FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Disbarred Lawyer Indicted for Stealing Over $1 Million by Conducting Fraudulent Real Estate Deals
Staten Island Resident Allegedly Made Bogus Sales of Two Brooklyn Homes
He Didn’t Own by Pretending to Be an Attorney and Filing Forged Documents,
Including Deed Falsely Claiming a House Was Sold to Him for $10
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today announced that a disbarred lawyer has been indicted for allegedly stealing over $1 million from an investor, potential home buyers and a title insurance company when conducting various scams in connection with two distressed properties in Brooklyn. In the course of the schemes, which allegedly ran between February 2011 and June 2015, the defendant used numerous forged documents and falsely represented himself as a practicing attorney.
District Attorney Thompson said, “This defendant allegedly concocted elaborate schemes to defraud in which he stole money from acquaintances and strangers, falsely claimed to be an attorney when it suited his schemes and filed numerous forged documents with public agencies. We’ve put an end to these fraudulent acts and will now fully prosecute him for committing such fraud.”
The District Attorney identified the defendant as Domenick Crispino, 52, of 148 Main Street in Staten Island. He was arraigned today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on a 21-count indictment in which he is charged with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, practicing law without a license and related counts. He was ordered held on $500,000 bond or $250,000 cash bail. The defendant faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count. His next court date was scheduled to December 9, 2015.
The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, between February 15, 2011 and June 29, 2015, the defendant allegedly engaged in various schemes to enrich himself from two private homes in Brooklyn that were subject to foreclosure actions: 35 Bay 7th Street in Bath Beach and 1848 West 7th Street in Gravesend.
Crispino was disbarred in 1999 amid allegations of felony larceny, for which he was later convicted. Despite that, he represented himself as an attorney and offered to help the owner of the Bay 7th Street property keep her house after failing to make mortgage payments. The homeowner, who knew the defendant through her late brother, wanted her elderly father to remain in the family home. According to the indictment, in June 2011, Crispino advised Bruce Abdenour, a friend of the homeowner who was assisting with loan payments, to assume ownership of the property and write checks to Meritus Group, a company Crispino owned, so they can be held in escrow while the defendant negotiated the mortgage with the banks, which would later allow Abdenour to sell the house.
Through April 2013, Abdenour issued checks totaling $597,750 to Meritus and Crispino. The defendant allegedly used these funds by writing checks to himself, making cash withdrawals and making debit card purchases, according to the indictment. After the elderly resident of the home passed away, Abdenour asked Crispino for proof that he was holding onto the payments. On February 28, 2014, the defendant emailed Abdenour an allegedly phony escrow agreement with Merrill Lynch, which had a foreclosure action on the house.
In April 2014, Crispino sent a contract of sale to the lawyer of two sisters who were interested in buying the Bay 7th Street property and collected 10% down payment totaling $86,800, the investigation found. In December 2014, Abdenour was informed during the closing that the mortgage would have to be paid from the proceeds of the sale, not from the now-empty escrow account, and the deal was cancelled. Neither he nor the potential buyers got any of the payments back and he subsequently reported Crispino to the District Attorney’s Office. The property was foreclosed on and sold in an auction in January 2015 with a mortgage surplus of about $410,000. In June 29, 2015, the defendant filed a claim on the surplus on behalf of Abdenour’s company without permission or authority to do so, according to the indictment. The defendant did not obtain those funds.
In 2011, according to the indictment, Crispino also initiated business dealings relating to the West 7th Street property, which was the subject of a foreclosure action. On February 15, 2011 he filed a deed, allegedly bearing the owner’s forged signature, with the city’s Department of Finance, purporting that Meritus Group bought the house for $10. In June 2012, he signed a contract of sale on the property, accepting a 10% down payment of $47,500. The defendant allegedly spent all that money and stopped returning calls from the potential buyers’ lawyer.
On February 21, 2014, Crispino filed an allegedly bogus satisfaction of mortgage with the City Register, falsely claiming the mortgage on the property had been paid. A month later, he signed a contract of sale with another buyer for the same West 7th Street home. At the May 2014 closing, he collected checks totaling $97,936 from the buyer’s lawyer, according to the investigation.
There was a lien, as well as Environmental Control Board violations on the property that needed to be paid before the sale could be finalized. The buyer paid $152,850 to Liberty Land Abstract, the title insurance company, which held it in escrow, plus $112,000 to the law firm representing the lien holder. After the lien was cleared and the violations paid, Liberty issued Meritus Group – the purported owner of the property – two checks for a total of $151,540.27, the investigation found.
The District Attorney said that all told, Crispino allegedly stole from Abdenour, from the three potential buyers and from Liberty a total of $981,436.27. He allegedly spent all this money on personal expenses by writing checks to himself, making cash withdrawals and making debit card purchases. He also caused a potential buyer to pay $112,000 to clear the lien, which she wouldn’t have paid had she known about the phony deed, for a total alleged larceny of $1,094,417.27.
The case was investigated by Detective Investigator Jacqueline Klapak, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Bureau, under the supervision of Detective Investigator Michael Seminara and the overall supervision of Chief Investigator Richard Bellucci. Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Chief of the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit, Paralegal Megan Carroll and Financial Investigator Arthur Criscione, assisted in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Michael Spanakos, Chief of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Bureau, under the supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the Investigations Division.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.