Allegedly Filed Forged Deeds and Falsified Documents to Steal Two Harlem Brownstones Worth Over $4.7 Million
A Kings Point man has been indicted for deed theft on the grounds that he stole two Harlem brownstones.
Joseph Makhani, 60, is alleged to have stolen the two homes located at 107 West 118th Street and 135 West 131st Street in Harlem 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.
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. He 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. He 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.
In addition, 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. He 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, then transferred the brownstone to a company he controlled. When his 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.
The HPD sued Makhani in 2013, and, in 2015, obtained a more than a $1 million judgment for his failure to appropriately maintain the brownstone, which was estimated to be worth $1.8 million. Soon after, he abandoned the property, which was then foreclosed on by the City of New York.
Makhani was arraigned on July 31 in New York County Supreme Court before Judge Michele Rodney, where he pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal possession of stolen property and one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree. He faces a maximum penalty of 8-1/3 to 25 years in state prison. Makhani was previously arrested and indicted for these crimes by Attorney General Letitia James in 2021.
“Shameless deed thieves like Joseph Makhani target vulnerable homeowners and steal their most valuable and personal asset,” James said. “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.”