Two men pleaded guilty in Queens Supreme Criminal Court to charges they schemed homeowners out of nine properties, the district attorney’s office said Wednesday.
Russell Carbone, 69, faces fines and restitution, and Terrell Hill, 40, could go to prison after entering guilty pleas. Prosecutors said the pair searched for homes whose owners had died and tricked the rightful heirs into turning over their properties.
In several cases, according to the Queens district attorney’s office, Carbone and Hill forged signatures on property records to make themselves the new owners. In all, they stole nine homes — seven in southeast Queens and two on Long Island.
As part of a plea agreement, the court voided those deeds, so their original owners can reclaim the properties.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement that her office launched a special unit three years ago “to protect homeowners from predatory real estate scams that often target vulnerable neighborhoods.”
“With the conclusion of this prosecution, the largest we have undertaken so far, our office will have restored a total of 14 homes to their rightful owners,” she said.
Prosecutors said Carbone, a disbarred attorney, and Hill, a landscaper, forged signatures on property records multiple times between November 2019 and February 2023. They then notarized those documents — sometimes with fake notary stamps they bought from Amazon — and filed them with the city’s Department of Finance.
In 2019, according to the DA’s office, Carbone and Hill attempted to convince a woman to sell a house in Jamaica that she and her brother had inherited. After the woman declined their offer, prosecutors said, they persisted, filing paperwork to transfer the title anyway.
Carbone’s real estate company and Hill each received 48% ownership, while the woman and her brother were both left with just 1% shares, officials said.
Prosecutors said Carbone and Hill filed another forged deed transfer in 2021 that granted an heir only 1% of her Jamaica property. They then tried to evict the original owner’s nephew, who was living in the home.
Carbone and Hill both pleaded guilty to first-degree scheming to defraud and six additional counts related to filing false paperwork, according to prosecutors and court records.
Carbone agreed to pay $56,960 in restitution — the amount of money he received in rent payments after taking control of the properties — which will go to the heirs of the homeowners, according to the DA’s office. R.C. Couture Realty Inc., a company that Carbone runs with his wife, Galyna Couture, also pleaded guilty to criminal charges and has been ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
Carbone’s plea deal spared him from prison time, according to his attorney, James Kousouros.
“Mr. Carbone chose to resolve this matter without continued and complicated litigation,” Kousouros said.
Hill is expected to be sentenced next month and faces up to three years in prison, prosecutors said. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed legislation that aims to protect homeowners from deed theft — a practice that often targets Black and Latino homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods.
The new law, which took effect this month, prevents courts from enforcing an eviction while an investigation or litigation related to a property’s title is ongoing. It also makes it easier for homeowners who sue someone convicted of stealing their property’s deed to argue their case in court.
“I wish we could have protected more people before this day,” Hochul said when she signed the bill into law in November.
“Let the message go out to all of those who have preyed on these individuals for far too long,” she said. “Your day is over. You will be caught, you will be prosecuted and it must end right now.”
New York City officials have received at least 3,500 deed theft complaints in the past decade, according to the sheriff’s office.
David Brand contributed reporting.