PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — Gardeners at a local green space are asking for donations from the community to help fund a series of legal battles against a pair of developers laying claim to the property.
Gardeners at the Maple Street Community Garden at 237 Maple St. in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens are fighting to prove that brothers Joseph and Michael Makhani illegally obtained the property and, therefore, have no right to it.
The same brothers pleaded guilty to bid-rigging foreclosure sales in 1999 and were convicted in 2008 for filing false deeds, both in Queens, according to The New York Times.
Now they're under fire again.
Property records show the Makhanis took ownership of the Maple Street property through an LLC for $5,000 on a deed from 2003 signed by “Alan Kirton” and “Alexander Kirton,” described in the document as sons of the previous owners of the lot, Oscar and Germaine Kirton, who bought it in 1968.
However, the gardeners believe neither of those people were aware of the property transfer, because one does not exist and the other has never been located, according to an appeal of the injunction filed Tuesday by the gardeners’ attorney, Paula Segal.
“Alexander Kirton is not a natural person but is an artificially created strawman used by the Makhanis to create the illusion that the property was sold to them by heirs of the prior owners,” the document reads, further claiming that Alan Kirton may be the son of the Kirtons, but never knew of the 2003 deed transfer.
However, to prove their claims in court, the gardeners must find the rightful heir to the Maple Street property, something they hope to do with the help of a private investigator, hired with $5,000 they’re raising in an online fundraiser started on Monday.
When hired, the investigator would help “to either locate an heir or to establish that there was none, to the extent that it’s possible to prove a negative,” said Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident and garden member Tom LaFarge, who has been following the legal battle closely.
“In this case, no representative of the estate has ever come forward to challenge it,” he said. “The whole thing is a little bit uncertain.”
The garden group had raised more than $1,100 as of Thursday.
As the court cases move forward, the Makhanis have filed a permit to build a five story, 17-unit building on the community garden lot. Those plans were filed in late December 2014, records show, but were rejected by the Department of Buildings on June 23.
Currently, neither the gardeners nor the Makhani brothers are allowed into the lot, blocked respectively by an injunction and a temporary restraining order put in by separate judges place pending lawsuits, gardeners and their attorney said.
The group is fighting those orders in an appeal that they expect will be heard later this summer, they said.
The fight between the Makhanis and the gardeners began in earnest fall of last year when the brothers attempted to rip up the garden before police ordered them to stop because they did not have proof that they owned the property.
The Makhanis' attorney, Michael Leon, did not return phone calls or emails about the ongoing litigation at 237 Maple St.