More than a dozen homeowners on Long Island lose homes in mortgage scam

Friday, September 18, 2015
Mortgage scam stole deeds from more than a dozen homeowners
AJ Ross has the exclusive story from Miller Place.

WADING RIVER, N.Y. (WABC) -- More than a dozen homeowners on Long Island were ripped off in a scam that promised to help them avoid foreclosure.

It did the opposite.

The New York State Attorney General is issuing a warning to anyone who's in trouble with their mortgage.

"It meant everything, that's where all three of my kids grew up. You know, they lost all their friends, people they went to school with, we had to relocate," said John Lehman, a mortgage scam victim.

Lehman and his wife tirelessly worked and saved for years to buy a house in a better neighborhood for their children in Wading River, New York. Then when it came time to refinance during the housing collapse, they suddenly found their backs pressed against the wall.

"We went to do a refinance and by the time we walked out we didn't own our house anymore," Lehman said.

Lehman says he noticed an ad in the local paper and reached out to Empire Property Solutions for help where he assured he could both refinance and rebuild his credit.

All he had to do was turn over his deed through the company's "sale-leaseback" program.

But it was all a scam according to State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who launched an investigation into Empire Property Solutions and its principals, including attorneys and brokers who were all allegedly in on the scheme.

"This scam revictimized families who were already suffering from the collapse of the housing market," Schneiderman said.

"They basically told us this is the only way we could save the house we had to sign these papers," Lehman said. "Basically destroyed our lives, you know he took everything from us."

The state investigation further revealed the Lehman's were actually one of 14 families cheated out of their home deeds and equity.

Victims were told they could stay in their homes, make payments, and then after a year their deed would be reverted back to them.

However, the company didn't make good on that promise and families were eventually faced with foreclosure and eviction.

The Attorney General's Office is now working to return those deeds to their rightful owners and a $400,000 state settlement has also reached.

"We are working with several of the homeowners who were ripped off to return their deeds to them, and we're also working with another family to help them purchase a new home with the money they received from these settlements," Schneiderman said.

"He should be sentenced a year for every night that I've stayed awake worrying about where my kids were going to live," Lehman said.

The federal government has also launched a criminal investigation against the partners of this sale leaseback scheme, and two key players have already pleaded guilty and are now awaiting sentencing.