A Kings Point man was arrested for allegedly defrauding owners of two Harlem brownstone properties by using falsified and forged records, according to a release from the office of state Attorney General Letitia James.
Joseph Makhani, 58 allegedly “stole” the two brownstones in 2012, claiming to have paid just $10 for each, according to state real estate tax filings found in the report. The two brownstones, today, reportedly have an estimated value of $2.29 million and $1.9 million, respectively.
“Homeownership is a critical part of every community, but far too often, individuals like Joseph Makhani conduct elaborate schemes designed to steal New Yorkers’ homes,” James said in a statement. “Deed theft continues to be a crime that permeates our neighborhoods, and preys upon our most vulnerable, leading to a cycle of displacement and grief.”
According to the report, Makhani allegedly used forged deeds and other fraudulent documentation to steal the property, located on West 118th Street, from an “elderly disabled owner.” Makhani also allegedly claimed that he paid $975,000 for the property when he received a $650,000 construction line of credit. He also fraudulently received an additional $1.2 million mortgage loan, claiming he had a valid title to the stolen property, according to the release.
In 2016, the release said, Makhani began to allegedly rent out the newly-renovated apartment to tenants, charging between $3,000-$3,400 in monthly rent fees, resulting in a monthly income of more than $12,000.
Makhani allegedly obtained the other property located on West 131st Street, the release said, through various shell companies, forged deeds and “abusing court processes.” The last valid deed recorded on the property was recorded in 1975 to another elderly owner who died shortly after, according to the release.
Officials said a beneficiary of the deceased owner allegedly maintained the building’s operations until his death in 2010. Afterward, Makhani allegedly approached a tenant of the building, informing him of his alleged purchase of the property, according to the release. The tenant, who was never the owner of the property, found out his signature had been fraudulently used in order to misrepresent him as the property owner, officials said.
The Real Property Transfer report, allegedly filed by Makhani along with the falsified deed he created, listed the sale of the brownstone as $10, according to the report. Makhani was allegedly approached by the tenant regarding the validity of the submitted documents. Makhani forged a deed indicating he “purported heroes” of the deceased owner from 1975 had transferred the property to One 35 West Corporation, Makhani’s alleged company, according to the report.
Falsified records allegedly submitted by Makhani regarding the property transfer also included a fraudulent social security number, which officials later realized last belonged to a woman born in 1902, according to the report. In 2015, Makhani and the One 35 West Corporation were fined for more than $1 million for failure to install a roof, implement an extermination plan for rodents and cockroaches, and installing proper electrical wiring throughout the building, according to the report.
That same year, officials said, Makhani allegedly abandoned the property after a $1 million judgment was issued by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Officials said the property was subsequently transferred to a not-for-profit organization.
On Wednesday, according to the report, Makhani was charged with one count of first-degree criminal possession of stolen property, one count of second-degree criminal possession of stolen property, one count of first-degree residential mortgage fraud, one count of second-degree residential mortgage fraud, two counts of falsifying business records, and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.
Court records indicate that the case is set to resume on Oct. 12. According to the New York Post, Makhani submitted a not guilty plea in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Makhani’s attorney, Leslie Nizin, wrote in a text message to Newsday, “At his arraignment, my client stated in a loud and clear voice for all to hear: ‘NOT GUILTY.’ My client looks forward to his day in court when the facts of the case are heard, and he is vindicated. Until that time, the presumption of innocence rings loud and clear.”
Efforts to reach Nizin for further comment were unavailing.
“New Yorkers should never have to fear that their homes will be targeted by predatory individuals,” James said. “My office will continue to collaborate with our government and community partners to bring these schemers to justice and protect these homes.”