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Queens real estate scam unraveled by woman suspicious of con man’s cheap suit

Woman by being suspicious and seeking qualified lawyer's help, unraveled real estate scam

Laura Gayle’s suspicion rose as she sat across from Russell Carbone at a local Starbucks. His oversized, crumpled suit and pushy demeanor set off alarm bells in her mind. When he produced an envelope stuffed with $5,000 in cash and dangled a $15,000 check for immediate paperwork signing, she knew something was amiss.

Carbone’s ill-fitting attire seemed to confirm her unease. “When a lawyer walks in with a bad suit, you know you’re going to jail,” Gayle recalled. The suit, wrinkled and clearly unsuited to its wearer, signaled trouble. Her gut instinct, always attuned to warning signs, told her this meeting wouldn’t end well.

Despite Carbone’s persuasive spiel promising solutions to their financial woes regarding her late father’s foreclosed home in South Jamaica, Gayle trusted her instincts. She swiftly sought counsel, reaching out to a real estate lawyer after sending photos of the documents Carbone had presented.

The lawyer’s advice was unequivocal: “It’s a scam.” The papers Carbone offered would grant Terrell Hill power of attorney over their property, a move designed to wrest control from Gayle and her siblings.

Swiftly taking action, Gayle reported the incident, setting off an investigation that unearthed multiple victims ensnared in a similar trap. Carbone, a disbarred lawyer at 69, and Hill, a landscaper aged 40, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and offering falsified documents on November 30. Their company, RC Couture Realty, faced penalties, with a $100,000 fine imposed, alongside a restitution order of $56,960 from Carbone for collected rents on the stolen properties.

Hill faces an impending three-year prison sentence, set for January 20, marking the climax of a legal battle sparked by Gayle’s swift action and intuition. Her quick thinking and refusal to be duped not only saved her family’s property but also unveiled a network of deceit affecting multiple unsuspecting individuals.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz detailed the elaborate scheme orchestrated by Terrell Hill, a landscaper, and Russell Carbone, revealing their methodical approach to defrauding homeowners. Hill, leveraging his landscaping work, gathered intel on seemingly unoccupied houses, passing the information to Carbone. The duo then probed into deceased homeowners and whether their successors had assumed ownership.

Their modus operandi involved crafting fraudulent documents to claim ownership, utilizing forged signatures, and purchasing notary stamps bearing the identities of legitimate notaries. Katz highlighted the vulnerability of properties held in estates, emphasizing the importance of vigilance over inherited estates to prevent exploitation by unscrupulous individuals.

Despite Laura Gayle’s prompt recognition of irregularities in her dealings with Hill and Carbone, her vigilance couldn’t prevent the fraudulent transfer of her late father’s home. Gayle, a flight attendant now residing in Georgia, expressed dismay at the ease with which her family’s cherished property was pilfered. For her, the house held sentimental value as her father’s inaugural home, and its unlawful usurpation underscored the gravity of signature misuse in property theft.

Prosecutors, upon unearthing the falsified documents linked to Hill and Carbone, reclaimed the “stolen” homes of Gayle and seven other victims. The ninth victim had their property restored through a distinct legal process under New York law. The roster of properties seized by the duo comprised six in southeast Queens (Jamaica, Laurelton, St. Albans), alongside two homes in Nassau County (West Hempstead, Westbury).

Attempts to elicit comments from Carbone and Hill remained unanswered, while legal representatives for both individuals failed to respond to requests for comments. Carbone’s history, having been disbarred in 2001 due to his conviction in Miami Federal Court on charges related to a heroin smuggling case, underscores a pattern of deceit and illegal activities.

Deed theft emerges as a mounting concern, with the New York City Sheriff’s Office documenting around 3,500 complaints spanning 2014 to 2023, notably over 1,500 complaints in Brooklyn and 1,000 in Queens. Katz acknowledged the challenge of preventing deed theft, citing the abundance of public personal and residential information. She advocated for homeowners’ proactive measures, endorsing enrollment in the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) for alerts on any dubious property-related activity.

Katz stressed the importance of homeowners reporting inexplicable bills bearing someone else’s name, a subtle but telltale sign of potential fraudulent activity. To combat this menace, Governor Hochul recently signed legislation empowering prosecutors to safeguard homeowners by intercepting wrongful eviction actions and bolstering their authority to annul counterfeit ownership documents.

The legislative move seeks to fortify protections against property theft, underscoring the need for constant vigilance and proactive measures to shield homeowners from such malicious schemes in an ever-evolving landscape of fraudulent activities.

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