Mugged: City Robs 66 Year-Old Woman’s Home

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Most homeowners are powerless before a lawless City Housing and State courts system when they fall victim to the “City tax lien,� program. Today many homeowners in New York have lost real property they owned or lived in—in some cases for as long as 40 or 50 years—because of hefty fines being called a “Tax lien,� which can best be described as fraudclosures. Simmonds was evicted from a 50-room 1887 Queen Anne Brooklyn mansion in Crown Heights on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and Dean Street.

Due to the unprecedented rise in real estate value –which seems to be tapering—too many citizens and a large number of the elderly are being placed in nursing homes after they fall victim to ‘fraudclosures’ commonly being called, a “land grab.â€?  It should be a crime when city agencies and courts act in concert to evict citizens from their homes – adding them to an already overbearing homeless epidemic.

What happened to that song we sang as children? “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. This land was made for you and me.�

Sue Simmonds 66 years old, is not an attorney. She is an ordinary elder woman and has been fighting for 10 years to keep her home. However, coming face to face with greedy special interest groups and a corrupt legal system, she stood no chance.

Last November while most people were preparing for their Thanksgiving dinner and for the upcoming holidays, Simmonds was being evicted from her dream home. The eviction was tasteless and exposes an apartheid system of justice. Since we first reported her case a few months ago –prior to her eviction—dozens of people have approached us with their stories of woeful happenings.

Most homeowners are powerless before a lawless City Housing and State courts system when they fall victim to the “City tax lien,â€? program. Today many homeowners in New York have lost real property they owned or lived in—in some cases for as long as 40 or 50 years—because of hefty fines being called a “Tax lien,â€? which can best be described as fraudclosures. 

Simmonds was evicted from a 50-room 1887 Queen Anne Brooklyn mansion in Crown Heights on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and Dean Street. “The place is beautiful.  They did not know or care about the history of these houses and I said, I have to save this one,â€? Simmonds recalled, referring to City Officials in charge at the Department of Buildings (DOB).

Soon after Simmonds’ property was successfully listed as a Landmark, the Department of Finance (DOF) did not waste any time sending her an alleged tax-bill for $205K. However, there were several problems with that bill, i.e., the Department of Buildings did not properly assess the property when Simmonds became the new owner, and most of the alleged “Tax,� liability belonged to the previous owner.

When a $205K tax bill is sent to a non-millionaire, it literally says one thing; we are going to take your home. “The DOF commissioner’s name appears on my title deed as the seller and she says it’s not her signature,�stated Simmonds, referring to Martha Stark, DOF Commissioner. Stark’s office did not return my several calls seeking comment.

In an attempt to pierce the corporate veil, one must expose who’s behind these ‘Third Party Corporations,’ which are being used to steal real property and compel common people to appear in New York Housing and State Courts due to a local law passed in the City Council and approved by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Did the City Council design Local Law 26 for the purpose of snatching real property from its rightful owner? 

Can elected city officials create tax in the form of a “Tax Lien,â€? rendering its citizens homeless or houseless without any recourse? And was it the purpose of Local Law 26 to collect property taxes, or create taxes? 

Simmonds is a tax-payer who hired several attorneys to assist her in protecting her human rights and property.  It does not matter how educated you are or what class you belong to when it involves a land-grab or theft of real property. Simmonds is a well-educated and religious woman; this did not stop these wolves from grabbing her structure. 

“When I purchased this home, properties like this one were being gutted or torn down. These people did not know what they was doing or they didn’t care,â€? Simmonds said, speaking about other Crown Heights Landmarks which were destroyed.  How many other former homeowners are victims of fraudulent closures like Simmonds? 

Prior to Simmonds ownership, the mansion was converted into a 7-unit dwelling without the approval of the DOB, which was illegal. According to DOB records the mansion had many building code violations that had been overlooked for years. The violations were wrongly held against Simmonds.

According to court documents, the title company closed on the deal with these violations uncorrected. As the new owner, Simmonds was represented by counsel and agreed to make good on repairs she was not liable for. “It’s like being caught in a Catch-22. How can you do repairs on something that’s illegal?â€? asked Patrick Tittle, a Mount Vernon, N.Y. attorney who represented Simmonds in 1997. 

Simmonds used Phillip O’Hara Title Insurance Company located in Brooklyn. Attorney Edwin Eustace Drakes closed the deal leaving her with a heavy tax burden, which was fraudulent, and plain criminal. On April 1, 2004, Drakes was suspended for two years by the Appellate Division’s second department in connection with funny legal work in matters unrelated to Simmond’s. 

“We no longer have the file,� stated a spokesperson for O’Hara, referring to Simmonds’ case. “The file was sent to First American Title Insurance Company and they have the whole file.� The insurance company did not return my calls.

Around December 2002, Attorney Norman Ushkow, 71, of 2061 Deer Park Avenue, Deer Park, introduced himself to Simmonds and told her he would help her, she said. “Attorney Ushkow took my legal documents, which had to be answered in 60 days, and told me not to talk with anyone because he would take care of everything. He just wanted my home and told me his family would pay me $500,000 for my deed,â€? Simmonds recalled.  My investigation shows that Ushkow was suspended twice and then disbarred in 1982. He pled guilty in early 2002 to grand larceny in the fourth degree. He was jailed for six months in the Nassau County Correctional Center (NCCC) and released to the Department of Probation until 2007. 

Clearly, Ushkow violated his parole terms of condition when he approached Simmonds after his release. Simmonds has since contacted Nassau, Suffolk and Brooklyn County Districts Attorney Offices to complain about Ushkow who has not been  investigated or arrested. Simmonds also complained to the State Attorney General’s office, the City Public Advocate’s office and many public officials—she was still evicted.

According to court records the Commissioner of the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) dragged Simmonds’ into civil court on complaints made by tenants. Judge Gerald Bank held Simmonds responsible for the building’s violations, even though they were manufactured by DHPD. Simmonds was also threatened with jail time when tenants she had filed complaints about lack of heat and unsafe conditions, all of which were present prior to her ownership. “I never received a dime of the rent money and I did do the repairs. They used these tenants to get my structure,� Simmonds said.

According to court records HPD was seeking the appointment “of a court designated administrator; order directing the tenants to deposit all rents due and all future rents as they become due; and to throw Simmonds in jail.� Sounds just like land-grab to me.

When the case was moved to Judge Marc Finkelstein’s court he rejected everything HPD was seeking in its motion.  However, somehow HPD began collecting the rent on the property from the tenants. 

Suddenly, under the “third party transfer program,â€? Neighborhood Restore, HDFC and Brooklyn Neighborhood Improvement Associates, Inc. appeared as new owners.  Simmonds was reduced to a “tenant,â€? in her own home. 

How did DHPD a city agency, get jurisdiction over private real property listed as a landmark? “We don’t have jurisdiction, we have oversight of the third party transfer program,� stated Carol Abrams, HPD spokesperson.

What happened to Judge Finkelstein’s order? How can a city agency adversely attach corporations to Simmonds’ home and continue to file eviction motions in Landlord–Tenant court while Simmonds awaits a stay from the Appellant Division?
Who rushed her eviction?

Simmonds was summoned to Brooklyn Landlord-Tenant court as a tenant and Judge Marcia Sikowitz ruled to evict her. Sikowitz threatened to sanction her attorney, Steven Okenwa. “This judge is not practicing any law in that court,â€? Okenwa said. 

Judge Sikowitz told another attorney representing Simmonds, not to put in a retainer on the case, and he did not. There needs to be some real system wide court reform to correct such blatant injustice. 

To add insult to injury, a Queens city marshal sent Simmonds a bill for $3,700 after evicting her and storing her belongings in a warehouse. “This is a scam. All of my things were not moved out of my home and this Marshall has all my legal papers. They know just what they are doing,â€? Simmonds said. 

Elliot Spitzer wants to become governor. Well he’s still State Attorney General. Eyes are watching. What will he do about Simmonds case and the many others like hers? Simmonds’ appeal is scheduled to be heard before the Appellate Division second department on February 15, 2006. The Black Star News will keep readers posted.

If you have any comments contact Winkfield for his consideration regarding covering your own story, write:  On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423; email: Bsnonthespot@aol.com or write to editor@blackstarnews.com – call (212) 481-7745.  Together we can get the justice everyone just talks about.

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