Eric Abakporo, a pastor of Deeper Life Bible Church, and his partner scam Ina McArthur, 78-year-old Harlem woman out of $15M fortune.

Friday, April 23, 2010

By William Sherman  - NY DAILY NEWS

Ina McArthur is a widowed 78-year-old with circulatory problems who uses a walker and lives modestly and alone in a Washington Heights apartment building she bought in 1964.

Two years ago, when she decided to sell her property - an entire city block on St. Nicholas Ave. worth up to $15 million - she suddenly found herself with two new best friends.

One of them now owns the property, but as of today McArthur has only received $20,000.
"I was swindled," the retired public school teacher said. "That's it."

Stephen Caputo, her lawyer, said, "She's a lonely, trusting person, and they got her."

McArthur's new friends were Eric Abakporo, 47, a real estate lawyer and pastor of the Pentecostal Deeper Life Bible Church in Jamaica, Queens, and Letanya Pierce, 38, his partner in real estate deals.

Ina McArthur still lives in the sprawling building she says she was swindled out of by new 'pals.'

In a series of complex transactions that includes an apparently forged $500,000 certified check, Pierce took over the property, collected more than $600,000 in rents and received $1.8 million in cash from a mortgage she took out.

"I've gotten almost nothing," McArthur said.

Pierce did not respond to numerous phone calls.

McArthur's loss is just one of hundreds of alleged real estate fraud cases - many involving elderly victims - that accompanied the housing boom in New York City.

McArthur's case began after she decided to sell and met Abakporo and Pierce.

"They drove me around to the drugstore, helped me get prescriptions, even drove me downtown to pay my property tax and my water bills," McArthur said.

Abakporo's brother and cousin, both doctors, helped take care of McArthur, she and Abakporo said.

Though McArthur had better offers, according to her real estate broker, on March 22, 2006, she signed a contract to sell 1070 St. Nicholas Ave. to Abakporo's Tophill Properties Inc.

The sale was supposed to net McArthur $3.1 million, the contract shows. The buyer would pay all closing costs, taxes due and an outstanding mortgage of $600,000.

As part of the deal, McArthur would live rent-free in her apartment for life. That part of the deal has been honored.

Lawyer Derek Gibbs, who formerly worked for the state attorney general's division of co-op and condominium conversions, represented McArthur in the sale.

Gibbs said he was paid $12,500 to represent her. He said his representation "ended with the transactions involving the closing" and that he didn't "know anything about any loan or mortgage given Pierce by McArthur."

Others attending the closing included Abakporo; his partner, Pierce; a representative from a title company; McArthur, and her real estate broker, Chris Halliburton, executive vice president of Warburg Realty's Harlem office.
Eric Abakpoko says no crime was committed by him or partner Letanya Pierce.

"She had better offers, but she wouldn't budge," Halliburton recalled. "There were so many more cons to this deal than pros, but I couldn't change her mind."

Halliburton said he was "shocked" McArthur hadn't been paid. Certified checks from Chase Bank were presented at closing. They included checks for the brokers, a check for the title company and checks for Ina McArthur.
"It should have been simple," said Caputo.

It wasn't.

First, shortly before the closing, Abakporo assigned the contract for sale to Pierce and her company, Creekhill Realty LLC, so Pierce would become the new owner.

Abakporo's wife, Rosemary, was also at the closing where she said she was a partner in Creekhill, according to McArthur and McArthur's sister-in-law Alma McCarthy. Abakporo did not respond to messages on Friday questioning his wife's reported statements.

Then, after the closing, Pierce convinced McArthur not to deposit the checks, but to turn them back over to Pierce as part of a deal under which McArthur would make even more money.

Pierce and Creekhill promised to pay McArthur $10,000 a month for a year and then give her the full purchase price.

"In theory, Ina McArthur would make another $120,000," Caputo said. "In practice, it didn't work out that way because here it is two years later and where's the money?"

When Caputo did some more investigating, there was another surprise. At the closing, Pierce had presented McArthur with two certified $500,000 checks, including one that appears to be an outright forgery.

One of the checks, bought by one Dave Cox, has the amount written in a typeface not used by Chase Bank.

Caputo contacted Chase and found that a Dave Cox has an account at a Brooklyn branch and obtained a $50 certified check, but no $500,000 check. The $50 "Cox" certified check has never been cashed or deposited, Caputo said.

Instead, Caputo believes it was scanned into a computer, manipulated to become $500,000, and printed out on readily available check paper.

Cox could not be reached for comment and his relationship to Pierce and Abakporo could not be determined.

The apparent forgery was confirmed by banking sources. Meanwhile, Pierce took over 1070 St. Nicholas Ave. in the summer of 2006 and began collecting rents, amounting to more than $300,000 a year, Halliburton said.

That's not all Pierce made. Last May, she also took out a $1.8 million mortgage from Washington Mutual Bank on the property.

Records show Pierce owns more than 12 other properties, mostly in Brooklyn, under various corporate names, and has numerous loans from several banks

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Source: www.nydailynews.com



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