FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, April 21, 2017
Disbarred Lawyer Sentenced to up to 22 Years in Prison for
Stealing Over $1 Million through Fraudulent Real Estate Deals
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
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a disbarred lawyer from Staten Island was sentenced to 11 to 22 years in prison following a trial conviction for running long-term frauds in connection with two distressed properties in Brooklyn. The defendant, who graduated from Georgetown Law in 1987 and was convicted of felony larceny in 2001, stole over $1 million in the present case from a number of different victims, sometimes pretending to be a legitimate attorney when it suited his schemes.
Acting District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant can only be described as a financial predator, stealing as much money as he could from as many victims as he could find. Using his knowledge of the law, he repeatedly exploited the victims to enrich himself. I will not allow con artists to profit from Brooklyn’s rising home values, and my Office will continue to target shameful frauds like these.”
The Acting District Attorney identified the defendant as Domenick Crispino, 53, of Tottenville, Staten Island. He was sentenced today by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Alexander Jeong to an indeterminate term of 11 to 22 years in prison. The defendant was convicted on March 31, 2017, of numerous counts of second-degree grand larceny, third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first degree falsifying business records, after a jury trial. Based on convictions in 2001 from three separate felony larceny indictments in Manhattan – conduct that caused him to be imprisoned for approximately six years and disbarred from the practice of law – he was adjudicated a predicate felon.
The Acting District Attorney said that, according to trial testimony, between February 15, 2011, and June 29, 2015, the defendant executed long-term frauds designed for personal profit, using 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.
The defendant represented himself as an attorney and offered to help the elderly owner of the Bay 7th Street property keep the house despite missed mortgage payments. The homeowner, who was a frail 95-year-old and knew the defendant through a late son, was desperate to remain in the house he had lived in for many decades. According to the trial evidence, in June 2011, Crispino persuaded Bruce Abdenour, a close friend of the homeowner who had been helping with some of the loan payments, to assume ownership of the property and write checks to Meritus Group, a corporation that Crispino created. The defendant claimed that this corporation would hold the funds in escrow while the defendant negotiated the mortgage with the banks and secured a favorable discount on Abdenour’s behalf.
Through April 2013, Abdenour issued checks totaling $597,750 to Meritus and Crispino. The defendant stole every penny, writing checks to himself, making ATM and teller cash withdrawals, and making debit card purchases. After the homeowner died, Abdenour asked Crispino for proof that the payments were being properly held as promised. On February 28, 2014, the defendant emailed Abdenour a forged escrow agreement with Merrill Lynch, which had begun foreclosure proceedings.
In April 2014, Crispino sent a contract of sale to the lawyer for two sisters who were interested in buying the Bay 7th Street property. Crispino promptly stole a down payment from the sisters totaling $86,800. 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 sale was cancelled. Both Abdenour and the lawyer for the sisters 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 $400,000. In June 2015, the defendant filed a claim on that surplus, purportedly on behalf of Abdenour’s company – he had no authority to do so and did not obtain those funds.
Also in 2011, Crispino initiated a long-term fraud related to the West 7th Street property, which was the subject of a separate foreclosure proceeding. On February 15, 2011, he filed a forged deed with the city’s Department of Finance. According to this fictitious deed, the owner transferred a house – worth about $385,000 – to Crispino’s Meritus Group for just $10. In June 2012, the defendant stole a down payment of $47,500 from a husband and wife who wanted to buy the house. The couple tried repeatedly to get their money back from the supposed owner of the house, but were unable to do so.
On February 21, 2014, Crispino filed a fictitious satisfaction of mortgage for the West 7th property with the City Register, falsely claiming that the mortgage on the property had been paid. A few months later, in May 2014, he “sold” the same house, which he had never owned, to a different husband and wife, stealing $252,461.27
The Acting District Attorney said that, all told, the jury convicted Crispino of stealing a total of $981,436.27 from Abdenour and from the three potential buyers, the entirety of which he then spent on personal expenses. He also fraudulently induced a potential buyer to pay $112,000 to clear a lien on 1848 West 7th Street – a sum she would not have paid had she known of the true status of the property – for a total larceny of more than $1 million.
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 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 was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Michael Spanakos, Chief of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Bureau, and Senior Assistant District Attorney Adam Libove, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division.