A Mount Sinai man allegedly stole a vacant $1 million brownstone in a deed fraud scheme targeting an 80-year-old Brooklyn homeowner, according to the Brooklyn district attorney.
Craig Hecht, 51, was arraigned Tuesday on an indictment charging him with grand larceny and money laundering, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced Wednesday.
“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," Gonzalez said in a statement. "Brooklyn’s robust real estate market continues to be an attractive target for theft and fraud."
Hecht was arraigned before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun and is charged with two counts of second-degree grand larceny and two counts of second-degree money laundering. He was ordered held on $150,000 bond or $75,000 cash bail and is due back in court Aug. 14. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.
According to the indictment, Hecht and a co-defendant who was not apprehended 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 had lived in the residence for more than three decades. In 2010, the family vacated the property after a fire made the building uninhabitable.
Hecht formed an entity called Ernestina Thomas LLC, which he filed with the New York State Department of State on April 20, 2015, according to the indictment. Ten days later, the co-defendant allegedly opened a bank account called Ernestina Thomas LLC (ET). The victim did not know about or consent to any of this, prosecutors said.
On Sept. 18, 2015, according to the district attorney's 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 controlled by the co-defendant.
Shortly afterward, Hecht offered 260 Clifton Place to a prospective buyer. On Nov. 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 those sale proceeds going into the co-defendant’s TDA account, according to the indictment. From the funds allegedly stolen in the two closings, the co-defendant wired $190,000 to an account he had in Athens, Greece, took out another $120,000 in a series of cash withdrawals and transferred more than $250,000 to an account held by Hecht’s wife.
The victim learned 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 Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.