In Bay Ridge, nearly two dozen Chinese immigrant families are facing a nightmare case of housing fraud. Just a few days ago, they were at risk of being evicted from condos that they thought they had bought from a developer. But it turned out that he didn’t actually have the ability to sell them. The New York Post reported that the developer, Xihui Wu, had built a 25-unit building at 345 Ovington Avenue; in 2012 he began selling units — some buyers paid deposits ranging from $100,000 to $460,000 in cash and checks — without obtaining the rights from the state to do so. According to lawsuits, by 2018 Wu had stopped paying the mortgage and owed more than $5 million to lender Maxim Credit Group, which started foreclosure proceedings. Then, the residents said, Wu disappeared with $4 million of their money.

The scammer, as it often goes, came from the inside. As Documented reported, Wu was a known figure who used his standing in the Brooklyn Chinatown community to gain the trust of the families, some of whom don’t speak a lot of English and were unfamiliar with the ins and outs of property law. One buyer told Documented that he had known Wu for seven years before he paid a $200,000 deposit. Another, Jianli Chen, said that “as a new immigrant from China, I don’t know the normal process of buying a property here.” He paid Wu $345,000. The residents won judgments against Wu for the deposits they paid, but it’s unlikely that they’ll see that money.

After a recent intervention from local lawmakers, their situation is still precarious, but a little less so. The Brooklyn Paper reported that the foreclosure auction, which could result in an eviction of the families from their homes, has been put on pause due to three of the former residents filing an involuntary-bankruptcy claim against Wu’s LLC that helped stall things. Edward Cuccia, the families’ lawyer, noted that the new mortgage holder has signaled a willingness to negotiate to keep the residents in their homes, which is good news. The families have bought themselves a little more time, but for now, they’re still out of millions. As Cuccia put it to The Brooklyn Paper: “He wore a nice suit, walked around, you trust him! You see a guy who built a building, you figure it’s real. Why would you suspect it’s not?”

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