FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Long Island Man Indicted for Forging Deed in Scheme to Steal Brownstone Worth Over $1 Million from Brooklyn Homeowner
Defendant Allegedly Transferred Ownership and Sold 80-Year-Old
Woman’s Vacant Home without her Knowledge or Consent
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a Long Island man has been arraigned on an indictment in which he is charged with grand larceny and money laundering for allegedly stealing a vacant brownstone worth over $1 million in a deed fraud scheme targeting an 80-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant homeowner.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant allegedly thought he could take advantage of an elderly homeowner’s absence to steal her house and sell it before she or anyone else noticed. Brooklyn’s robust real estate market continues to be an attractive target for theft and fraud. I remain vigilant in my commitment to protecting homeowners and encourage them to protect themselves by registering with the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) so that they are automatically informed of changes made to documents associated with their property.”
The District Attorney identified the defendant as Craig Hecht, 51, of Mount Sinai, New York. A codefendant remains unapprehended. The defendant was arraigned yesterday before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on an indictment in which he is charged with two counts of second-degree grand larceny and two counts of second-degree money laundering. The defendant was ordered held on $150,000 bond or $75,000 cash bail and to return to court on August 14, 2019. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.
The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, Hecht and a codefendant allegedly stole the deed to 260 Clifton Place, a two-story Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone owned by an 80-year-old woman. The victim and her family lived in the residence for over three decades. In 2010, the family vacated the property after a fire made the building uninhabitable.
Hecht allegedly formed an entity called Ernestina Thomas LLC that he filed with the New York State Department of State on April 20, 2015. Ten days later, the codefendant allegedly opened a bank account called Ernestina Thomas LLC (ET). The victim did not know about or consent to any of this.
On September 18, 2015, according to the investigation, Hecht set up a closing where 260 Clifton Place was transferred to an entity called TDA Development. A deed with the victim’s forged signature, which transferred the property from her to TDA, was filed and recorded with the City Register. The bulk of the proceeds of the sale went into an ET account which the codefendant controlled.
Shortly thereafter, Hecht offered 260 Clifton Place to a prospective buyer. It is alleged that on November 5, 2015, the codefendant opened a bank account for TDA and the following day the property was transferred from TDA to the buyer at a closing for $850,000, with most of the proceeds of that sale going into the codefendant’s TDA account. From the funds allegedly stolen out of the two closings, the codefendant wired $190,000 to an account he had in Athens, Greece, withdrew another $120,000 in a series of cash withdrawals and transferred over $250,000 to an account held by Hecht’s wife.
The victim was notified of the alleged theft when a neighbor called to tell her that someone was working on the house and introduced himself as the new property owner. She then notified the District Attorney’s Office.
The case was investigated by Detective Investigators assigned to the KCDA Investigations Bureau. Supervising Financial Investigator Vincent Jones assisted in the investigation, as did Investigative Analyst Megan Carroll, both of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Linda Hristova, of the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau, with assistance from Senior Assistant District Attorney Patrick Cappock, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Chief of the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit and Assistant District Attorney Michel Spanakos, Deputy Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division, and the overall supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt