| NEW YORK, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- A New York artist, the alleged owner of a Brooklyn house, said he has been the victim of house theft and mortgage fraud for the last seven years.
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When Garfield Gillings, 53, attempted in 2003 to negotiate a payment of overdue water and tax bills with a collection agency, he discovered his debt had been paid and his name allegedly had been forged on a fraudulent deed, which was then signed over to a holding company and recorded with the city, the New York Times reported Monday.
A Long Island woman, Maria Leyna Albertina, was charged with the theft of Gillings's house as well as of approximately 30 other properties and is now serving a prison sentence, the Times reported.
In the ensuing seven years, the house has gone through a fire, a murder and several owners. None of the owners included Gillings, who has been unable to prove his ownership in court, the Times said.
"It's like I'm in a perfect storm of corruption. I feel like I'm being buried. Every time I try to get my rights acknowledged, I'm getting pushed back", Gillings, a painter and sculptor, said.
The recovery of a stolen house is difficult. Even where there has been a criminal trial, owners may be required to show evidence of theft in court and must sue all putative owners of the stolen real estate to reclaim the deed, said Lynn Armentrout, foreclosure project director with the City Bar Justice Center.
Although Colleen Kerwick, Gillings's pro bono lawyer at the time, said Gillings's title was restored when Albertina was convicted, Albertina had not admitted her theft was by means of a forgery and there wasn't enough evidence to automatically restore title to Gillings, said Richard Farrell, the head of the Brooklyn district attorney's office real estate fraud unit.
"Without statement by the defendant or finding by trial jury that the document is a forgery, you've got litigation on your hands", said Farrell. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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