Dairus Griffiths had been in his Halsey St home for almost three decades, raising his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren there while working as a plumber.

But in 2014, Griffiths, a Jamaican immigrant, was struggling to keep up with mortgage payments with his pension. He resisted offers to sell, the Daily News wrote in 2019, but when Eli Mashieh of August West Development approached him on the street saying he could help, Griffiths was all ears.

That’s where the case gets murky.

For the past seven years, Griffiths has been in a legal battle with August West Development alleging that Mashieh and the company duped him into signing over his property for $630,000 (when it would have been worth more than $1 million) by saying the documents he was signing would help him get on top of his mortgage payments. Mashieh and the development company argued that Griffiths agreed to sell them the house, and they sued Griffiths when he denied signing the contract.

In 2019, Brooklyn Borough President connected Griffiths with a legal team who worked pro bono on the case, and this month Griffiths reached a settlement with the company that allows him and his family to regain ownership of his home, Patch reports.

Adams told Patch that although this case was a hard-fought victory and should be celebrated, the larger crises of deed fraud and wrongful property seizures, particularly in Black and Brown areas of Brooklyn, demanded real policy solutions.

“No other homeowner should have to endure what the Griffiths went through to get their home back.”

In 2018, while Griffiths was still going through the court system with the developers, Adams and Councilmember Robert Cornegy called for “a full-scale forensic audit and investigation” by federal, state and city authorities into deed transfer scams, the Daily News reported.

“Deed fraud and mortgage foreclosures have reached a crisis moment,” they wrote.

In Nov. 2020, the City announced an ambitious new plan to slow gentrification in Bed-Stuy. The plan said Bed-Stuy is an area where predatory behavior is driving rapid gentrification and where senior homeowners are being aggressively solicited to sell and targeted for deed scams.

Then in February, the Attorney General’s Office gave $800,000 to a program that helps Brooklyn homeowners stay in their neighborhoods, amid the rising pressure of gentrification and property scams.

At the time, New York Attorney General Letitia James said COVID-19 had exposed and expanded the economic pressures New Yorkers were already under, “and homeowners in gentrified areas throughout New York City continue to be targeted in schemes designed to steal their homes.”

“Deed theft is a crime that threatens to rip away homeownership and perpetuates a terrible cycle of displacement.”

Those who believe they have experienced deed theft are encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s Office by calling the help line at 1-800-771-7755, emailing deedtheft@ag.ny.gov, or filling out the online complaint form

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

Join the Conversation

3

  1. Anna, thanks for this article. What are Adams and Cornegy doing about the wave of tax and DEP/water lien sales?

    In your article, you highlight the efforts of private actors. In the case of lien sales, the primary actor is our own local government. The AG’s office is highlighting remedies and the city is failing to embrace these.

    This is something that is grossly impacting long term neighbors.

    https://therealdeal.com/2021/01/28/city-council-to-renew-tax-lien-sale-for-one-year/

    https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/2020/attorney-general-james-urges-sweeping-reforms-nyc-tax-lien-sale

  2. @Lavern – “the bill exempts those who own 10 or fewer units”. If they’re not paying their bills how are they handling the upkeep of said units where tenants live? Someone owns a 10+ units and can’t keep up on those bills ought to consider selling/downsizing.

  3. What happened to the criminals? They just don’t get this building but get to continue business as usual until they get caught again?

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