Over the past dozen years, Sanford Solny has built a New York real estate empire, snatching up small residential buildings across the city that churn out hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent.
His portfolio would be enviable but for one thing — much of it, prosecutors and homeowners contend, was stolen. In criminal charges and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: offering to help homeowners facing foreclosure by arranging to pay off their mortgages, while actually tricking them into signing over their buildings at bargain-basement prices. In nearly every case, the mortgage was never paid, leaving the homeowner with no property but a pile of debt.
The practice is known as deed theft, and as city and state officials promised to crack down on it, they homed in on Mr. Solny. The Brooklyn district attorney, whose office has charged him with taking the homes of seven families, called his behavior “despicable.” In Queens, prosecutors accused Mr. Solny and his associates of cheating 10 people out of their properties. The court appointed a monitor to scrutinize his transactions.
targets immigrants and Black and Latino homeowners. Despite repeated pledges from the New York State attorney general and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a small fraction of thousands of complaints are ever prosecuted. Homeowners, stripped of their most significant asset, are left to engage in a long and expensive fight to try to reclaim their properties in civil court.
A close review of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing court cases, lawsuits, city property records and interviews — reveals a long record of questionable dealings and a largely ineffective government response. Over more than a decade, Mr. Solny and companies linked to him took ownership of at least 140 properties, The Times found. The former owners of 40 of those buildings — which include a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a three-story apartment building near Rockaway Beach and a suburban Craftsman-style home with a lawn in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they were victims of deed theft, civil and criminal court records show.
Even while Mr. Solny was under the eye of the monitor, a company controlled by him paid a Brooklyn woman $5,000 for a home worth about 100 times that much and left her family with the debt, according to the woman and city property records.
Through a web of shell companies, Mr. Solny still owns 19 homes whose owners he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects rent from tenants he installed in many of them, according to court filings, city records and interviews. As criminal charges against Mr. Solny have piled up, city agencies have paid the rent of tenants at some of those properties through affordable-housing vouchers, The Times found.
disciplinary board decision. He paid back the money but remains suspended.