residential mortgage fraud, a type of crime which was added to New York’s penal law in November 2008. Nykian and Jones allegedly forged power of attorney documents to take out a $300,000 mortgage on a Brooklyn home at 1234 St. Marks Avenue without the owner’s consent. The mortgage was from Lend America, a now-defunct home mortgage company which reportedly closed its doors in December after the Federal Housing Administration withdrew its approval for Lend America to make government-guaranteed loans.
Another person, Deric Nelson of Wyandanch, New York, was charged with attempted first-degree grand larceny, offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records after he allegedly filed a bogus deed in the Brooklyn register’s office which made it appear as though he owned a building he had previously sold.
In 2004, Nelson had sold a dilapidated property at 467-469 Vanderbilt Avenue to a developer who revamped it with the intention of turning it into residential condominiums. Nelson then filed false paperwork making him appear to be the owner and demanded rent from tenants, rented vacant units and changed locks at the building.
Alan Rocoff, a Brooklyn attorney, was charged with second-degree grand larceny. Prosecutors say he was the court-appointed referee for the sale of a foreclosed church at 2525 Snyder Avenue. Rocoff auctioned the church in 2005 for more than $300,000, which generated a profit of some $200,000 after all the debt had been paid. But instead of returning the remaining funds over to the court for the previous owners to claim, Rocoff deposited the funds in his own account, according to the indictment. Rocoff has since been suspended from practicing law.
The fact that Racoff was a court-appointed attorney “adds injury to the insult,” said Robert Booker, Jr., son of the church’s former owner, Robert Booker, Sr. , who recently passed away.
The younger Booker, who attended the press conference with his sisters, said the family didn’t realize the funds had been stolen for some time. Finally, when requests for the money from the attorney led to nothing but “excuses,” he said they suspected wrongdoing.
Hynes said the founding of the new until will be a strong deterrent against real estate-related crimes, but as the Rocoff case demonstrates, individuals should still use caution when hiring lawyers and other professionals.
“You’ve got to pay attention to the lawyers that you hire,” he said, adding: “Otherwise, you do it at your own peril.”