Attorney General James Announces Indictment of Long Island Man for Deed Theft
Joseph Makhani Allegedly Filed Forged Deeds and Falsified Documents to Steal Two Harlem Brownstones Worth Over $4.7 Million
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the indictment and arraignment of Joseph Makhani, 60, of Kings Point, Long Island for deed theft on the grounds that he stole two brownstones located at 107 West 118th Street and 135 West 131st Street in Harlem. Makhani is alleged to have stolen the two homes in 2012 through a scheme involving forged and falsified documents and shell companies to conceal and execute the thefts. In New York state real estate tax filings, Makhani claimed to have paid only $10 for each home, but the properties had a combined estimated value of more than $4.7 million during the relevant times of possession. In one building, Makhani’s actions resulted in a vulnerable and elderly homeowner being forced to live in a homeless shelter despite being the true owner of a property valued at approximately $2.9 million, and in the other building, he tried to evict tenants, causing confusion and stress.
Makhani was arraigned today in New York County Supreme Court before Judge Michele Rodney, where he pleaded not guilty to two counts of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. He faces a maximum penalty of eight and a third to 25 years in state prison. Makhani was previously arrested and indicted for these crimes by Attorney General James in 2021.
“Shameless deed thieves like Joseph Makhani target vulnerable homeowners and steal their most valuable and personal asset,” said Attorney General James. “This crime harms entire communities, especially those facing population displacement and gentrification. The fear and confusion unleashed on New Yorkers when they learn their homes have been stolen out from under them is something no one should have to endure. I will continue my efforts to address deed theft and hold people like Joseph Makhani accountable.”
West 118th Street Property
Makhani used forged deeds, other fraudulent documents, and shell companies to steal the brownstone located at 107 West 118th Street from an elderly and vulnerable owner. In a New York state tax filing used to further his scheme, a Makhani-controlled corporation claimed to have paid only $10 for the brownstone. In a mortgage application filed by Makhani, he falsely claimed that he paid $975,000 for the brownstone and obtained a $650,000 construction loan for renovations. Makhani then refinanced and received a $1.2 million long-term mortgage loan on the property. Makhani also applied to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to convert the building into market-rate apartment rentals. From 2016 to 2023, Makhani rented each unit out for approximately $3,000 and $3,400 per month, allowing him to collect a monthly rent income of more than $12,000. Makhani was able to amass this wealth while the elderly and vulnerable owner of the brownstone never received any money from him. The true owner of the brownstone now lives in a homeless shelter while her stolen home has been recently valued at approximately $2.9 million.
West 131st Street Property
Makhani illegally took ownership of the property located at 135 West 131st Street through falsified documents, shell companies, and other fraudulent tactics. Prior to Makhani's takeover, the last true deed recorded on this property was recorded in 1975 in the name of an elderly owner who died soon after. Around 2012, Makhani approached one of the building’s tenants and told them that he had purchased the brownstone. Makhani secured the tenant’s signature by pretending to offer him a job. Makhani then filed a new deed with that tenant’s forged signature, misrepresenting the tenant as the owner, which was simply untrue. Makhani then transferred the brownstone to a company he controlled. When Makhani’s ownership of the brownstone and the deed was questioned in eviction cases brought by his company against the tenants, Makhani filed a new fraudulent deed that claimed the heirs of the last recorded owner transferred the property to his company. HPD sued Makhani in 2013, and in 2015 obtained a more than $1 million judgment for his failure to appropriately maintain the brownstone, which was estimated to be worth $1.8 million. Soon after, Makhani abandoned the property, which was then foreclosed on by the City of New York.
Attorney General James thanks the New York State Police, New York City Sheriff’s Office, and the Office of the City Register for their assistance on this matter.
The charges filed in this case are accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Attorney General James has taken significant action to protect New York homeowners and combat deed theft. In April, Attorney General James proposed legislation to establish a crime of deed theft, strengthen protections and remedies for victims of deed theft, and bolster the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) ability to prosecute these crimes. In December 2022, she announced the indictment of five members of a deed theft ring for allegedly stealing three homes worth more than $1 million in total from elderly, vulnerable homeowners in Queens. In February 2021, Attorney General James announced an $800,000 grant, funded by OAG settlements, to HPD and the Center for New York City Neighborhoods as part of a program aimed at increasing awareness of deed theft in vulnerable neighborhoods. In January 2020, Attorney General James launched the Protect Our Homes initiative and announced the formation of an interagency law enforcement task force to respond to deed theft and other real estate fraud. In January 2019, Attorney General James announced the sentencing of a Brooklyn scammer for deed theft of two homes in Central Brooklyn.
The Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), a network of housing counselors and legal services providers throughout New York supported by OAG, offers free housing counseling and legal assistance statewide. Homeowners can contact HOPP online or call 1 (855) 466-3456 to get help.
This investigation was conducted by Investigator Angel LaPorte who was assisted by Investigator Ruben Valencia, under the supervision of Detective Supervisors William Carbone and Michael Leahy and Deputy Chief Investigator Juanita Bright. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney Generals Nazy Modiri and Matthew Luongo from the Real Estate Enforcement Unit and Public Integrity Bureau, under the supervision of Real Estate Enforcement Unit and Public Integrity Bureau Chief Gerard Murphy and Deputy Bureau Chief Kiran Heer. Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Batsidis and Legal Support Analysts Grace Koh and Hannah Mueller assisted in the prosecution. The Criminal Justice Division is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.