20 Chinese families in Brooklyn are in danger of losing their homes in a week, due to an alleged housing fraud. Xihui “Steven” Wu took over $4 million of these 20 families’ money and vanished without giving them ownership of their units.
The families joined elected officials in a press conference last week, calling for the city and state to assist them and stop the foreclosure of 345 Ovington Avenue, a 25-unit residential building developed by Wu, where these families currently reside.
The families claim that Wu told them he had secured the right to sell individual apartment units as condos. They paid him deposit money, ranging from $100,000 to over $460,000, in cash or checks as Wu requested and signed informal agreements provided by him.
But the title transfers never happened.
In 2018, the families received thick packs of complaint files regarding the commercial foreclosure of their building from Maxim Credit Group (‘MCG’), a New York real estate lending group. Wu borrowed $6 million from the MCG to develop 345 Ovington Avenue, and he stopped paying the mortgage in 2017.
“That (receiving the complaints from MCG) was when these families realized it’s a fraud,” said Edward J. Cuccia, representing the residents at 345 Ovington Avenue.
It’s unclear if Wu is in the U.S. or not. Victims said they lost contact with Wu around 2019. Some victims said they heard Wu went back to China, some said Wu may still be hiding somewhere in America. Cuccia said Wu “is currently not reachable”.
According to lawsuits filed by the families, Wu never obtained the rights from New York State to sell any individual apartments at 345 Ovington. It didn’t stop Wu from lying to potential buyers that he could give them clear titles of the condos at 345 Ovington and selling 20 apartments to 20 different families.
Nearly all the buyers heard about the opportunities of new condos for sale at 345 Ovington from their friends or acquaintances. They said Wu had lived in the neighborhood for years and was a “community leader.”
“We trusted him because he was known as a rich developer,” said Jianli Chen, the buyer of Unit 3E at 345 Ovington. “We heard he owned multiple buildings in this neighborhood, and I never thought such a rich guy would be a scammer,” added Chen. He said the price of 3E was $375,000, and Wu told Chen that he could give him a $30,000 discount if he could pay for the building in cash.
Chen said he and his family gathered together in the U.S. in 2010. Upon their arrival, they moved four times in the first two years. Wu’s offer made him see the hope of having a permanent residence.
“As a new immigrant from China, I don’t know the normal process of buying a property here,” Chen said he signed the agreement with Wu without hiring any lawyer and paid him $345,000. “If I had a lawyer, this would not happen.”
Zhangjiang Lin, 53, said he had known Wu for over seven years before he bought Unit 1E at 345 Ovington from Wu. To pay Wu $200,000 as a deposit, which was half of the price of the apartment, Lin sold his house in China and withdrew his nearly 20-year savings to obtain housing in the U.S. and, “now I lost them all due to the fraud,” Lin said.
Some residents told Documented that they had doubts about Wu after Wu continuously delayed the date of title transfer. But Wu kept telling them he “needed some time to fix issues” and told them “don’t listen to rumors.”
After the residents received complaints from MCG, they joined in filing lawsuits against Wu. The cases have been consolidated, and, on May 20, 2022, Supreme Court Judge Peter Sweeney granted each of the family’s judgments against Wu, according to Cuccia.
However, foreclosure proceedings of 345 Ovington didn’t stop.
On February 22, 2022, Kings County Judge Lawrence Kniple granted an order allowing the foreclosure sale to move forward at noon on July 28, 2022.
Brooklyn local elected officials vowed to stop the foreclosure of 345 Ovington.
“This is ultimately fraud. This is what’s happening here,” said Brooklyn Councilman Justin Brannan. He said the building auction “is just another word for eviction.” He said to the residents at the press conference, “You did nothing wrong. You paid for your apartment with your hard-earned money and gave it to someone who you thought was doing the right thing, who was a respected leader in the community.”
“Imagine being evicted from your home in a 100-degree heat wave talking about cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot let this happen. We will not let this happen,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes of the 22nd District, which covers Bay Ridge.
Gounardes said he would make phone calls to MCG, Attorney General’s Office and Department of Financial Services to “delay this auction as much as possible, and try to figure out a way that we can work with the government to create a solution.”
Kris Chan, 27, whose mother bought Unit 3A at 345 Ovington with a $200,000 deposit in 2014, said the residents want to do the right thing by speaking up to let everyone know about the housing fraud, “we really like the neighborhood and we want our home back.”
According to New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office, it is investigating the matter and contacting the families’ lawyer. Maxim Credit Group’s lawyer, Wu and Wu’s lawyer didn’t respond to the requests of Documented.