A once-successful real estate agent hurt by the down market bilked more than 100 Nassau County residents out of more than $200,000 in payments for houses they hoped to rent, police said Monday.
"I live day to day . . . and did not have money to pay my bills," Jamel Smith, 38, of 191 Green Valley Rd., East Meadow, told police following his arrest Saturday, court documents show.
"I rented one house to a lot of different people. I screwed up. Sorry," he was quoted as saying in a felony complaint filed in First District Court in Hempstead.
Smith was arraigned Sunday on eight counts of grand larceny and other charges, and remained Monday in the county jail in East Meadow with bail set at $80,000 bond, or $40,000 cash. His Legal Aid attorney could not be reached for comment.
He was fired by his employer in March and his license revoked following complaints from victims, but continued the scam on his own, Det. Lt. Raymond Cote of the Third Squad said at a news conference at Nassau police headquarters. Records show Smith worked at RE/MAX West in West Hempstead. Calls to the company Monday were not returned.
"He had been a successful real estate broker . . . for the past 10 years. He has been so successful at selling houses and renting properties that he earned a prestigious RE/MAX award for being the most successful agent in the office," Cote said.
"When the market takes a downturn and fewer homes are being sold, fewer homes are being rented, he resorted to a scam where he would show properties for rent, collect the . . . [advance rent] and one month security, but he would never have an intent of ever actually delivering on the property," Cote said.
After Smith was fired, "he just created a fictitious real estate company, several fictitious real estate companies," and advertised on the Web, Cote said. "This guy had the gift of gab and was able to con people into believing he was licensed."
Asked whether Smith might have personal problems that required a lot of money, Cote said: "Seven kids. His fiancee is expecting. He was in the process of being evicted from his apartment in East Meadow.
"We have access to business records that show well over 100 [victims] at this point, and it could go as high as 200," Cote said. He said police estimate losses to victims at more than $200,000.
The real estate company did not report the frauds that occurred between January and March while Smith worked there, Cote said. He said police learned of the continuing scam two weeks ago, when at least two people discovered they had paid advance rentals to Smith for the same house on West Marshall Street in Hempstead.
He said the investigation continues and potential victims can call Crime Stoppers at 800-244-TIPS.
Clarification: Jamel Smith of East Meadow worked at Realty Executives in West Hempstead during the time he allegedly stole money from potential rental clients, police said. A story Tuesday did not mention the name of his employer at the time.