A Long Island man is heading to prison after stealing a vacant brownstone worth more than a million dollars from an elderly former school teacher, authorities announced.
Mount Sinai resident Craig Hecht, 52, was sentenced this week to a term of one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years in prison for a deed fraud scheme targeting an 80-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant homeowner.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said that Hecht, 52, and a cohort who remains on the loose, 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 brownstone for more than three decades, Gonzalez noted. In 2010, the family vacated the property after a fire made the building uninhabitable.
Gonzalez said 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, his co-conspirator opened a bank account called Ernestina Thomas LLC (ET).
The victim did not know about or consent to any of this, Gonzalez noted.
On Sept. 18, 2015, Hecht set up a closing where the Clifton Place residence 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-conspirator controlled.
According to Gonzalez, shortly thereafter, Hecht offered the Clifton Place home to a prospective buyer.
On Nov. 5, 2015, the co-conspirator opened a bank account for TDA and the following day the property was transferred from TDA to the buyer at closing for $850,000, with most of the proceeds of that sale going into the co-conspirator's account.
From the funds stolen out of the two closings, Hecht’s cohort 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.
Hecht pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and second-degree money laundering in December last year.
The forged deed was also nullified and Hecht was ordered to pay $850,000 in restitution to the title insurance company for losses incurred by reimbursing the home buyer.
“This defendant targeted an elderly homeowner, forging her signature and capitalizing on her absence in an underhanded effort to steal her home,” Gonzalez said. “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.”
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