FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Defendant Sentenced to up to 15 Years in Prison for Stealing $500,000
Bedford-Stuyvesant Brownstone by Forging Judge’s Signature
Filed Fraudulent Judicial Order to Claim Ownership of House before Completing Sale
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a 54-year-old man was sentenced to 7 ½ to 15 years in state prison for stealing a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn by forging a judge’s signature on a judicial order and using it to claim possession of the building, which he then sold. The defendant, who had filed numerous court motions for over a decade, falsely asserting ownership despite orders barring him from doing so, took in nearly $250,000 from the unlawful sale.
Acting District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This significant prison sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who tries to take advantage of Brooklyn’s booming real estate market by conducting criminal schemes, like the brazen forgeries and theft in this case. Our Real Estate Fraud Unit is here to protect homeowners from scammers and I am committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting these crimes.”
The Acting District Attorney identified the defendant as Joseph McCray, 54, of Niagara Falls, New York. He was sentenced today by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun to an indeterminate term of 7 ½ to 15 years in prison following his conviction on September 29, 2016 on two counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count each of offering a false instrument for filing, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree falsifying business records after a jury trial. The judge also issued orders to remove the defendant’s bogus filings from the city’s Property Records repository.
The Acting District Attorney said that, according trial testimony, on January 6, 2015, the defendant filed with the City Register a fraudulent court order purportedly signed by Brooklyn Civil Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis, which effectively granted him ownership of 119 McDonough Street. Four months later, using the forged order, the defendant entered into a contract to sell the building for $500,000. At the closing on May 21, 2015, he received two checks for $249,713 (the rest of the funds were used to pay for outstanding liens on the property), which he cashed the next day at a check cashing place.
The evidence showed that 119 McDonough Street, a four-family building in the historic district of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was purchased by a woman in March 2000 from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. McCray was a holdover tenant, but never paid rent. He was evicted in September 2002, but continued to reside in the building.
Starting in 2001, the defendant commenced a series of legal actions in Civil Court, asserting ownership of the building. In 2003 and 2004 he also presented himself as the landlord and illegally collected rent – criminal actions that led to a conviction in 2006. On June 4, 2004, according to the evidence, he filed a fraudulent deed with the City Register, transferring ownership of 119 McDonough Street to his name.
In August 2007, HSBC Bank commenced an action to foreclose the mortgage on the property, naming McCray, along with the rightful owner and her daughter (who was added to the deed in 2006) as defendants. During the pendency of the foreclosure action, McCray filed numerous letters, motions and Orders to Show Cause, asserting his ownership of the building. Two different judges had barred him from filing any additional motions or to claim any interest in the property, but he continued to do so. On April 20, 2015 the Administrative Judge of Civil Matters directed the County Clerk to reject further applications from the defendant relating to the building without prior permission.
The forged court order McCray had filed in January 2015 nullified the 2006 deed of the rightful owner and her daughter and ended the foreclosure action, purportedly giving the defendant sole ownership of the building. He then completed the contract of sale with a lawyer. On July 27, 2015, the defendant returned to that lawyer’s office to pick up an additional $16,000 check from the seller’s escrow account and was arrested by officers of the Sheriff’s Department, according to testimony.
The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Frank Dudis and Assistant District Attorney Cooper Gorrie of the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit, under the supervision of Richard Farrell, Unit Chief, and Felice Sontupe, Chief of the Frauds Bureau, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the Investigations Division and Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief.