Sanford Solny, a real estate investor and disbarred lawyer who has been previously charged with stealing at least 18 homes from Brooklyn and Queens homeowners, is facing charges of stealing four more houses in eastern Brooklyn.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez accused 65-year-old Solny, who lives in Midwood, with stealing the deeds to houses in East Flatbush, Canarsie, East New York, and Ocean Hill between 2012 and 2022. Solny targeted homeowners who were going through foreclosure proceedings, Gonzalez said in a statement. In total, Solny defrauded the homeowners of approximately $2.3 million, Gonzalez alleges.
Solny — who was disbarred from practicing law in 2012 for stealing $600,000 from his dying uncle, pled guilty to stealing 10 homes in 2016, is already facing charges of stealing eight other homes from predominantly Black and brown homeowners, and has been accused of stealing many more — allegedly stole the deeds under the guise of negotiating short sales for the homeowners, three of whom were facing foreclosure.
According to Gonzalez, unlicensed brokers and others contacted the homeowners and told them to work with Solny to negotiate a short sale, which would supposedly forgive the homeowner’s debt and end the foreclosure action.
However, when the homeowners met Solny, mostly at his office in Borough Park, he either told them they had to sign their deeds over to him to start the proceedings, or had them sign documents unknowingly signing their property over to him, Gonzalez alleges. Solny allegedly paid the owner’s fee for transferring the properties either to himself or various LLCs he controlled.
No short sale proceedings were started, and the homes remained in foreclosure and the former homeowners saddled with debt. Solny then allegedly told the homeowners an array of lies, including that lenders preferred homes to be vacant to conduct the short sale process. Meanwhile, he allegedly collected at least $63,995 in rent from existing tenants or new ones he brought in.
When homeowners asked Solny how the short sale process was progressing, “he allegedly offered an array of excuses and explanations,” Gonzalez said in the statement. According to city records, LLCs run by Solny still own the four houses.
Elizabeth Lewis, who was trying to negotiate the short sale of her sister’s East Flatbush house with Solny, told The New York Times she signed the deed over to one of his LLCs thinking she was authorizing a sale to rid her sister of her mortgage.
“I was so confused, they just rush, rush, rush,” Lewis told The New York Times. “I didn’t sell it to him, he was to sell it for me,” she said.
Over the years, the values of the houses at 1247 Albany Avenue in East Flatbush, 1429 East 100th Street in Canarsie, 1100 Sutter Avenue in East New York, and 10 Pleasant Place in Ocean Hill increased, and, as the owner on record, Solny would be the one to benefit from that increase if the properties sold. Meanwhile, the original homeowners not only lost their properties and potential rental income but due to the ongoing foreclosure proceedings, their credit scores and ability to get new loans greatly decreased, Gonzalez said.
“This defendant allegedly defrauded distressed homeowners when he stole the titles to their homes while pretending to help them, and we are committed to holding him accountable,” Gonzalez said in the statement. “Because people want to live in Brooklyn, scammers continue to target homeowners, and I encourage every property owner to take steps to protect themselves.”
Solny, along with his companies Albany Ave Realty Inc., East 100 St Realty Inc., Pleasant Pl. Realty Inc., and Bear Realty & Management Corp., were arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Wednesday. He faces charges of criminal possession of stolen property, scheme to defraud, and grand larceny, and he could spend a minimum of three to six years in prison if convicted. Solny pleaded not guilty and was released without bail and has to return to court on March 22.
Deed theft is 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.
While deed theft is notoriously difficult to prosecute, Gonzalez previously told BK Reader when there was sufficient evidence, “we aggressively prosecute to ensure accountability and compensation for victims.”
“To bring criminal charges, we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either a false filing took place or that the buyer made materially false representations of fact to induce the owner into selling the property,” he said.
But despite widespread deed fraud in Brooklyn, in the last nine years, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has moved to prosecute only 28 cases of deed theft, according to the New York Times.
On Tuesday, a man who forged power of attorney by pretending to be an elderly Bushwick homeowner’s nephew in order to steal her deed and sell her home was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Gonzalez said in a statement the sentence “holds him accountable for this despicable crime and sends a strong message to would-be scammers and deed thieves that we will seek serious penalties for those who victimize Brooklyn homeowners.”
This story first appeared on Brownstoner.