Clinton Hill man pleads guilty to deed theft, mortgage fraud, faces up to 9 years in prison

deed theft in brooklyn
A Clinton Hill man pleaded guilty last week to deed theft and mortgage fraud after he stole two Brooklyn homes, including 1517 Broadway in Bushwick.
Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

A Clinton Hill man who stole the deeds to two Brooklyn homes and nearly $775,000 in mortgage funds using fake documents and shell companies will face up to nine years in prison after pleading guilty in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Aug 9.

Derrick Johnson, a 60-year-old who also goes by the name Jay Rendell, pleaded guilty to grand larceny, mortgage fraud, and criminal possession of a weapon after a run of illegal dealings between the end of 2020 and this year, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a press release.

In late 2020, Johnson used fake paperwork to take out a $337,825 mortgage on a building at 349 17th St. in Park Slope, which had been purchased for $999,990 earlier that year by E17 Apartments LLC and remains under the LLC’s ownership, according to city records.

building in bushwick involved in fraud
Johnson illegally took over the deed at 1517 Broadway and took out a more than $100,000 mortage against the property, per court records. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

Then, in June 2021 and acting with an accomplice, Johnson stole the deed of a four-story brick industrial building at 1517 Broadway in Bushwick, Gonzalez said.

The deed was transferred from Intra-Brokerage Association Against Points Inc., which had held it since 1994, to shell corporation 1517 Broadway Company Inc., city records show. Mahitima Baa signed for both Intra-Brokerage Association Against Points Inc. and 1517 Broadway Company Inc.

Gonzalez said Johnson then took out a $107,607 mortgage on the property, which he split with the accomplice, whom Gonzalez did not name. City records show the deed is still held by 1517 Broadway Company Inc.

Surrounded by overgrown empty lots, the building is the only one on the Bushwick side of Broadway between Jefferson Avenue and Hancock Street. In March 2021 a full vacate order was placed on the four-story structure due to a collapsing wall, and a demolition permit was applied for, with NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development listed as the owner. In September 2021, the application was withdrawn.

Also in September 2021, Intra-Brokerage Association Against Points Inc. applied for and was granted a permit for structural work to rehabilitate the building. In May this year, a partial stop-work order was placed on the building due to unsafe conditions for workers.

After seemingly getting away with dodgy dealings on Broadway, the next month Johnson illegally transferred the deed of a four-story apartment building at 323 Malcolm X Boulevard in Bed-Stuy into a shell corporation he controlled, Gonzalez said.

According to city records, the deed had been held by William and Margaret Smith and was transferred to Malcolm Blvd Group Inc. According to Gonzalez, Johnson later took out a mortgage of $329,332 on the property. The mortgages on the three properties were taken out with different commercial lenders, Gonzalez said.

“This defendant filed phony deeds and mortgage documents against multiple properties in a brazen real estate scheme that defrauded homeowners and lenders,” Gonzalez said in a press release. He added the plea sent “a strong message to any would-be fraudsters that we will vigorously pursue justice on behalf of fraud victims and seek serious penalties for offenders.”

home stolen in deed theft case
The Brooklyn District Attorney said Johnson “defrauded” homeowners. Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

Johnson was scheduled to appear in court on January 6, but failed to appear and was apprehended in Georgia. He will be sentenced to five years in prison for gun possession, and one year for bail jumping. On August 30 he will be sentenced for grand larceny and fraud cases, and will face “an indeterminate term of three to nine years in prison,” according to the press release.

Both Gonzalez and State Attorney General Letitia James, who was previously a city council member representing Clinton Hill and other parts of central Brooklyn, have prioritized investigating deed theft, an obstinate problem in Brooklyn, where thieves target elderly and Black and brown homeowners.

As house prices have skyrocketed in much of central and eastern Brooklyn over the past 20 years, so too have scams that transfer homes from longtime owners, who get nothing or in some cases a fraction of their market value.

Gonzalez said in the press release that deed fraud complaints in Brooklyn are declining, and had dropped from 318 in 2015 to 72 in 2021. In 2022, 31 complaints were made in Brooklyn, and this year there have been just four complaints so far.

This story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner