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

In excess of the earlier dozen many years, Sanford Solny has developed a New York actual estate empire, snatching up smaller residential properties throughout the city that churn out hundreds of countless numbers of pounds in hire.

His portfolio would be enviable but for one thing — a lot of it, prosecutors and home owners contend, was stolen. In legal rates and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: supplying to support homeowners facing foreclosure by arranging to spend off their home loans, although essentially tricking them into signing more than their structures at discount-basement charges. In virtually every single circumstance, the house loan was under no circumstances paid out, leaving the home owner with no residence but a pile of debt.

The practice is known as deed theft, and as town and condition officials promised to crack down on it, they homed in on Mr. Solny. The Brooklyn district attorney, whose place of work has billed him with getting the residences of 7 households, referred to as his conduct “despicable.” In Queens, prosecutors accused Mr. Solny and his associates of dishonest 10 people out of their houses. The court appointed a monitor to scrutinize his transactions.

But an evaluation by The New York Periods has found that not only is Mr. Solny still profiting from properties less than dispute, metropolis organizations are contributing to his earnings by subsidizing the lease at some of his properties.

His case exemplifies the slow and stumbling combat towards deed theft, which generally targets immigrants and Black and Latino home owners. Inspite of repeated pledges from the New York State attorney common and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a smaller fraction of hundreds of problems are ever prosecuted. Homeowners, stripped of their most sizeable asset, are still left to interact in a extended and high priced struggle to test to reclaim their qualities in civil courtroom.

A close evaluation of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing courtroom scenarios, lawsuits, town assets data and interviews — reveals a lengthy file of questionable dealings and a mostly ineffective govt reaction. In excess of a lot more than a 10 years, Mr. Solny and companies joined to him took possession of at the very least 140 houses, The Occasions located. The former proprietors of 40 of these buildings — which include a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a 3-story condominium constructing near Rockaway Seashore and a suburban Craftsman-model house with a garden in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they had been victims of deed theft, civil and felony court docket information present.

Even when Mr. Solny was less than the eye of the watch, a enterprise controlled by him paid out a Brooklyn female $5,000 for a home truly worth about 100 moments that significantly and left her household with the personal debt, according to the lady and city residence documents.

By way of a net of shell companies, Mr. Solny even now owns 19 residences whose entrepreneurs he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects lease from tenants he put in in several of them, according to court filings, city data and interviews. As felony fees towards Mr. Solny have piled up, town businesses have paid out the rent of tenants at some of individuals properties by means of affordable-housing vouchers, The Situations found.

“How does the process work for him and not for us?” mentioned Janet Bruce, a retired household health and fitness aide from Guyana who claimed in court docket filings that Mr. Solny walked into her home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2014 with a stack of paper and a guarantee to rescue her and her husband from foreclosures. He gave the few $14,000 but never ever paid out off their home loan, she explained.

He walked out as the owner of a making now value about $900,000, mentioned Ms. Bruce, 69, who has sued Mr. Solny. The transaction is also component of the felony case in Brooklyn.

From July 2014 by means of February of this yr, there have been more than 3,350 complaints of deed theft in New York Metropolis, nearly half of which ended up in Brooklyn, in accordance to the city Office of Finance. The Brooklyn district attorney’s workplace brought charges in 27 cases of deed theft because 2014, according to a Occasions evaluation.

“It just helps make you question how severely we, as a modern society, and our criminal justice process, consider white-collar criminal offense that in fact victimizes folks,” said Oda Friedheim, a supervising attorney at the Lawful Aid Modern society who specials with home fraud.

A attorney for Mr. Solny declined to remedy distinct inquiries from The Periods, citing the open up legal scenario in Brooklyn.

“The truth that these customers would eliminate their residences experienced been a foregone summary extensive ahead of they at any time met Mr. Solny,” the attorney, Michael Farkas, mentioned in a statement. “When they sought his guidance with taking care of that unlucky and advanced actuality, these clientele executed documents that obviously conveyed their properties to Mr. Solny.”

Deed fraud grievances in New York Metropolis have fallen from a peak of 665 in 2015 to 154 last 12 months. But all those figures mask what could be a looming surge now that protections from foreclosures that ended up place in position in the course of the pandemic have expired.

“You have a very high range of house owners that are in distress, and genuine estate in New York has never been far more useful,” explained Ivy Perez, the senior plan and research manager for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, an cost-effective-housing nonprofit. “That is a powerful mixture for scammers.”

Deed theft will take different varieties, but Mr. Solny is accused of 1 of the most frequent.

The fraud preys on men and women who are in danger of losing their properties, details that is simply obtainable in real estate databases. Some potential buyers also recruit nearby citizens to come across people today they know who are in financial issues.

Homeowners are told they qualify for a quick sale — a deal in which the loan provider settles for much less than the total owed on the home loan. The homeowners, previously resigned to getting rid of their attributes to foreclosures and perplexed by a mountain of paperwork, imagine the offer will at the very least relieve them of their personal debt and give them a tiny volume of income.

In actuality, the documents they indicator transfer ownership of the making when nonetheless leaving the owners accountable for the credit card debt. The individual committing the fraud brings in tenants and collects rent, at times for years, until banking institutions or other lenders eventually foreclose on the residence.

Ms. Bruce fell driving on her mortgage payments in 2013, following her husband, James, a program examiner for the Office of Structures, had a stroke.

A buddy from church referred Ms. Bruce to Mr. Solny, who claimed he could assist arrange a quick sale. Mr. Solny told her she would shed the residence but the property finance loan would be paid out, and he would just take care of everything as her lawyer, she explained in her lawsuit.

Mr. Solny and his associates arrived late, Ms. Bruce reported, and then rushed her and her partner to signal files in independent rooms. He paid out them each and every $7,000, in accordance to the grievance.

No small-sale try was built, she mentioned, but a deed transferring the house to East 29th Avenue Realty Inc. was recorded with the metropolis, documents show. Mr. Solny signed as the purchaser, and his daughter, Shandelle Solny, signed as a witness. For many years, since of assurances from Mr. Solny, Ms. Bruce did not comprehend that the rising personal debt would remain in her identify, she claimed. She owes approximately $350,000 — a personal debt she could spend, with income to spare, if she ended up ready to offer or refinance the house.

Mr. Solny put in tenants soon right after the pair moved out and has gathered more than $200,000 from the developing, in accordance to Monthly bill Lienhard, a lawyer for Ms. Bruce. Two existing tenants confirmed to The Moments that they paid rent to a organization managed by Mr. Solny.

“He collects hire until eventually the foreclosure is done, and then he’s out — what does he treatment?” reported Toby Cohen, yet another attorney who has represented quite a few folks suing Mr. Solny.

Prosecutors say they are hamstrung by the legislation: They will have to demonstrate there was criminal intent in instances that are not as slam-dunk as all those they desire to convey to court. Many years can go by just before a property owner realizes what transpired, and the transactions are intricate. What a single man or woman promises as fraud can be defended as just a lopsided business deal.

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

Civil lawsuits are commonly the only way a house owner can attempt to reclaim a title, and victims often can’t manage a law firm. The plaintiffs almost never earn — qualities after owned by various of Mr. Cohen’s customers were bought at foreclosures auctions to other get-togethers ahead of the circumstances could be settled.

Litigation is complex by a internet of shell organizations controlled by Mr. Solny and customers of his household. Of the 140 transactions The Situations connected to Mr. Solny, none was personally deeded to him. Alternatively, he signed as an officer of a company entity that assumed possession.

“We misplaced everything,” Ms. Bruce explained, recalling a period of time when she slept on friends’ couches and still left New York for less costly housing in Philadelphia. Her husband died in 2020. “Do you know how challenging it is to be buying up the items when you’re in your senior years?”

House owners are not the only ones impacted. Tenants and town businesses have complained of critical protection and health hazards at structures owned by providers joined to Mr. Solny.

Of the 19 disputed attributes all those providers however owned as of June, 15 had open up housing violations, like for heat and incredibly hot-drinking water failures, unsafe wiring and pest infestations.

“They’re not accomplishing very little — never have heating, hardly ever fix almost nothing,” claimed Sandy Triunfel, a residence attendant who in 2017 stopped having to pay lease on her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, according to court data, because she explained she did not obtain scorching h2o or fuel for months.

The proprietor, Blue Realty & Solutions Team, a company tied to Mr. Solny, evicted her the following calendar year. The prior homeowner had claimed in civil courtroom that the company experienced tricked him into signing about the deed to the residence.

At Ms. Bruce’s previous home, town inspectors uncovered almost four dozen direct paint violations in February 2019, when a mom and her 8 small children had been residing there. After the tenants used for unexpected emergency rental assist, the town paid out approximately $21,000 in back again rent to Mr. Solny’s corporation. Two existing tenants explained the city was even now paying some of their hire through subsidies.

It was one particular of 3 disputed houses exactly where The Times located the metropolis experienced coated the lease for Mr. Solny’s tenants. The New York Town Housing Authority, which paid out subsidies at 1 of the attributes, claimed it experienced given that additional Mr. Solny’s company to a record of banned landlords.

Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Social Products and services, which administers the hire assistance plan at the other two properties, reported the agency’s precedence was to preserve housing security for tenants.

Mr. Solny, 65, who is recognized as Sandy, has been on the city’s radar for decades.

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 out again the money but continues to be suspended.

The next calendar year, Mr. Solny and his daughter went on a buying spree: at least 50 properties in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, several of which ended up in or approaching foreclosures. On a single working day in March 2013, they signed the deeds to 3 households in East New York, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, according to metropolis data.

Tenants and householders described him as cordial, with a delicate voice and grandfatherly mien.

“He’s incredibly slick,” claimed Richard Critical, who sued a company managed by Mr. Solny in 2015 for declaring the title to his two-loved ones house in East New York. The scenario is open.

In 2016, Mr. Solny and his associates have been charged in Queens with crimes associated to the theft of 10 homes. He pleaded guilty two yrs later to a lesser cost of criminal possession of stolen assets and was sentenced to up to five decades of probation.

Mr. Solny compensated a great and returned rent he had gathered, and 5 deeds were voided as a end result of the deal. His daughter, Shandelle, 31, was billed with tax fraud and paid restitution in a plea offer. Ms. Solny declined to remark outside of the statement issued by her father’s attorney.

In 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors charged Mr. Solny with crimes linked to the theft of eight qualities. 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 however been achieved in the Brooklyn situation.

The Queens offer did not bar Mr. Solny from obtaining additional true estate, but the courtroom appointed a keep track of in 2018 to evaluate his organization promotions heading ahead and flag any suspicious transactions.

In a review of house data, The Moments identified a questionable transaction conducted immediately after Mr. Solny’s plea in Queens.

Elizabeth Lewis, 77, a retired bank employee, informed The Moments that in late 2019, Mr. Solny made available to arrange a short sale on a Brooklyn house, a two-bed room brick residence in East Flatbush belonging to Ms. Lewis’s sister, who experienced a reverse mortgage 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 reported she was paid out $5,000 with the assure of additional when the house was sold.

She signed around the deed to a enterprise controlled by Mr. Solny, but the personal debt was not paid, according to assets data and the Division of Housing and Urban Development, which holds the personal loan.

Similar revenue demonstrate the home is almost certainly worthy of more than $500,000, but Ms. Lewis can no more time market it mainly because Mr. Solny’s corporation is outlined with the town as the proprietor.

She has not heard from Mr. Solny in virtually two many years, she claimed.

Brian Sanvidge, who has overseen the overview of Mr. Solny’s transactions at Anchin, the monitoring business, reported that he experienced looked at much more than 240 properties linked to Mr. Solny and experienced not caught the East Flatbush sale. He called it “concerning” and claimed he would report it to the Queens district lawyer.

Public endeavours have been produced to counter assets fraud, but critics say the steps drop shorter.

The condition lawyer general’s office declared a campaign to fight deed theft in 2020, funding no cost authorized products and services and home loan help in neighborhoods vulnerable to fraud. But relief for those who have currently dropped their homes can be challenging to get: The business is presently prosecuting just 3 deed theft situations.

A state legislation handed in 2019 included a rule that makes it possible for prosecutors to file a movement to void a fraudulent home transfer in link with a guilty plea or verdict.

But the rule is narrowly described, limiting its use, and the course of action can even now acquire years, stated Rachel Geballe, a deputy director at Brooklyn Lawful Providers. Neither Queens nor Brooklyn prosecutors have utilized the system, whilst the offices stated they experienced made use of other implies to void fraudulent deeds.

For Ms. Bruce, eight several years have handed given that she signed her dwelling around to Mr. Solny’s organization. The Brooklyn criminal circumstance has been adjourned 13 instances since late 2020. Mr. Farkas claimed in court in June that his customer was contemplating a plea deal.

“I’m hoping some form of justice will appear from this,” Ms. Bruce mentioned. “I say, ‘Lord, when is this going to be in excess of?’”

Susan Beachy contributed research.