Sponsored by Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant
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MODERATOR: What forms of property or deed for do you see taking place in your office? Who would like to start that off?
Richard Flateau: I’ve been in real estate for about 20 years. Our office is at 368A Decatur Street near Malcolm X. I would say there are two or three forms of schemes that I’ve noticed. One would be just outright forgeries where somebody just forged somebody’s name. Sometimes it can be within a family, other times it can be a predator, so can be either one. Second one I would say would be misrepresentations or fraud, so that’s where someone doesn’t really understand what they’re signing and a lot of mn, times they don’t have an attorney, which I’m going to talk about maybe for the second round, but that’s a major problem. People feel that this ain’t their money, they don’t have an attorney, or they have an attorney that’s really the attorney for the predator. And then the last thing I will say will be defective filing, so people might file something where there’s no signature. There’s just a lot of laxity within the city register’s office, so there are a lotta things that can take place that really shouldn’t take place.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Carolyn Nagy: Hi yes, so at The Center for New York City Neighborhoods we work with we connect homeowners to free, high quality housing and [inaudible] legal services. And what we’ve seen a lot of is scams in the context of foreclosure or people who are in financial distress and often times you know this can involve seniors or a household where there’s many different generations living in a house. And in the context of foreclosure we have people who are very you know who are very worried they’re going to lose their house and they’re looking for help. they’re ashamed maybe to talk to their neighbors or church about you know where to go to get the right help and people target them because you know there’re foreclosures are publicly processed in New York so their lists are they can actually find their address. And then sell them a bunch of false promises telling them we can help you, sign this, this is a loan modification, congratulations, just sign here, you got it, or something like se- transfer your house over to me and then I’m going to sell it back to you when you know you can repair your credit, which is nonsense. And anyways a lot of different ways of tricking a homeowner who’s at risk for foreclosure into singing over their deed whether they know they’re doing it or not. So that’s why it’s you know what it’s really important to us here that everyone leaves at the end of the – leaves here today knowing is that you can get good help, you don’t need to – you should not talk to these people you know free – the best help is free help.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Andrew Gounardes: I just want to add one more piece to that and what we’ve seen in our office, the Borough President’s office, Richard has identified the key types of scams that are going on and the ways that people are being taken advantage of, we’re also seeing though is the promise of cash, especially targeting people whose houses are under water and they’re facing foreclosure, someone will say, here’s 10,000 dollars. This is what we’re going to make and I’ll give you the rest of the money after we finalize the paperwork. For someone who is you know maybe their home is underwater or their having a tough time making ends meet or their behind on their water bills, their tax bills, or their mortgage payments, that promise of actual cash in hand, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 dollars to them is really enticing when you feel like you have no other options. And know they’re taking that deal, they’re signing things they don’t understand, and then they end up finding themselves to be in a much worse position. They lose their home and they don’t get the full profit they’re promised by these scam artists. So it’s that offer of cash that we’re seeing a lot of in our office. You have to be really careful of.
MODERATOR: Thank you, I’m being asked to have panelists please speak into the mic, speak louder and slower because they’re not getting it in the back, thank you.
Annette Robinson: Good morning everyone, can you hear me in the back?
Annette Robinson: Thank you to the distinguished panel, and to all of you who have come out this morning, I just want to congratulate the Brownstoners for the diligent work that they continue to do to save our community. I want you to know that for almost a decade now that we have provided resources such as the Bridge Street Development Corporation,of IMPACCT, which was called Pratt Area Community Council, also NHS, Neighborhood Housing Services, and also the the Bedford Stuyvesant Legal Services. We have over the past years continued to provide the kind of counseling services that Mr. Grannum described. however in doing that many other people in the community continue not to avail themselves of the services, so as a result of that, we find ourselves coming up short and find ourselves in this condition this morning that we are all here because people will come to me whether it’s in church or in the community and say, I want to talk to you, I’m having a problem with my house. But unfortunately then they don’t follow up. And so we have in our community now that people are stalking our elderly. They’re stalking our elderly to the extent that they will come in your yard and press to come into your house. That’s what’s going on as well and those kinds of questions and concerns come to my, to my office as well. So therefore, we need to be aware of all of these situations because we are being preyed upon in this community. We must pay attention. sometimes our sons and daughters are not paying attention to what’s happening to their parents and as a result of that they are being preyed upon and end up in certain situations because they become so fearful of what is going on with them. So I pray that today that this is an awakening for all of us, an awakening for all of us. We have to pay attention to what’s going on, the Brownstoners have pulled us together in this very, very important panel with people that can bring about results. And I look forward to talking about the issues and hearing what other people are doing in various jurisdictions to make a difference. This is serious business. All of us are walking around; they’re talking about the homeless. We’re going to be some of that if we don’t pay attention to what’s going on.
MODERATOR: Thank you, thank you. Is there anyone else on the panel who would like to speak to that question?
DET. RUSSO: Good morning, my name is Detective Russo, and I oversee the deed fraud unit at the New York City Sheriff’s Office. Every complaint and city registry referral comes through me. I review it and basically we conduct our criminal investigations and go after the predators that prey on these people and yourselves who are the vulnerable and in financial distress. Some of the scams that are very common and unfortunately we have a very limited amount of time up here, so I can’t really delve into each particular scam, but if certain words are presented to you: foreclosure rescue, loan modification, we can help you with that, short sales, cash for keys, these are all red flags. You must pay very close attention to these words. Foreclosure rescues, you know, we all have trials and tribulations and we ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus does not arrive in a white Mercedes with a paper bag and 20,000 dollars. Ok? We have to be aware that this is a scam and has nothing to do with intelligence, nothing. It has to do with the sophistication of the predators. They know how to word things. They know how to present it and they know how to execute it. We just have to be aware of what they’re bringing to the table. Foreclosure rescues are not existent at least from what I’ve seen through these individuals who knock on your door. Loan modifications and short sales, they come to you, we can help you, sign some paperwork authorizing me to contact the bank, that modification is denied, the short sale is never even presented to the bank. What did you sign? You signed your deed over and it’s very, very difficult for me to bring it to the district attorney’s office with an authentic signature because it is our responsibility to read and have an attorney review the docents that we sign. I wish I could get more into it and better educate everybody, but these are the things I need you to be aware of because these are the items that come across my desk. once you sign the deed, you may find that you get some notices, 10 day notices. Very, very important they may be fraudulent, eviction notices, fraudulent. They, they come and show you a deed and say, you have to get out. We’ll give you 5,000 relocation fee, you know these are all things that you must be very aware of. If they come and change your locks, they’ve done this. They go to peoples’ homes and change their locks. And then they call the police and they produce the deed as executed by you and the police are not there to discuss who’s the rightful owner. The police don’t know about deeds. They’ll tell you it’s a civil matter, you’ll have to go to court and they’ll evict you or at least remove you from the premises because the rightful owner is there.
DET. RUSSO: If they change the locks, you must call us, especially if you had nothing to do with the transfer and are not aware that you transferred the deed.
DET. RUSSO: I don’t want to take too much time here. – evictions, judgments look 100 percent authentic. You would never know unless you have the eye and know what you’re looking for, you’d never know that it’s not authentic. In fact they’re forging judges’ signatures. Supreme Court orders are being forged. All these items need to be questioned. If you are not in communication with any legitimate parties to transfer your deed or you had no idea that you transferred your deed, anybody that comes to your house suggesting that they own the property is obviously not a person you sold it to because you’d know if you sold a house. We all know if we sold a house. Cash for key, this, this is a good scam. I call it a good scam because they make it very believable. So they’ll show up at your door in that pretty white Mercedes with 10 or 20,000 dollars in cash in a paper bag and they’ll tell you, I’ll produce a great deal for you. You’re, you’re having hard times. Take this cash, relocate. We’ll fix the house. I’ll list it, I’ll sell it and then we’ll split the profit. Bottom line is this, very, very difficult to prove in court that it was a fraudulent deal because you signed it. You clearly knew that they were going to sell it. You clearly knew they were going to fix it. It was a deal that went wrong and it’s a very, very difficult task for myself as well as the district attorney’s office who is there to help us and they know that this was criminal, but we have to prove, prove it in court, very, very difficult. Then it comes up the problem becomes your problem in civil court. You have to get an attorney. You have to sue them in civil court. That’s very, very costly and what other people, what kind of people are they preying on, the people who are in financial distress, the people they know that they cannot sue them in court. They know this. They know exactly what your background is. They know your relatives, who owns the house, who’s owned it, how much you owe, and that’s who they target. So it’s very important that you read the docents that you, that they’re giving to you. Never ever sign anything on the spot ever. Have an attorney, very important, have your own attorney. So I will stop here for this round and maybe go onto next round.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
RICHARD: I just, I wanted to add something I think that Ms. Russo, the detective, really outlined a lot of the scams, but I wanted to elaborate a little bit on the profile of the victim, so you know frequent, some of this has already been said, but frequently they’re going to be senior citizens, usually somebody financially distressed, but not always. Sometimes the predator may be looking for a house that has deferred maintenance, or a house where people haven’t shoveled, or a house where looks like it’s been empty for a while, maybe people moved away. they also look for people in the family who may be either on drugs or alcoholics. So they look for a weak link within the family. so those are just some of the things I wanted to add in terms of what the profile would be for victims.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Richard. Glad you brought that up. is there anyone else, is there anyone else who would like to speak to that question? Ok, so we will move on to another question that we have here. what resources are available because we see what all the problems are, so what are we doing about it? We know we’re doing a lot of things, but what specifically, what resources are available in our community for seniors and people facing these problems?
Carolyn Nagy: So I’ll answer to that one. as I said before thanks to the New York Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program everyone every homeowner in New York who’s looking for help for their mortgage can get free housing counseling or legal services through this program. And I’m holding up this flyer here and there’s actually if you all can go over to Bridge Street, which is right over there, they’ve got a bunch more and take them and share them with your neighbors, your friends, people at church. This has all the information you need. You have a phone nber 1-855-HOME-456 and also a website AgingHomeHelp.com where anyone can go and find the help that they need and you can know that if you use this resource, you’re going to be connected to trusted help. And so please yeah, takes some and share them and pass it on because that’s really the best way to get connected to the help you need even if you’re thinking about working with someone else or signing something, before you do that you know it’s free, it doesn’t hurt. Go talk to these people and get their opinion first because you can trust them.
Jacqueline Griffin: Hi, good morning, my name is Jacqueline Griffin and I’m an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services. this is [inaudible]. Our office is right here in Restoration Plaza. we are one of the partners that Caroline was talking about. We work with the Aegean with CNYCN to provide free legal services to people who are victims of these types of scams. So we have filed affirmative actions in this [unintelligible] in this part of the state of New York, bringing fraud claims and claims under the home, the HOME or Equity Theft Prevention Act. we have represented those victims who have come to us with real eviction notices, who are actively being ousted from their homes by the, the scammer, the deed theft, the deed thieves that have stolen the houses. we are representing those, those homeowners in landlord/tenant court as well. so right, so our services are free and we are actively pursuing you know any meritorious cases that come through our doors so we are you know we’re available, we’re out in our community to , to p- to pursue these cases.
Annette Robinson: Just to echo what has just been said, the money that supports these programs came from the banks that have been bad acts. The banks that have been bad actors that have been victimizing people within our communities, this is where the money comes from. We said we have to, they have to pay. So how do they pay? They have to fund services so the attorney general and the governor’s office have funded these programs so that they can protect you. Now when she says that they represent, they go to court on your behalf. They go to court on your behalf, folks. You have to understand this. They go to court on your behalf because you have to be represented because perhaps you don’t have the resources to get an attorney, that’s why we have these programs and services in place. Bridge Street Development Corporation, Impact, Neighborhood Housing Services and Bedford-Stuyvesant Legal Services, they’re right here in this building. The money has come in. Some people come in, some people don’t. I can’t encourage you enough to use these services. They have expanded their reach. Because of a consolidation, they have expanded their reach with more attorneys to be able to assist you. So please community, please take advantage of the resources that are before you right now. We don’t know – we have an election coming up and let’s be real. We have an election coming up. We don’t know what’s going to be available the next time around. There’s money that’s there right now. We’re trying to engage that money. People have not moved forward to go and engage in the process to do the modifications. And I know there have been some challenges with that, but these organizations help to cut through the red tape to be able to assist you to get what you need to be whole.
Andrew: In the borough president’s office back in October, we partnered with the attorney general and we identified 6,000 properties in Brooklyn that were at risk of foreclosure and we sent personalized letters to each of those 6,000 houses telling them that they were in risk of foreclosure and connecting them to resources both on how to modify their situation as well as putting them in contact with legal service providers that could help them navigate. It’s intimidating.
It’s really complicated sometimes even when you’re doing the right thing and even when you’re not facing fraud it can still be very complicated to navigate the you know the Byzantine legal processes to get the help you need. So we have connected people with legal services. We have a legal service clinic at Borough Hall. You can come by any time to our constituent assistance center. We’re right at Joralemon Street, right at Borough Hall Station. Come in. You can call our office and make an appointment. You can walk in and ask to speak to someone. We have people that are there to help, but what I, what I wanted to, to kind of stress and the assembly woman mace a good point to this as did Mr. Grannum earlier, all the resources in the world are great, but it means nothing unless people in the community who need help, have questions, are uncertain, feel pressure ask for help and I know that it can be really stressful sometimes and it can be really intimidating and frankly embarrassing if your late on your mortgage payments, and you don’t know what’s going on, and you’re getting these notices in the mail or you didn’t pay your property taxes and you don’t wanna go in and admit that to someone because we’re all proud people. We’re all very proud. We all put a lot in our communities. It’s ok to admit that you’re having a problem or that you think you’re having a problem. And it’s ok to ask for help because we can fund all the programs. We can have an army of a thousand lawyers. We can do all of this stuff, but it means nothing if no one from the community comes forward to use those resources and it’s not a shameful thing. It’s not a shameful thing to come forward and say I need help to keep my home. I need help to provide for my family. I need help to stay in this community. It’s not a shame at all. And so we really need to hear from people who are facing these challenges and don’t be ashamed to come forward and talk to us.
AUDIENCE: Very true.
RICHARD: I just, I had some suggestions, a few on the public policy side and then a few in terms of private sector. So in terms of public policy government the city register’s office did recently implement a system where you can get notified if there are any changes in your deed. So there’s a form. You can go online and it’s actually in the package too for a notice of mail, a recorded docent, and it only takes a few minutes to sign up. You can go online to the department of finance and you will get an automated notice of any changes that happen with your property. So that’s one thing in the pubic sector. I think that there needs to be a close look at the city register’s office. I’ve had personal dealings there. I went to look up a deed for a property around New Year’s Eve and the reason I had to look it up was there was a wrong deed recorded against a particular property. So in other words, I was selling a property for someone and in the city register’s system online called ACRIS. Everybody should write that down too if you don’t know. ACRIS that’s for Automated City Register Information Systems so you can go online and look things up. So I was looking up a deed online and the deed for the wrong property came up. So there are mistakes that happen sometimes in ACRIS. I actually went to the city’s register’s office at 210 Joralemon and turned out there was a property that had been recorded for this particular property from 1985. So there was a mistake that was 30 years old in the city register’s office and the only way that would have ever comes up as a mistake is if somebody actually goes in there and says, oh you have the wrong property filed against my property. So that happens sometimes. There needs to be better quality control at the city register’s office. So I think a close review needs to be made about the procedures that happens when deeds are filed there. I talked to supervisors there and one person, who had worked at the medical examiner’s office, said that you know these things never happen in the medical examiner’s office. They’re much more strict in terms of docents and how documents get filed. It’s very difficult even for someone to get a death certificate. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried that, but if you’re not related to somebody it’s hell to get a death certificate, but it’s very easy to file documents at the city register’s office. So I think there needs to be a systematic review of quality control at the city register’s office and then the last thing in terms of policy – and I think this may have been addressed, I’m not sure, but there has to be greater transparency about LLCs. A lot of times the [unintelligible] they try to hide. They don’t want to be found when they’re stealing somebody’s property. So they buy the name of an LLC and a lot of times, unless you’re like a professional, it’s very difficult to get to the bottom of who actually owns or controls that LLC. So there needs to be greater transparency in terms of LLCs owning property.
RICHARD: [continued] Just a couple things in terms of on the private sector side, some of it may have been mentioned already, [name] in his opening remarks talked about using trusted advisors. It’s critical that you hire your own attorney. Do not use an attorney that is referred to you by the person who’s trying to buy your property. You may think that you’re saving money, but it’s – that’s like it’s a wolf in sheep clothing. You do not want to use somebody else’s attorney. And then you have to look out for conflicts of interest. I had one situation recently where the attorney for the buyer was also the mortgage broker. And that’s a red flag. That’s a conflict of interest. What ended up happening – several years – this – she bought the property around 2008. A few years later the attorney ended up being endeited for mortgage fraud, ended up going to jail, and this the person who bought this house ended up in foreclosure not on a mortgage that she got, but there was a mortgage prior to her purchasing the property that was never extinguished. So the mortgage from a previous owner was never paid off in closing and part of this, I would say, would have to do with the fact that there were serious conflicts of interest. So you have to be very aware of conflicts of interest in any real estate transaction.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Richard. Yes, Richard Farrell, thank you.
RICHARD FARRELL: I wanted to stand up because this podium is blocking folks seeing me and I’ve also held off talking because I’m from the DA’s office. We’re one of the resources out there, but I’ve very purposefully tried to be the last person to speak because I want to impress on everybody here that I am the last person you want to be talking to. There’s a lot that should go on before you ever get to me because I much prefer to be out here in the community talking to you about ways to avoid being victims rather than meeting you down at my office at 350 Joralemon Street because if you’re down at my office one of three things is going on and they’re all bad. You have been a victim of a crime, which is bad. You are the witness who is trying to help me out, but from your perspective that’s bad. Or you’re someone that we have charged and I’m trying to put you in jail and from your perspective, that’s bad. I want to follow up on something that Mr. Flateau was saying because the question before us right now was resources available and a lot of what he said comes down to the resources available are sitting to your left and to your right. They’re behind you and for the people in the back, they’re in front of you because knowledge is power.
Now there was some criticism of the public record system being too porous, mistakes being made down at the city register’s office. Mistakes get made everywhere. Years ago I asked the city register’s office why don’t they just automatically audit every no-money transfer of title because one big fraud we see and have been seeing for years – and I’ve been doing this since 1999, folks – is a transfer of title, supposedly arms-length (that means buyer/seller unrelated to each other) arms-length transfer for nothing, which means there’s no tax due. So I asked the tax people, why don’t you just audit this? Their answer, we get 60,000 a year. They can’t audit 60,000 transfers. According to recent testimony before the city council, where Dr. Jiha, the Commissioner of Finance, testified (his invite to me must’ve gotten lost in the mail, since I wasn’t invited to speak) said that the sheriff’s office, which Ms. Russo is a very important part of, has over 900 current investigations. And guess which Borough has the most?
RICHARD FARRELL: Why? Because of real estate values and density. Walking here I passed a lot of streets on which I’ve had cases on a single block here in Bed/Stuy where it’s all brownstones attached. There’s no driveways. There are 70 houses per block. That’s 70 potential sites of fraud. And among the biggest problems are the houses that are empty, the houses that are abandoned because those are easy pickings. But even houses that aren’t abandoned – who here owns their own house? When was the last time that you looked at your deed.
RICHARD FARRELL: Who here has a deed to their house, maybe just in their name, but they consider it co-owned by other people. Ok, good. Part of the problem we see is, and this is a story that got Ms. Russo’s unit formed, there was a lady, she lives in Manhattan, but the family house was out in Queens, but it was grandma’s house. The last deed was like 50 years ago, but they considered it grandma’s house. So the lady in Manhattan got the water bill and it spiked 250 bucks. So she called the water board and said, why did my bill go up? They said, we don’t know. Someone’s using the water, go and check. She went and checked, there was a guy living there. He had the deed. She said, doesn’t have my name on it. He said, that’s right, it doesn’t. It had this other woman’s name on it, but by the way your name isn’t on the last deed either, so are you the one pulling the scam. They called the cops and the cops said, we don’t know what to do with this, so no one got arrested. Then Dr. Jiha heard about this, walked into the sheriff’s office and said and I heard it, why do we accept false deeds for reporting. Mr. Russo’s unit gets formed, now she has 900 cases. We talk 5 or 6 times a week. That lady, hate to say this, she caused a little bit of her own problem because she left it there for the pickings. Eventually that guy got arrested. I think the case is still pending down in Queens, but I’ve got plenty of cases where you know three sisters own the house together, a phony deed gets filed. My question is what have you been doing? It’s grandma’s house. Grandma died in 1977. So the records haven’t been kept up. So the records have to be kept up. So if you’re living in grandma’s house and the last deed still has grandma’s name on it, do something. Get it updated. Get the deed in your own name because another big problem is identity theft [unintelligible].
RICHARD FARRELL: [cont] With a little ingenuity you can find out anything. The crooks know where to find your data. Then they will steal your identity. They will set up a closing. They will sell your house. And maybe yes, guys, there’s this system called ACRIS, A-C-R-I-S. Just go to Google, put in ACRIS. I don’t own any stock in Google, but it works. Put in ACRIS, you’ll see this bright yellow banner. Click on it, follow the steps, you’ve now signed up for an automatic notification so that if anything gets recorded into your house, you’ll get notified, but the Department of Finance has been very proactive. The now send a letter to the last record owner whenever a deed gets recorded. They intercept lots of suspicious deeds. They investigate them. We work with them to investigate them and we prosecute when we can. But as was said very ably by the other panelists, especially Detective Russo, proving criminal charges is difficult and it should be because at the end of the day I’m trying to put someone in jail and that’s no joke. I have never been arrested, but I have been to Rikers. When you’re in Rikers you’re in. It’s on an island for a reason, it’s not a joke. I’ve been a prosecutor for 23 years. I take no joy in putting people in jail unless they absolutely deserve it and they only deserve it if I can prove it. If I can’t prove it, then they don’t get punished. That’s the way of it, that’s the way of it. And in my opinion, we don’t need new laws, like the councilman said because we got plenty. We’ve had the best ones since what was it? 6,000 years ago when Moses went up on the mountain.
AUDIENCE: Thou shall not steal.
RICHARD FARRELL: Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not bear false witness against they neighbor that was actually the forgery part. Ok? So we have the laws. We have the personnel, but the bottom line is this, look in the mirror. That’s the first person you go to for help. Look beside you, that’s the second, third, and fourth person you go to for help. Do everything that you can to avoid needing her help or my help.
AUDIENCE: Mr. DA, Mr. DA I have a quick question can somebody check the ACRIS system I tried to sign on to get the notifications as did, as did several of my relatives and it’s not, it’s not working right.
RICHARD FARRELL: I’m not an IT guy. I can’t answer that one. My suggestion is go down to New York’s Register’s Office at 210 Gerald and deal directly with a person. They’ll help you do it.
WOMAN: I did three properties last night. I registered three properties last night, Richard and I, and it went.
AUDIENCE: I put in [inaudible] as and something’s wrong and it needs to be tweaked.
WOMAN: We have forms available, you can fill them out, and we’ll take them with us.
AUDIENCE: Excellent, thank you.
WOMAN: I just wanted to add on to what Mr. Ferrell was saying in terms of estate planning. For those of you who are in here who own houses, you really need to know at a certain point, I think the, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office has a program known as 5 over 55. Basically it’s 5 docents you need if you’re over the age of 55 that will determine what’s going to happen with your property, what’s going to happen if you are for whatever reason medically unable to care for yourself or to make medical or financial decisions for yourself, so if you’re in here and you own property, then you need to make sure that there is a plan in place for what’s going to happen to that property when you pass away. And if you’re in here and you’re living in a house that belongs to a relative who is deceased and either they died with a will, then you need to administer that will, or if they died in testate, meaning without a will, then you need to be contacting the surrogate’s court about getting the ability to administer the property, which means that you will have the ability to transfer it into the, the names of the heirs of the property. You’ll be able to collect rent or make other decisions regarding the property in a legal way. So you know you guys really need to – if you’re over a certain age you have to start planning for the future because that can prevent you having to come to Detective Russo or to Mr. Ferrell or to my office. It can prevent your heirs, your siblings, your you know parents, your children from having to come to our office in the future because you know someone noticed this vulnerability and that there’s a property that is you know that has a deceased owner and nobody’s doing anything about it.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Ok we want one more question and then we’re going to Kendra.
WOMAN: I wanted to ask, have any of you ever heard the term straw buyer?
DET. RUSSO: Ok. A lot of people that come into my office unfortunately were straw buyers and the statute of limitation runs out in a criminal capacity, but there is no statute of limitation in a civil capacity. That’s very important for everybody to know. Straw buyer’s sometimes very, very wary and concerned and avoid me like a plague. It’s important that even if you were a straw buyer to come forward and call me and sit with me because the knowledge and information you may have is extremely valuable and it may cross reference to currently active investigations that we’re working on. So I wanted to put that out there. My information will be available to all of you before we leave.
AUDIENCE: What is a straw buyer?
DET. RUSSO: A straw buyer is just a term that is used when certain people approach individuals and say, hey, can I use your Social Security number and put it on a deed? I’ll give you 5,000 dollars to do that. You don’t have to do anything. I’ll pay the mortgage. I will take care of the property. It’s only for 6 months or a year and then I will take it out of your name and put it into a corporate name and after I do that, I will give you as a gift, maybe a few dollars more. So very, very common. A lot of the predatory lenders that loaned money to people in 2006, ’07, and ’08 were to straw buyers. So DA Farrell has far more information on that than I do, but that’s very important so please come forward to me. I would love to hear that information.
MODERATOR: Thank you to the panelists. A lot of information today. Ok.
Det. Russo: I just want to say that in terms of foreclosure and deed theft, time is no one’s friend and in terms of the claims that we are able to bring, there are limitations. There are statutes of limitations on those claims. So don’t wait to get help because we also have limitations in terms of how long we’re able to bring certain claims on your behalf. And once the property is stolen, there is also the possibility that it can be further alienated, further sold to a party, who may believe they’re buying the home in good faith, that they pay value for it and they are buying a home that’s free and clear of any claims. And once that happens, it’s very, very difficult to get the property back into the hands of the person who actually owned it.
AUDIENCE: What is the statute of limitations?
Det. Russo: Well for fraud it’s 6 years. And for a number of the claims that we bring under the other statute it’s also 6 years.
RICHARD FARRELL: So I just wanted to clarify, this thing called statute of limitations, it’s a limit on when an action can be brought. The criminal statute of limitations on felony is 5 years, on a misdemeanor 2 years. What Detective Russo is referring to was last May our Court of Appeals, our highest court, issued a decision saying that there is no civil statute of limitations on a claim that a deed is forged, forged, not I did sign it, but… – forged. That’s the only one that they’ve declared that has no statute of limitations. Quick footnote from this lawyer (I think they’re wrong) but that’s the decision and unless the legislation changes it, that’s the law right now. But on claims of fraud, claims of theft, there are statutes of limitations, so like she was saying, time is not your friend, inaction is not your friend. This gentleman mentioned embarrassment, pride, you have to swallow it because to keep the problem like a leaky roof, is not going to fix itself.
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