BROOKLYN — A suspected mortgage scammer is being charged with a hate crime for allegedly swindling an elderly Bedford-Stuyvesant man seeking to relieve his debt.
Ernest Leaker, an 81-year-old Army vet and former city firefighter, claimed 36-year-old Sal Lauria promised to unburden him of his debt and then stole $350,000 worth of reverse-mortgage proceeds in January 2011.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office charged Lauria with a hate crime, as well as second-degree grand larceny, which could land him in prison for up to 25 years.
The hate crime charge stems from targeting senior citizens, who represent a vulnerable population that has exclusive access to reverse mortgages, said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Reverse mortgages are special home loans available to people age 62 and older.
“My baby boy and his brother and sister are the ones entitled to get my money — not Sal Lauria,” Leaker said Wednesday at a press conference at the Brooklyn DA’s Office.
Leaker said Lauria visited him at his home on Skillman Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant and offered him a low-interest “streamlined mortgage.” Lauria then had Leaker provide his driver’s license and Social Security card to prove his ownership of the house.
Lauria allegedly took the ID cards and worked with an accomplice who posed as Leaker to open a bank account in Leaker’s name. After obtaining the $350,000 loan, Lauria spent all the money, including $75,000 at a casino in Atlantic City, Hynes said.
“I am angry, but you have to grin and bear it,” Leaker said. “These people are carrying a staff for me now, so I can die in peace,” he said about the DA’s work on the case.
“My father’s not one to be taken advantage of,” added Leaker’s son, Reginald Leaker, 52. “I know there are other seniors out there who are vulnerable to this.”
Hynes also announced the arrest of 11 other people in major real estate and mortgage-fraud scams by his office’s Mortgage Fraud and Real Estate Crimes Unit.
He said such scams are prevalent because they are “so easy” to do, adding that if the victims had obtained lawyers in their property proceedings they would have been protected.
“These frauds could be prevented by simply providing an attorney to advise you,” Hynes said.