NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the indictment of five members of a deed theft ring for allegedly stealing three homes worth more than $1 million in total from elderly, vulnerable homeowners in the Queens neighborhoods of Jamaica and St. Albans. The defendants impersonated the real homeowners of these properties by using forged drivers’ licenses and social security cards. They then used that forged information at contract signings and closings on the properties and forged the real owners’ signatures on deeds and real estate contracts.
“No one should face the nightmare of having their home stolen from them without any warning, knowledge, or reason,” said Attorney General James. “Deed theft is a merciless crime that targets seniors, and often people of color, who are asset rich but cash poor, and reliant on their homes as a stabilizing force for their families and loved ones. My office will continue our work to combat deed theft until we can ensure no other New Yorker is forced to endure this heartbreaking, life-altering loss.”
“I thank Attorney General Letitia James as well as our agency and law enforcement partners for their diligent efforts on behalf of New Yorkers,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. “Deed fraud is an increasingly pervasive crime that robs homeowners of their single most valuable asset. Though it is a growing challenge throughout Queens County, those who choose to victimize others for their own financial gain will be held to account in this borough.”
“Deed Fraud continues to be a priority of our office that victimizes the most vulnerable homeowners of New York City,” said New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda. “Perpetrators prey upon the elderly, the financially disadvantaged, and the medically infirmed through deception and a variety of nefarious schemes. The Sheriff’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation will continue to coordinate our effort to protect homeowners and investigate these horrific thefts along with all of our law enforcement partners in the city. We commend the actions of the New York Attorney General’s Office Real Estate Enforcement Unit for their investigation which resulted in today’s arrests and thank them for their continued efforts in this area.”
The five individuals indicted are:
Marcus Wilcher, 47
Stacie Saunders, 51
Anyekache Hercules, 47
Jerry Currin, 66
Dean Lloyd, 61
Beginning in September 2019, Wilcher located homes in Jamaica and St. Albans, Queens in poor or run-down condition with absentee owners. Saunders then marketed the homes to investors at prices significantly below market rate for quick sales. After an investor expressed interest in purchasing a home, Wilcher would secure personal information about the real owners, including social security numbers and birth dates, to create falsified drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and bank cards. Wilcher and Saunders then found people to impersonate the true owners of the properties at contract signings and closings.
Hercules created certain forged legal documents used in the theft of the homes. As she was disbarred and could not practice law in New York, Hercules fraudulently used a practicing attorney’s email and name on legal correspondence. Lloyd or one of three other individuals that have yet to be apprehended would appear at the closings with forged deeds and contracts. Currin appeared at the closing on his family home with an individual who pretended to be his sister, the executor of the family estate. This person has not yet been apprehended. Currin also submitted a false affidavit in support of a second estate sale for a different stolen property, written as a long-time family friend.
After the sales were finalized, the defendants opened bank accounts in the names of the homes’ real owners using the impostor sellers’ forged drivers’ licenses and social security cards. He and his co-conspirators then used these bank accounts and other entities and LLCs they controlled to funnel more than $1 million in proceeds to themselves.
The stolen properties are:
161-14 121 Avenue, Queens, New York
112-39 176 Street, Queens, New York
168-11 119 Avenue, Queens, New York
Saunders, Hercules, and Currin were arraigned yesterday before Supreme Court Judge Evelyn Braun in Queens County. The defendants, as detailed in the indictment, have been charged with the following crimes: Money Laundering in the Second Degree, a class C felony; Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony; Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class D felony; Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony; Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony; Practice of Law by an Attorney Who Has Been Disbarred, Suspended or Convicted of a Felony, a class E felony; Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony; Forgery in the Second Degree, a class E felony; Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a class E felony; and Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree, a class A misdemeanor.
The maximum sentence on the top count is 15 years.
The charges are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
While three members of the deed theft ring have been arraigned, another five remain at large: Wilcher, Lloyd, and three individuals that have yet to be identified. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is now seeking the public’s help in bringing them to justice.
The OAG encourages anyone familiar with one or more of the co-conspirators at-large to contact OAG’s Public Integrity Bureau confidentially by calling (212) 416-8090 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The OAG thanks the New York Department of State for the criminal referral and its assistance with this investigation and prosecution. The OAG also thanks the New York City Department of Finance for its help. The OAG also thanks the Yeadon Pennsylvania Police Department, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, and the New York City Police Department.
“Deed theft has been a prevalent issue in South East Queens for years. It is an egregious act to impersonate and steal someone’s livelihood and has been an issue that has caused an incredible amount of stress and insecurity for residents,” said New York City Council Member Nantasha Williams. “I want to thank Attorney General Letitia James for her work in investigating and apprehending this deed theft ring and look forward to our continued partnership in combating this concern.”
“Deed theft is a shocking and highly lucrative criminal scheme that preys on some of New York’s most vulnerable communities,” said K. Scott Kohanowski, Director of Homeowner Stability Project, City Bar Justice Center. “It can have a devastating effect on New Yorkers resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, often of inter-generational family wealth in a way that worsens the racial wealth gap. We applaud the Attorney General’s efforts to hold perpetrators of these crimes accountable and put their like-minded copycats on notice.”
The case was investigated by Detective Steven Pratt under the direction of Supervising Detective Anna Ospanova and Assistant Chief Samuel Scotellaro, all under the supervision of Acting Chief Edward Carrasco. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Oliver Pu-Folkes. The audit function was undertaken by Senior Auditor Investigator Danielle Dudley under the supervision of Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro. The audit team is led by Chief
Auditor Kristen Fabbri.
Assistant Attorneys General Nicholas Kyriacou and Aida Vernon are handling the prosecution in this matter under the supervision of the Public Integrity Bureau Chief Gerard Murphy and Deputy Chief Kiran Heer, with assistance from Legal Support Analyst Grace Koh and Legal Assistant Glenis Biscette. Both the Investigations Bureau and the Public Integrity Bureau are part of the Division for Criminal Justice. The Division for Criminal Justice is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.