QUEENS — Some of the most vulnerable homeowners — including a hospitalized veteran waiting for an organ transplant and a single mother of five — had their homes stolen out from under them as part of a citywide deed fraud scheme, according the Queens District Attorney's office.
The scam, which involved nearly a dozen people and two large real estate corporations including the Bellerose-based real estate development company, Kings Development Group, and Yisroel Services Corp. of Brooklyn, preyed on the elderly and others who had trouble paying their mortgages, the DA said.
The scammers offered to help, then convinced victims to sign over their deeds, charged them rent to stay in their own homes, and ultimately evicted them if they couldn't pay, the DA said. The scammers also bilked the city out of thousands of dollars by renting out the vacant homes as homeless shelters through the Department of Homeless Services, prosecutors said.
“Instead of tossing the victims a lifeline, half of whom were elderly individuals, the defendants are accused of creating a financial nightmare for the homeowners and placing them in worse financial situations than when first contacted by the defendants," DA Richard Brown said.
The alleged fraudsters stole homes in Jamaica, Far Rockaway St. Albans and Corona in Queens; Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick in Brooklyn; and Foxhurst and Wakefield in the Bronx, according to the DA.
Officials began investigating in 2014 after homeowners complained to the DA about a Bellerose-based real estate development company, Kings Development Group, which had been calling homeowners promising to help them with any financial issues.
Investigators found that the company coerced residents into signing deed transfer documents, but the former owners were still saddled with mortgage payments, the DA said.
The real estate company also contacted the city's Department of Social Services in order to collect subsidies from the city on behalf of the tenants, according to the DA.
One victim — who was awaiting an organ transplant after being hospitalized for more than a year — was visited at the Veterans Administration hospital in October 2013 by employees of Kings Development Group, who encouraged him to sign several documents to help pay for his mortgage.
One of the documents was allegedly a deed transfer, which signed over the house to a corporation associated with the group, officials said.
Another victim, a single mother of five, was promised mortgage help, a credit fix and assistance to buy a new house by Kings Development Group — but instead, the company stole her home and then evicted her, the DA said. The family then spent several months in a homeless shelter.
Police arrested nine people in connection with the massive fraud: Netanel "Nathan" Barnes, Michael Herskowitz, Sanford Solny and Yisroel Steinberg of Brooklyn; Nadia Khedu (aka Nadia Sankar) and Assaf Moshe (aka Joe Levi) of Queens; Jasmine Y. Fernandez-Cabrera of Manhattan and the Bronx; Yariv Katz of New Rochelle; and Nisaan Pinchasov of Cedahurst, Long Island.
Domingo Fernandez, of Manhattan, and Shandelle Solny, of Brooklyn, were still at large, the DA said.
Lawyer information for the defendants was not immediately available.
The defendants were arraigned late Wednesday in Queens Criminal Court and face charges ranging from falsifying business records to grand larceny and scheme to defraud.
They face up to 25 years in prison and fines if convicted.