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DA: Baldwin man rented out house he didn't own

A Baldwin man is accused of breaking into

A Baldwin man is accused of breaking into this abandoned home at 1611 Wales Ave. and renting out the apartment to an unsuspecting tenant. (Dec. 8, 2009) Credit: Newsday / Mario Gonzalez

A Baldwin man was arrested Tuesday and charged with posing as the landlord of a home he didn't own and collecting $2,200 a month in rent from a tenant - even though she had no water or refrigerator.

When the woman stopped paying her rent on the North Baldwin home, Ozell Neely, 45, went so far as to file a lawsuit against her, prosecutors said.

"He preyed on a woman in desperate need of somewhere to live," said Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice. "It was a dangerous crime made more egregious given the housing crisis on Long Island."

Neely's lawyer, Brian Griffin of Garden City, said his client believed he owned the home. He said the property was in foreclosure, and Neely, a real estate investor, bought it, and even attended a closing.

Asked if he could produce paperwork showing his client owned the home, Griffin said, "Production of evidence is something that's done in the courtroom."

He said Neely put "thousands" of dollars of work into the property after the woman moved in, though Griffin would not detail the improvements.

That Neely began foreclosure proceedings against the woman was evidence he believed he was the true owner, Griffin said. "Any question of ownership is a civil dispute that is usually handled by a title company, not by prosecutors," he said.

Neely, who was being held Tuesday night and has not been arraigned, was charged with third-degree burglary, grand larceny and offering a false instrument for filing. He faces a maximum of 7 years in prison if convicted.

The neighborhood of the 1,500-square-foot Cape Cod-style home was quiet Tuesday afternoon, with several neighbors saying they'd neither met the woman who lived there nor guessed anything was amiss.

Representatives for ARM Capital LLC of Elmont, the company prosecutors said really owned the house, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Neely was doing business under the name Welcome Home Realty in September 2008 when he took the prospective tenant to the home, which was vacant and boarded up.

When Neely and the woman arrived, he told her he had lost the key, and used bolt cutters to cut through chain-link covering the door, prosecutors said.

Despite the house's terrible problems, the woman agreed to pay $2,200 per month, as long as Neely made the necessary repairs, prosecutors said.

In April, after she had paid Neely a total of about $10,000 in rent, she stopped paying because he had not made any of the promised repairs, prosecutors said. Neely began eviction proceedings that month, prosecutors said.

A man who worked for ARM Capital got word in June that someone was living there, prosecutors said. He visited the tenant at the home and later referred the case to the district attorney's office. The tenant moved out a month later, prosecutors said.

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