He Runs a New York True Estate Empire. Did He Steal It?

More than the earlier dozen decades, Sanford Solny has crafted a New York real estate empire, snatching up little residential buildings throughout the metropolis that churn out hundreds of 1000’s of bucks in rent.

His portfolio would be enviable but for a single point — a lot of it, prosecutors and homeowners contend, was stolen. In criminal charges and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: offering to support householders struggling with foreclosures by arranging to spend off their mortgages, while in fact tricking them into signing above their structures at deal-basement price ranges. In virtually each individual scenario, the mortgage loan was hardly ever paid out, leaving the homeowner with no property but a pile of credit card debt.

The exercise is regarded as deed theft, and as metropolis and condition officers promised to crack down on it, they homed in on Mr. Solny. The Brooklyn district attorney, whose business has charged him with getting the households of 7 households, called his conduct “despicable.” In Queens, prosecutors accused Mr. Solny and his associates of cheating 10 people out of their homes. The courtroom appointed a keep an eye on to scrutinize his transactions.

But an assessment by The New York Occasions has uncovered that not only is Mr. Solny even now profiting from structures below dispute, city organizations are contributing to his earnings by subsidizing the rent at some of his attributes.

His situation exemplifies the sluggish and stumbling battle towards deed theft, which usually targets immigrants and Black and Latino householders. Inspite of repeated pledges from the New York State lawyer typical and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a modest fraction of thousands of problems are ever prosecuted. Home owners, stripped of their most significant asset, are left to interact in a prolonged and highly-priced combat to check out to reclaim their houses in civil court.

A shut critique of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing court conditions, lawsuits, town home information and interviews — reveals a long document of questionable dealings and a largely ineffective government response. Around additional than a 10 years, Mr. Solny and companies connected to him took possession of at the very least 140 qualities, The Periods identified. The previous entrepreneurs of 40 of all those structures — which contain a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a a few-story condominium developing in close proximity to Rockaway Seashore and a suburban Craftsman-style house with a lawn in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they were being victims of deed theft, civil and legal courtroom data present.

Even even though Mr. Solny was under the eye of the keep an eye on, a organization managed by him paid a Brooklyn woman $5,000 for a home value about 100 moments that substantially and left her loved ones with the debt, in accordance to the girl and metropolis home documents.

Through a world-wide-web of shell firms, Mr. Solny even now owns 19 properties whose homeowners he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects rent from tenants he mounted in quite a few of them, according to court docket filings, city data and interviews. As legal costs towards Mr. Solny have piled up, town agencies have paid out the rent of tenants at some of those homes through reasonably priced-housing vouchers, The Situations discovered.

“How does the system operate for him and not for us?” reported Janet Bruce, a retired home overall health aide from Guyana who said in court docket filings that Mr. Solny walked into her dwelling in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2014 with a stack of paper and a promise to rescue her and her partner from foreclosure. He gave the pair $14,000 but hardly ever paid out off their house loan, she reported.

He walked out as the owner of a constructing now well worth about $900,000, reported Ms. Bruce, 69, who has sued Mr. Solny. The transaction is also part of the legal scenario in Brooklyn.

From July 2014 via February of this calendar year, there have been much more than 3,350 grievances of deed theft in New York Metropolis, practically 50 % of which ended up in Brooklyn, according to the metropolis Division of Finance. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office environment introduced rates in 27 situations of deed theft because 2014, according to a Periods evaluation.

“It just helps make you surprise how seriously we, as a modern society, and our criminal justice process, consider white-collar crime that truly victimizes persons,” reported Oda Friedheim, a supervising attorney at the Legal Assist Culture who deals with house fraud.

A lawyer for Mr. Solny declined to answer specific concerns from The Situations, citing the open up prison scenario in Brooklyn.

“The fact that these purchasers would eliminate their properties experienced been a foregone summary extended in advance of they ever met Mr. Solny,” the lawyer, Michael Farkas, reported in a statement. “When they sought his support with handling that unfortunate and sophisticated fact, these clients executed documents that evidently conveyed their houses to Mr. Solny.”

Deed fraud problems in New York Town have fallen from a peak of 665 in 2015 to 154 very last 12 months. But people figures mask what could be a looming surge now that protections towards foreclosure that had been put in position all through the pandemic have expired.

“You have a very significant number of householders that are in distress, and authentic estate in New York has under no circumstances been additional useful,” claimed Ivy Perez, the senior plan and investigate supervisor for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, an affordable-housing nonprofit. “That is a strong mixture for scammers.”

Deed theft normally takes unique kinds, but Mr. Solny is accused of one particular of the most popular.

The fraud preys on folks who are in danger of getting rid of their homes, facts that is easily available in real estate databases. Some purchasers also recruit area people to find folks they know who are in economical trouble.

Householders are advised they qualify for a brief sale — a offer in which the loan provider settles for considerably less than the volume owed on the mortgage loan. The entrepreneurs, now resigned to getting rid of their qualities to foreclosures and confused by a mountain of paperwork, consider the deal will at minimum reduce them of their personal debt and give them a smaller quantity of funds.

In fact, the paperwork they sign transfer possession of the setting up while even now leaving the householders liable for the financial debt. The individual committing the fraud brings in tenants and collects lease, at times for decades, until financial institutions or other creditors lastly foreclose on the assets.

Ms. Bruce fell behind on her property finance loan payments in 2013, right after her spouse, James, a approach examiner for the Section of Structures, experienced a stroke.

A buddy from church referred Ms. Bruce to Mr. Solny, who reported he could assist set up a limited sale. Mr. Solny advised her she would get rid of the residence but the home finance loan would be compensated, and he would acquire care of anything as her attorney, she said in her lawsuit.

Mr. Solny and his associates arrived late, Ms. Bruce claimed, and then rushed her and her partner to indicator documents in independent rooms. He paid out them each individual $7,000, in accordance to the grievance.

No small-sale try was created, she said, but a deed transferring the property to East 29th Avenue Realty Inc. was recorded with the metropolis, data display. Mr. Solny signed as the purchaser, and his daughter, Shandelle Solny, signed as a witness. For several years, due to the fact of assurances from Mr. Solny, Ms. Bruce did not realize that the growing financial debt would continue being in her name, she mentioned. She owes around $350,000 — a credit card debt she could pay out, with dollars to spare, if she were in a position to offer or refinance the dwelling.

Mr. Solny set up tenants soon soon after the pair moved out and has gathered extra than $200,000 from the building, in accordance to Monthly bill Lienhard, a law firm for Ms. Bruce. Two existing tenants verified to The Periods that they paid out hire to a company controlled by Mr. Solny.

“He collects lease right until the foreclosures is carried out, and then he’s out — what does he care?” explained Toby Cohen, a different law firm who has represented several people suing Mr. Solny.

Prosecutors say they are hamstrung by the regulation: They need to display there was criminal intent in cases that are not as slam-dunk as these they prefer to carry to court docket. Years can go by just before a property owner realizes what happened, and the transactions are sophisticated. What just one person promises as fraud can be defended as just a lopsided small business deal.

“Deed theft is notoriously hard to examine and prosecute,” explained Melinda Katz, the Queens district legal professional. The sentiment was echoed by Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district legal professional.

Civil lawsuits are usually the only way a house owner can attempt to reclaim a title, and victims typically are unable to find the money for a law firm. The plaintiffs seldom gain — properties as soon as owned by quite a few of Mr. Cohen’s clients were bought at foreclosure auctions to other functions right before the instances could be settled.

Litigation is difficult by a internet of shell corporations controlled by Mr. Solny and users of his loved ones. Of the 140 transactions The Occasions connected to Mr. Solny, none was individually deeded to him. As a substitute, he signed as an officer of a corporate entity that assumed ownership.

“We missing every little thing,” Ms. Bruce claimed, recalling a period of time when she slept on friends’ couches and still left New York for less costly housing in Philadelphia. Her partner died in 2020. “Do you know how difficult it is to be picking up the items when you’re in your senior years?”

Owners are not the only kinds impacted. Tenants and town companies have complained of serious protection and overall health hazards at properties owned by companies joined to Mr. Solny.

Of the 19 disputed houses all those organizations however owned as of June, 15 experienced open up housing violations, such as for warmth and hot-water failures, unsafe wiring and pest infestations.

“They’re not carrying out absolutely nothing — under no circumstances have heating, never resolve nothing at all,” reported Sandy Triunfel, a dwelling attendant who in 2017 stopped shelling out lease on her condominium in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, according to court docket data, because she claimed she did not obtain hot h2o or gas for months.

The proprietor, Blue Realty & Services Team, a organization tied to Mr. Solny, evicted her the future calendar year. The preceding house owner had claimed in civil court that the business experienced tricked him into signing around the deed to the dwelling.

At Ms. Bruce’s previous house, town inspectors identified almost 4 dozen guide paint violations in February 2019, when a mother and her eight children had been residing there. Following the tenants applied for emergency rental support, the city paid out about $21,000 in again hire to Mr. Solny’s company. Two existing tenants said the city was continue to paying some of their rent via subsidies.

It was one of a few disputed qualities where The Moments discovered the metropolis experienced protected the hire for Mr. Solny’s tenants. The New York City Housing Authority, which paid subsidies at a person of the houses, stated it experienced since added Mr. Solny’s firm to a record of banned landlords.

Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the town Department of Social Expert services, which administers the rent help program at the other two buildings, explained the agency’s precedence was to maintain housing security for tenants.

Mr. Solny, 65, who is known as Sandy, has been on the city’s radar for several years.

In 2012, he was suspended from practicing regulation for pilfering $600,000 from his dying uncle, in accordance to a disciplinary board determination. He paid again the cash but stays suspended.

The future calendar year, Mr. Solny and his daughter went on a shopping for spree: at least 50 residences in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, lots of of which have been in or approaching foreclosure. On a solitary working day in March 2013, they signed the deeds to a few households in East New York, a predominantly Black community in Brooklyn, according to metropolis records.

Tenants and homeowners explained him as cordial, with a tender voice and grandfatherly mien.

“He’s really slick,” said Richard Extreme, who sued a enterprise managed by Mr. Solny in 2015 for professing the title to his two-relatives residence in East New York. The scenario is open up.

In 2016, Mr. Solny and his associates were charged in Queens with crimes relevant to the theft of 10 properties. He pleaded guilty two many years later on to a lesser cost of felony possession of stolen residence and was sentenced to up to five yrs of probation.

Mr. Solny paid a good and returned rent he had gathered, and five deeds have been voided as a consequence of the offer. His daughter, Shandelle, 31, was billed with tax fraud and compensated restitution in a plea deal. Ms. Solny declined to comment outside of the statement issued by her father’s law firm.

In 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors charged Mr. Solny with crimes related to the theft of 8 attributes. Pursuing the indictment, Mr. Solny’s probation officer advisable that he be sentenced to jail for violating the conditions of his plea offer in Queens. A verdict has not still been arrived at in the Brooklyn situation.

The Queens offer did not bar Mr. Solny from purchasing a lot more actual estate, but the court appointed a monitor in 2018 to assessment his enterprise discounts going forward and flag any suspicious transactions.

In a evaluate of assets records, The Situations observed a questionable transaction performed just after Mr. Solny’s plea in Queens.

Elizabeth Lewis, 77, a retired financial institution worker, instructed The Instances that in late 2019, Mr. Solny offered to set up a limited sale on a Brooklyn home, a two-bed room brick dwelling in East Flatbush belonging to Ms. Lewis’s sister, who experienced a reverse home finance loan and other credit card debt.

Ms. Lewis mentioned she signed paperwork on behalf of her sister, who died in 2020, to initiate a sale. The deed recorded the sale at $35,000, but Ms. Lewis said she was paid out $5,000 with the assure of a lot more when the house was marketed.

She signed around the deed to a business controlled by Mr. Solny, but the debt was not paid out, in accordance to assets documents and the Department of Housing and City Improvement, which retains the financial loan.

Equivalent gross sales exhibit the house is probably value much more than $500,000, but Ms. Lewis can no lengthier market it because Mr. Solny’s organization is shown with the town as the proprietor.

She has not heard from Mr. Solny in almost two a long time, she explained.

Brian Sanvidge, who has overseen the assessment of Mr. Solny’s transactions at Anchin, the monitoring organization, mentioned that he had looked at more than 240 houses related to Mr. Solny and had not caught the East Flatbush sale. He identified as it “concerning” and reported he would report it to the Queens district attorney.

General public attempts have been designed to counter assets fraud, but critics say the actions tumble limited.

The point out attorney general’s workplace declared a marketing campaign to struggle deed theft in 2020, funding cost-free authorized services and house loan assistance in neighborhoods susceptible to fraud. But aid for those people who have by now misplaced their houses can be difficult to get: The office is now prosecuting just three deed theft cases.

A condition legislation passed in 2019 involved a rule that makes it possible for prosecutors to file a movement to void a fraudulent assets transfer in relationship with a guilty plea or verdict.

But the rule is narrowly described, restricting its use, and the method can however consider a long time, stated Rachel Geballe, a deputy director at Brooklyn Authorized Products and services. Neither Queens nor Brooklyn prosecutors have made use of the mechanism, though the offices claimed they experienced made use of other implies to void fraudulent deeds.

For Ms. Bruce, 8 yrs have passed because she signed her home above to Mr. Solny’s firm. The Brooklyn legal scenario has been adjourned 13 occasions considering the fact that late 2020. Mr. Farkas reported in courtroom in June that his shopper was thinking of a plea offer.

“I’m hoping some kind of justice will come from this,” Ms. Bruce said. “I say, ‘Lord, when is this heading to be in excess of?’”

Susan Beachy contributed investigate.

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