A Long Island con man who stole two Harlem brownstones, one from an elderly woman reportedly with mobility issues, is now off the hook thanks to yet another major mistake made by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
“Under the law, James wasn’t permitted to pursue deed and mortgage fraud charges against alleged conman Joseph Makhani, the state Supreme Court’s First Judicial Department found — because the case was referred to her by an officer of New York’s court system,” according to the New York Post.
“Instead, referrals to the attorney general must ‘come only from an agency’ within the state’s executive branch of government, the five-member panel wrote Nov. 17,” the Post reported on Saturday.
This is reportedly the second time this year that something of the sort has occurred.
“In February 2021, James filed a lawsuit against Amazon alleging the e-commerce giant failed to protect its workers from COVID-19 and also retaliated against those who reported safety concerns,” the Post notes.
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 17, 2021
However, that case was thrown out this past May on the basis that it was a federal, not state, matter.
“The appellate court said in its ruling … that federal labor law preempted state labor law, and the National Labor Relations Board “should serve as the forum” for disputes arising from conduct that’s protected or prohibited by federal labor law, not the states,” as reported by local station WNBC.
Speaking with the Post about the latest failure, local attorney Peter Tilem suggested James tried to skirt the law purposefully.
“They seem to be stretching or attempting to stretch the line of what they have jurisdiction to take. … She’s the highest lawyer in the state of New York and she should be aware of what cases she’s allowed to bring and what cases she’s not allowed to bring,” he said.
Fellow local attorney Jaime Lathrop seemed to concur.
“It’s not just a step over the line; it’s that they clearly exceeded their authority by going after this,” he told the Post.
But Ravi Batra, another Big Apple attorney, appeared to disagree. To hear him tell it, the law needs to be changed to accommodate DAs like James.
Her “heart was in the right place by trying to protect people whose homes were stolen,” he told the Post.
The latest error is particularly tragic because Makhani, the conman, is one particularly bad hombre with “a rap sheet of real estate crimes stretching back to the 1990s,” according to The Real Deal magazine.
Regarding his latest crimes, he was originally indicted by James back in July of 2021 after he forged deeds and falsified documents to obtain the two brownstones at 107 West 118th Street and 135 West 131st Street.
After an investigation by my office, Joseph Makhani has been indicted for stealing two Harlem brownstones through deed theft and mortgage fraud.
Makhani claimed to have paid only $10 for each home, and they are now valued at $2.29M and $1.9M.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) July 8, 2021
“He conned the 107 West 118th Street owner by using forged documents to seize control of the home now worth $2.3 million. Makhani presented a falsified title to take out a $1.2 million mortgage on the property and claimed he paid $975,000 for the brownstone to receive a $650,000 construction line of credit. Makhani later claimed in a tax filing to have paid just $10 for the property,” The Real Deal notes.
After obtaining the property, he then bolted the doors shut to keep out the former owner, renovated the place, and then began renting out rooms for as much as $3,000/month each.
The victim of the 107 West 118th Street property theft was an elderly woman, Veronica Palmer, who “was left homeless by the alleged dirty deeds,” according to the Post.
The home she lost is now reportedly valued at $2 million.
As for the other property at 135 West 131st Street, Makhani “capitalized on a property owner’s death to take possession of the building. The property’s initial owner had passed in the 70s, after which a beneficiary took over management. When that caretaker passed away in 2010, Makhani pounced,” the magazine notes.
“He targeted one of the building’s tenants, telling the renter that he’d purchased the building and requested the tenant’s signature under the guise of offering employment. Makhani then recreated the signature on a fraudulent deed to transfer the property to one of his companies — One 35 West Corp,” according to the magazine.
He then reportedly filed another deed showing that the property’s initial owner had transferred it to him. He also stole the social security number of someone who was born in 1902 to back up this lie.
As previously noted, Makhani is a longtime deviant.
“Makhani has a rap sheet full of real estate crimes dating back to the 1990s. He spent two years in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to bid-rigging foreclosed properties in Queens and submitting a false tax return. And in 2008, three companies allegedly owned by Makhani pled guilty to forging signatures on deeds filed through the city’s Department of Finance,” The Real Deal notes.
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