You Can Steal The Empire State Building In Only 90 Minutes

The Daily News has stolen the Empire State Building, and it only took 90 minutes. They made up some fake paperwork and successfully got the deed to the 102-story landmark transferred to a fake company called “Nelots Properties LLC.” Get it? Nelots? Stolen? The information provided to the city register was laughably fake — King Kong star Fay Wray was listed as a witness.

From the Daily News:

Of course, stealing the Empire State Building wouldn’t go unnoticed for long, but it shows how easy it is for con artists to swipe more modest buildings right out from under their owners. Armed with a fraudulent deed, they can take out big mortgages and disappear, leaving a mess for property owners, banks and bureaucrats.

“Once you have the deed, it’s easy to obtain a mortgage,” Farrell said.

Many crooks have done just that:

- Asia Smith stole her 88-year-old grandmother’s house in Springfield Gardens, Queens, pocketing $445,000 in mortgages she took out.

“Her grandmother raised her,” said Queens Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kane. Smith, 22, was arrested last December and is serving a one-year jail term for fraud.

- A man posing as someone who had been dead for 19 years deeded the dead man’s property to himself. He then sold it to the scheme’s mastermind, who took out a $533,000 mortgage and vanished with the cash.

- Toma Dushevic managed to steal seven dilapidated city-owned buildings in Brooklyn 10 years ago.

It took 90 minutes for Daily News to ‘steal’ the Empire State Building [Daily News]
(Photo: Amy Photos )

Comments

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  1. Mistrez_Mish says:

    Hmmmmmm…. 5 minute commute time to the office… lovely city views….

    Hello new apartment!!!! enormous apartment… >_<

  2. nursetim says:

    That old joke about selling a certain bridge has a new twist now.

  3. antoineawwad says:

    hehehehe…i wonder if we can do that with the white house…that would be a hell of an apartment. lol

  4. m4ximusprim3 says:

    It is pretty amazing that the clerk at the office didn’t take one look and be like “350 5th ave? WTF are you smoking?”

  5. BlondeGrlz says:

    This may say more about the stupidity of government employees than the cunning of con artists.

    • NefariousNewt says:

      @BlondeGrlz is having a BlondeBoyz!: Especially considering they used Fay Wray as a witness! You mean it didn’t dawn on somebody that that was a wee bit peculiar?

      • trujunglist says:

        @NefariousNewt:

        Umm, maybe if it was someone like Britney Spears rather than an actress from a 1930s. I’m pretty sure people nowadays are more familiar with the actors in the new version of KK rather than the classic.

    • JuneVeto says:

      @NefariousNewt: @BlondeGrlz is having a BlondeBoyz!:
      The government employees you so casually slam in your comment have a legal obligation to record any and all documents into the official public record. They cannot make a determination as to whether or not the Fay Wray listed on the document is an ancient actress, or an actual current day person of the same name.
      Try educating yourself a little about the subject before posting derogatory comments.

  6. Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

    Didn’t some guy send checks to a bunch of jurisdictions and put in the memo line “for ownership of such & such a building” and all of them cashed the checks.

    • kcrochet says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★: San Diego DJ Dave Rickards did that a few years ago. He sent a $2.00 check to the county with the memo line “For purchase of Coronado Bay Bridge”. They cashed the check which completed the “contract” stipulated on the check. Now, that bridge is commonly referred to as “Dave’s Bridge” in San Diego, even by other radio and TV news reporters.

  7. Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

    Since the original documents were forged and not properly notarized, doesn’t it make everything void?

  8. SpruceStreetPhil - in a new Pine flavor says:

    I wonder what type of mortgage you can get on the Empire State Building.

  9. MissPeacock says:

    Awesome! I’m actually flying out to New York tonight after work. I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow!

  10. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Of course its void, but they still succeeded didn’t they?

  11. SadSam says:

    This is a huge problem in lovely Florida. Happens all the time. The clerks just stamp the paperwork and take the money. There is no assessment as to whether the forms are genuine.

    I’ve heard some discussion about the clerk’s having to send out notices when they issue a quit claim deed so that the owner gets some notice that their house has been stolen and is about to be mortgage to the hilt. I actually monitor the status of activity on my homes via my local property appraiser web’s site. I check to make sure there has been no title activity once a month.

    Pretty sad.

    • Anonymous says:

      .@SadSam: You can watch all you want, but it’s kind of like watching for German U-Boats. By the time you see something it’s way too late to do anything to prevent it.

      If for whatever reason somebody forged a deed from you to them and took out a mortgage, the Title Insurance company that insured those fraudulent transactions would be on the hook to make both you and the mortgagee, (bank), whole. This would include all attorney’s fees, recording costs, and whatever else was required.

      By the way, you wouldn’t even be considered the victim, the bank would be. Since the deed transfer was invalid, your ownership of the property never changed. Yes, you would have the headache of having to be involved with the mess, but other than the bureaucracy you would suffer no damages.

      But I think you have a better chance, statistically, of getting struck by lightning than being involved with this kind of fraud.

      Sleep easy.

      • SadSam says:

        @YadidCotys:

        You are the victim if you own the house out right. No bank or title company.

        • pjorg says:

          @SadSam: I don’t think that’s right. The bank and/or title company that processed the fraudulent mortgage would still be “on the hook,” as they say.

          In the end, they would have lent money to someone on the basis of collateral that they didn’t actually possess (your property).

    • bwcbwc says:

      @SadSam: They do the same thing with auto titles on a smaller scale. Sometimes it’s in conjunction with actually stealing the car, other times it’s just to get a title loan.

      FWIW if your credit monitoring service checks for public records changes, you should be notified fairly quickly that your property has changed hands. It won’t prevent the fraud, but it might keep the problem from getting even more complicated with downstream transactions.

  12. lpranal says:

    I was kind of hoping that this story was about adverse possession. Sadly, it isn’t so :-

  13. 44 in a Row says:

    I was kind of hoping that this story was about adverse possession. Sadly, it isn’t so :-

    Having recently turned in a 10-page memo on adverse possession, I’m kind of glad it’s not!

    • lpranal says:

      @44 in a Row: I just thought it would be funny if somehow, some crazy hermit living on a forgotten floor managed to somehow gain technical ownership of the thing. that would be a hoot.

  14. mindchaotica says:

    that is too funneh.

  15. Trai_Dep says:

    If only King Kong was aware of this stratagem, he wouldn’t have been kicked out (err, off) for trespassing, and he and Fay would be living happily ever after. Producing lil’ furry bundles of infant joy like rabbits.
    Well, BIG furry bundles of…
    And, like MONKEYS, not rabbits.

  16. Kishi says:

    @weakdome: So you get the money, and skip town, hoping you’ve got enough money to *afford* to skip town…

  17. Farquar says:

    This really doesn’t say anything about the stupidity of govt. employees. Those of you who think so don’t understand how the system works.

    Clerks in the register of deeds offices are not required to read the documents that are filed. Honestly, they shouldn’t. It would cause an already moderately slow process to grind to a halt. Even the smallest of counties get hundreds of filings a day. In a large urban area it can be thousands-tens of thousands a day.

    The street address to the property is not on the recorded deed. Street addresses change over time and cannot be used as a description. The legal description of the property is used. If you own a home look at your deed and read the legal description. You live in that house but if someone read that description out loud to you there is a decent chance you’d have no idea he was talking about your land. Some states use a pin system that assigns a bunch of letters/numbers to each lot. Again, a state employee is going to have no idea what the deed is referring to just by looking at a pin.

    A clerk looks at recordings to make sure certain procedures have been followed. They don’t, and can’t make sure that the witnesses actually exist. The don’t and can’t make sure that the signatures on the deeds are authentic. What would you propose they do to verify these things? Start calling people? Who are they going to call? Your phone number isn’t listed on your deed. The witnesses don’t include that information on the deed. (Most states don’t require witnesses anyway.) If a clerk rejected a document because they thought the witness shared a name with some previous notorious person a lawyer would reach through the window and beat the clerk with his own keyboard.

    Those that think this is govt employee incompetence, or laziness.. It’s not. This is how the system works. Someone come up with a plan that would cover all of these situations that would be less expensive to implement then the costs associated with the fraud and litigation that follows.

    • LiC says:

      @Farquar: Just commenting to say I read your comment and thanks.

    • redkamel says:

      @Farquar: require all property sales to be videotaped?

      • Farquar says:

        @redkamel:

        ??

        Not following at all. What does this accomplish? Have you ever seen a real estate closing? Most of the time only the buyer is present, there are very few roundtable closings any more. The closing involves signing a bunch of papers. Awesome. How is whoever watching the video supposed to know that the people in the video are who they say they are?

        Who keeps the videos? Register of Deeds have a hard enough time with space issues already. Does someone have the job at the registers office of watching the video? Yeah, that’ll be efficient.

    • Roeroica says:

      @Farquar: It might not say anything about the clerks, but I do say that getting a mortgage on the premises is due to low underwriting standards/lazy title companies.

      They usually have the APN# on the Deed of Trust, too.

      • Roeroica says:

        @Roeroica: not DOT, i meant deed to the property.

      • Farquar says:

        @Roeroica:

        Agreed.

      • katylostherart says:

        @Roeroica: well, in defense of any clerk looking at it, even if it was a street address, how would they know it’s the empire state building? ask someone other than a cabbie the address of grand central and i’m sure they can tell you exactly how to get to it but an exact street number of a major landmark in new york? not likely honestly. even less so since the habit of giving addresses is X st at Y ave or between 5th and 6th, etc.

      • Azagthoth says:

        @Roeroica: This is the whole reason to buy title insurance. The title companies take the risk of insuring over fraud, and take the worry away from the buyer. A proper examination of the documents will almost always expose a forgery before the purchase even happens, and when they do miss it they must defend the loan and owner.
        The standards for title companies have come down in recent years, but that is only because of the rise in sales to meet demand. The buyer need not worry about sloppy work, so long as they have a policy in hand.

  18. Sinflux says:

    uh, anyone can get a deed for any property, it’s public record.

    • Shaftoe says:

      @Sinflux: I think the point is that the deed was transfered to the con.

      Which brings me to my view that penalties for this sort of con are far too light. A year??? this sort of thing ruins lives on an unprecedented scale. 20 years to life…how about execution?

      • Kaosian says:

        @Farquar:
        You are correct. The problem is most of the “cattle” do not understand this concept. It has nothing to do with the clerks being able to read the deed. A lawyer might be able to but I doubt he would be able to readily identify the property either.

        the point of the article is that we need to make people aware of this newest scam to get money to be able to try and stop it from happening like it is

  19. honestlytoomuch says:

    Something like this happened to my mom once. My dad owned a house that was used as an office building. One day my mom got a phone call from a guy who said that my dad sold him the building. My mom asked him to fax over the paperwork and upon receipt she realized that this was a bunch of bull. too bad for that guy he didn’t realize that my dad had died 7 years prior to the signature that was on his paperwork.

  20. bradym80 says:

    I like how media outlets can send bombs through tsa and transfer deeds to large skyscrapers. But when I try to do it, its called terrorism!

    What a topsy turvy world we live in!

  21. jfischer says:

    “The street address to the property is not on the recorded deed.”

    True, but the property tax department certainly has a handy database to link deeds to street addresses for the purposes of sending out tax bills and such, so there is simply no excuse for not sending a notice to the address that is the subject of the deed filing. This sort of sanity check is very basic, and a jurisdiction not doing some level of sanity check is opening itself to charges of willful disregard of their fiduciary obligation to the citizens they serve.

    • Farquar says:

      @jfischer:

      lol

      No county, anywhere, does this. Ever.

      It’s not a sanity check, its a waste of time and money. I challenge you to find a single county register of deeds that does this. You won’t because such a thing does not exist.

      It’s a pointless endeavor. People aren’t making false deeds and sticking around. They are making false deeds and immediately turning around and getting mortgages and disapearing.

      Lets assume a county does this.. They mail the form out next day. Assuming the owner of the home actually lives in the home (and many times they won’t, see examples) Then what? The register of deeds can’t pull a recorded deed just because someone comes in and says the deed is fraudulent. It’s illegal. The legality of the fraudulent deed needs to be challenged through the legal process like anything else. They can record a notification that there is some issue, but they may (and should) require some court ordered action to do so. Within a week of recordation fraud guy has already gotten his mortgage and disapeared. Screwed owner is equally screwed with the notification. It does nothing but waste resources.

      It’s not like this is a common problem in most areas. Most challenged deed issues have nothing to do with this sort of fraud.

    • silentluciditi says:

      @jfischer: Doesn’t happen. Never will. Deed comes in, gets recorded, gets mailed back to whatever address is listed at the top of the deed. Actual owners who have been swindled never know until something adverse happens. Tax database will be updated to send to whoever’s name and address are on the title (and the mailing address may or may not be the same as the property address), so even then it’s a moot point.

  22. trinidon2k says:

    hahaha… I sent in this related story a while ago.
    [consumerist.com]

    It’s a good read if you liked this post.

  23. redkamel says:

    Maybe I dont understand it all the way, but if its clear someone forged a document and took out a loan, well then, it sure isnt the homeowners fault, they didnt touch or know about a thing. Its the banks fault for not verifying the deed, or the governments fault for not having a better verification system. Sounds simple to me about who should be caring and coming up with a solution…

    Now, I do understand it can be hard to prove the forged document. But why dont they just add a fingerprint requirement, or some simple id…like both people need to be present to file the paperwork, and are photographed and matched against a DMV database.

    • Farquar says:

      @redkamel:

      98% of the time it’s some law firm runner that goes to the register of deeds. Requiring the parties to go to the registers office is impractical. Not everyone lives in the same state as the property they own. So, you are going to get the fingerprint of a person not related to the transaction.

      You would also appear to require the parties each be licensed to drive. That would be illegal.. and children can own land you know.

      Lets not leave out property that is owned by an estate, or corporation. What photo matters, what fingerprint do we want?

      Or, a peice of property owned by 2 dozen people. (trust me, its not that uncommon) You are going to have each of those people showing up at the ROD?

      And all of this isn’t incredibly inefficient?

      All of this to say, the system really isn’t broken.. People just see a few examples of bad guys being bad and want a more bloated division of govt. to prevent it.

      • Pyrusticia says:

        @Farquar: Actually, I don’t really see the problem with getting fingerprints.

        I recently closed on a house that was part of an estate. In order to close the deal, we needed signatures from every heir on the paperwork. This didn’t require that any of the heirs be able to drive…what it required was that the lawyer collecting the signatures be able to drive (and since many of them lived out of state, it took a few months to complete).

        If they can go to this level of effort to collect original signatures, why not fingerprints? It’s certainly harder to forge.

      • Azagthoth says:

        @Farquar: I actually agree with what you are saying Farquar, but children cannot “own” property. They can be in title, but cannot sell without an appointed guardian signing on their behalf.

        I see this as irresponsible journalism by the new york daily (big surprise there). Showing the public how to forge a document is just asking for trouble.

        I hope they get sued for clouding the title of the building. Not only that, but the notary committed a felony by notarizing Fay Wray, and being party to a fraudulent transaction. Way to go, fraud FTL.

  24. Twinrevanoe says:

    I see your deed and I’ll raise you a spider drawing.

  25. Propaniac says:

    This story makes me miss watching Carmen Sandiego after school every day.

  26. silentluciditi says:

    Wow. Considering a Warranty Deed or Quit Claims Deed (conveyence deeds) must be signed byt eh grantor (the current owner of the property) this is pretty sad. That said, as long as the names in the deed itself and those on the signature line match, the clerk isn’t going to stop it. As for obtaining a mortgage- shame on the title companies and lawyers for not catching the fraud. A title search should have turned up the discrepencies and raised a red flag.

    • Farquar says:

      @silentluciditi:

      I’m not certain you understand how title searches work. I know we want to blame someone, but often there isn’t any blame to be passed on. Sometimes bad people do bad things.

      A title search ‘may’ raise a red flag. But most of the time, it won’t.

      The title company is looking for a conveyance from each owner to each subsequent owner. If the fraudster creates a fraudulent deed from rightful owner to fraudulent owner.. Signs it, and otherwise does everything that is required for a deed to be valid, the only thing that is incorrect on the deed is the signature. How is an attorney supposed to know the signature is fake? There is nothing to compare it to. The buyer of a home does not sign the deed that gave him ownership, so the title researcher can’t go look at the real deed. There will be nothing apparent on the face of a fraudulent deed that will give anyone the impression its fraudulent.

      Before anyone says, “well, call the grantor on the phone.” That will never happen and shouldn’t happen.

  27. tokenblackgirl says:

    @undefined: I agree with everything you just said ( I do real estate). Its a preety stupid story because anyone can steal a property because recorded deeds are part of public information. Its when you try to sell it and transfer it to another person that a problem arises. A title search would have unraveled this deal in no time.

    This is a really sensational stupid story.

  28. Meathamper says:

    Next up: steal the Chrysler Building. I’m sure Chrysler wouldn’t mind changing the name to Douchbags Building.