FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Long Island Man Sentenced to One-and-a-Half to Four-and-a-Half Years in Prison for Forging Deed in Scheme to Steal Brownstone Worth Over
$1 Million from Elderly Brooklyn Homeowner
Defendant Pleaded Guilty to Grand Larceny and Money Laundering;
Ordered to Pay Restitution of $850,000
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a Long Island man has been sentenced to one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years in prison for stealing a vacant brownstone worth over $1 million in a deed fraud scheme targeting an 80-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant homeowner. The defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and second-degree money laundering in December 2019.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant targeted an elderly homeowner, forging her signature and capitalizing on her absence in an underhanded effort to steal her home. I remain committed to protecting Brooklyn homeowners and I hope today’s sentence sends a clear message to those trying to take advantage of seniors or those considering selling their homes —you will be prosecuted and held fully accountable for your crimes.”
The District Attorney identified the defendant as Craig Hecht, 52, of Mount Sinai, New York. He was sentenced today to one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years in prison by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who nullified the deed the defendant forged and issued a judgment order of restitution for $850,000 to the title insurance company for losses it incurred reimbursing the home buyer. The defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and second-degree money laundering on December 4, 2019.
The District Attorney said that, according to the evidence, Hecht and an unapprehended co-defendant stole the deed to 260 Clifton Place, a two-story Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone owned by an 80-year-old retired teacher. 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 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 co-defendant 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 evidence, 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 co-defendant controlled.
Shortly thereafter, Hecht offered 260 Clifton Place to a prospective buyer. On November 5, 2015, the co-defendant 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 co-defendant’s TDA account. From the funds stolen out of the two closings, the co-defendant 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 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, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division, assisted in the investigation.
The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Linda Hristova, with assistance from Senior Assistant District Attorney Elliott Wertheim and Senior Assistant District Attorney Patrick Cappock, of the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau, 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.