Homeowner of more than 50 years faces eviction from his own house


In the late 1990s, the plan had been to renovate the additional units, which were badly in need of repair, to bring in more income after Cortez retired. But with no job, Cortez said he didn’t think any banks would be willing to lend him the cash he needed.

That’s when Cortez said he met Calle, who was associated with a Queens-based religious organization called Maná Ministries International that, according to Cortez, purported to help homeowners obtain loans. Cortez said a friend from his church made the introduction.

What happened next is unclear. Because of his dementia, Cortez has a hard time relating the facts. But Ray Jr., now in his late 50s, has been highly involved in helping his father save the home.

Ray Jr. alleges that Calle took his father to several lenders between 2000 and 2004. According to Ray Jr., Calle had his father sign documents during those visits. Cortez said he was later told his loan requests were denied.

But property records show otherwise.

“You can see the churning that starts to go on with mortgages and Mr. Cortez’s property,” said Bill Lienhard, one of Cortez’s attorneys.

During those years, loans ranging from $58,000 to $350,000 were taken out against the house on St. Marks Place in Cortez’s name and paid back, records show.

“You’ll see that they take out a mortgage and then pay it off, and take out a mortgage and pay it off,” Lienhard said. “Something fishy was going on.”

Cortez claims he was unaware of those transactions at the time. But in 2006, he said he signed over the deed of his house to Calle, believing that Calle would transfer the property back to him after Calle helped him obtain a loan.

“Calle somehow bamboozled Mr. Cortez into signing the deed,” Lienhard alleges.

Property records show that Cortez sold the house to Calle for $835,000, which Cortez said he never received. Lienhard said there’s no record of Cortez depositing that sum into his bank account. On the same day, records show Calle took out a $668,000 mortgage against the property. The only money Cortez said he received was a sum of about $34,000, which he took to be the loan he thought Calle had helped him secure.

Cortez said Calle introduced him to a Queens-based lawyer in 2006 named Arelia Taveras to draw up the paperwork returning the deed to Cortez, who still has a copy of the documents in his possession. But Lienhard said Taveras never filed them with the city’s Office of the City of Register, the agency that maintains all property-related documents, including deeds and mortgages, which means the house was never officially transferred back into Cortez’s possession, even though he’s continued to live in it ever since.

Cortez said he first realized he was no longer the owner of the home in 2015, when a stranger arrived outside to serve a foreclosure notice to Calle, the home’s legal owner. Calle had defaulted on the loan.

By that time, Calle had been convicted in two separate cases of tax fraud, one in New Jersey in 2011 and another in Florida in 2013, where Calle was found to be part of a group that defrauded the United States out of $19 million by filing false tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service.

Taveras, the lawyer who Liendard said failed to file the deed transferring the house back to Cortez, pleaded guilty in an unrelated case in 2009 to stealing $130,000 from her clients to finance her gambling habit. She was disbarred and sentenced to prison.

“Fraud is what is really at the root of this,” Lienhard said. “What happened here is so egregious.”

Calle’s attorney and Taveras did not return requests for comment. Calle also declined requests for an interview, but he has denied he defrauded Cortez, according to court papers he submitted from federal prison in 2015 in response to a lawsuit Cortez filed against him.

In 2016, a judge denied Cortez’s request to stop the foreclosure. His lawsuit against Calle alleging fraud was dismissed in 2018 – partly because Cortez’s family could no longer afford to pay for legal representation. That same year, the house was sold for $2 million at a foreclosure sale to a limited liability company on Long Island that calls itself CHAI 91 St. Mark Place. It asked a judge to evict Cortez. The judge has yet to issue a ruling.


Source : https://gothamist.com/news/homeowner-of-more-than-50-years-faces-eviction-from-his-own-house

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