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Police Intervene After 2 Men Try to Tear Up Maple Street Community Garden

 Michael Makhani, left, and his brother Joseph, right, stand inside the Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens on Tuesday.
Michael Makhani, left, and his brother Joseph, right, stand inside the Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — Police ordered a pair of men who began demolishing the Maple Street Community Garden on Tuesday to leave the greenspace after the men failed to provide proof of their claim that they own the property, garden members said.

Police were called to the garden at 237 Maple St. between Rogers and Nostrand avenues before noon Tuesday after brothers Joseph and Michael Makhani, who reportedly have a history of fraudulent real estate dealings in the city, drove a box truck into the middle of the garden and began tearing up the planted beds, according to garden members.

It was the second day in a row that the pair had come to order gardeners to leave the year-old space. The first time, on Monday, they tried to rip down several signs and awards from the garden's chain-link fence and accused those present of trespassing, witnesses said.

“They stomped onto the property and immediately told myself and [another gardener] Sheryll ... to exit the property, that we were trespassing,” said Mireille Lemaine, a Prospect-Lefferts resident and founding member of the garden, which she described as a vacant "dumping ground" for more than a decade before neighbors cleaned it up in June of 2013.

On Tuesday, she said NYPD officers demanded the men show proof of ownership and, when they could not, ordered them to leave. The two removed their truck from the garden shortly before 2 p.m.

An NYPD spokesman declined to comment about the incident.

Property records for 237 Maple St. show the lot was bought in 2011 for $10 by “Housing Urban Development LLC,” a company with an address that is also shared by Joseph Makhani.

However, no building plans or permit applications have been filed with the Department of Buildings for the address.

On Tuesday, neither brother would answer questions from DNAinfo about the Maple Street property. Michael Makhani told a reporter that “there’s going to be a lawsuit filed,” as Joseph Makhani told reporters and garden members alike to “leave the property.”

The Makhani brothers have a history of real estate controversy. In 1999, they were fined and sentenced to three months in prison after pleading guilty to “taking part in a scheme involving foreclosed properties in Queens,” according to the New York Times.

In December 2008, three companies tied to Joseph Makhani pleaded guilty to filing false deeds on properties in Queens, according to the Times.

Cameron Page, a physician who lives down the street from the Maple Street garden and is a member, said Tuesday's reprieve may be short lived.

“We won for today,” Page said, but added. "I think they’ve just learned that the way to win is to just have zero tolerance for anything and be really aggressive.

"If they could just tear all this stuff down and demoralize us and make us feel like, well, the garden’s gone now … then we have nothing left to fight for, right?”