BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Local real estate brokers who've hosted a series of panel discussions warning residents of property fraud happening in their neighborhood have themselves become victims to the crime, they say.
Brokers Richard Flateau, founder of Flateau Realty Corp., and Gloria Sandiford say they received a notification from the city last week alerting them that the empty mixed-use building at 1424 Fulton St. they own had a new power of attorney, but the signature on the document authorizing the change wasn't theirs, they said.
The document filed on Nov. 8 lists Elganto Management Inc., an entity with a similar name to their Elganto LLC that owns the building but is unknown to both owners, as the power of attorney over the property, alongside a forged signature of Flateau's, they said. The authorization would allow the entity to act as owners of the property.
Then when they went to the building on Nov. 12, they discovered the locks had been changed.
"It was forged and it all happened very rapidly," Flateau said. "I've done a bunch of seminars and public meetings about property fraud, so it's kind of ironic...it's surreal. It's hard to fathom, but it's very real. I'm a victim of it."
Last year, both Flateau and Sandiford participated in an educational panel raising awareness about the issue as residents complained of rampant occurrences in the area. But now that they've become victims themselves, they said that no one was safe until the city did more to protect owners.
"The system is so broken that people without the wherewithal to follow up and do the necessary follow through are being taken advantage of," said Sandiford, who also serves as president for the Bedford-Stuyvesant Real Estate Board.
"This is an atrocity that is happening. I've heard people telling me that their building was stolen and they just had to walk away because it bankrupted them."
Flateau and Sandiford own the Fulton Street building under Elganto LLC, according to city documents. The brokers had planned to renovate the building to turn it into offices on the ground floor and apartments on the upper levels, when they recently started seeing strange things happening, they said.
"It's been a build up of things because two weeks ago, we noticed the company's label was ripped off the mailbox," Sandiford said, adding that the mailbox lock had also been changed.
According to Department of State records, the fraudsters under the Elganto Management Inc. name had registered the business corporation on Nov. 7, just a day before filing the change in attorney of power at the Fulton Street property.
Then over the weekend, they noticed the padlocks to the building had been changed, a skylight inside had been broken into, and their belongings were rifled through, Sandiford said.
Flateau immediately reached out to the city's Sheriff's office, which deals with property actions, as well as local elected officials and a lawyer for the next steps in getting the power of attorney revoked. They're still waiting to hear back from the Sheriff's office, they said.
"We need to appeal to our city to create a better system, this is the bottom line," Sandiford said. "What happens to someone who isn't connected, that falls through the cracks?"
Sandiford and Flateau recommended that all property owners register with the Automated City Register Information System, or ACRIS, which will alert them to any new documents filed on their properties.