Man charged with hate crime in reverse mortgage scam: Brooklyn DA

Scheme allegedly defrauded 81-year-old retired NYC firefighter out of his home
By Guelda Voien | March 07, 2012 04:00PM

A Long Island man has been charged with a hate crime, among other charges, for masterminding a scheme to defraud an 81-year-old retired New York City firefighter out of his home in Brooklyn, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

Salvatore Lauria and an unidentified accomplice are charged with obtaining a “reverse mortgage” in the name of the unidentified victim, for his home at 41 Skillman Street, in the Clinton Hill neighborhood.

Lauria allegedly set up a bank account in both his and the apparent victim’s name, and deposited $350,000 from the mortgage into it, a statement from the DA’s office released today said. Lauria has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly targeting the complainant due to his advanced age, said his Kew Gardens-based attorney, Kevin O’Donnell, who operates a namesake firm.

A “reverse mortgage” is a financial instrument available only to adults over age 62 that allows a person to take equity out of a home she owns, which is repaid by the estate upon her death.

Lauria was also charged with felonious identity theft, grand larceny, falsifying business records, and mortgage fraud. He was arrested in July of last year, according to the case summary. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

In November 2010, Lauria allegedly brought a straw buyer to the elderly man’s home and set up the reverse mortgage, forging all the documents, and instructed the bank to send the checks from the mortgage to his home. Lauria posed as an employee of a debt assistance group, the DA’s office said. He allegedly collected $350,000, which the DA’s office said he “kept for himself.”

O’Donnell said that although Lauria has pleaded not guilty, he and his client are “engaged in plea negotiations,” to settle the many charges Lauria faces. The 36-year-old also faces federal charges in a separate case, filed last month, of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to a complaint filed in the Southern District of New York. His attorney said they relate to funds solicited for charity that may or may not have been properly obtained. However, he indicated, “we are not close to resolving the case yet.” The next court date in the federal case was not immediately available.

Of the DA’s decision to purse the hate crime charge, O’Donnell said “I’m not so sure [the charge], as used in this particular indictment, is appropriate.” He also said that as crimes like his client’s alleged crimes become more and more prevalent, DAs have been increasingly likely to file hate crime charges.

The Brooklyn DA’s office announced seven different indictments relating to real estate fraud in today’s statement.

Lauria’s next court appearance in the Brooklyn case is scheduled for March 12.