It took 90 minutes for Daily News to 'steal' the Empire State Building
Tuesday, December 2nd 2008, 10:46 PM
In one of the biggest heists in American history, the Daily News "stole" the $2 billion Empire State Building.
And it wasn't that hard.
The News swiped the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper by drawing up a batch of bogus documents, making a fake notary stamp and filing paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property.
The massive ripoff illustrates a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions.
The loophole: The system - run by the office of the city register - doesn't require clerks to verify the information.
Less than 90 minutes after the bogus documents were submitted on Monday, the agency rubber-stamped the transfer from Empire State Land Associates to Nelots Properties LLC. Nelots is "stolen" spelled backward. (The News returned the property Tuesday.)
"Crooks go where the money is. That's why Willie Sutton robbed banks, and this is the new bank robbery," said Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, who is prosecuting several deed fraud cases.
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:
"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.
He got renovation permits, fixed up one of the buildings, and rented out apartments. He sold another building for $250,000 and ran his scam for nearly two years until he was caught. Dushevic returned the buildings and did 18 months behind bars.
The FBI says financial institutions filed 31% more Suspicious Activity Reports involving mortgage fraud last year than in 2006. Nationwide, lenders' losses totaled $813 million, and New York was one of the top 10 mortgage fraud states.