Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the indictment of JOHN KOJO ZI, 53, a purported property developer, for fraudulently obtaining titles to five buildings on the Upper West Side and in Hamilton Heights by filing forged deed transfers with the New York City Register’s Office (“Register’s Office”). ZI is charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Grand Larceny in the First Degree and Second Degrees, and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, among other charges.
“By filing forged deed transfers and lying on official forms, this defendant allegedly defrauded three Manhattan property owners, stealing five buildings out from under them,” said District Attorney Vance. “Deed fraudsters use publicly available housing data to target properties that are not actively managed by their owners, including those that are falling into disrepair, or burdened with tax liens and unpaid utilities. Frequently, that means properties whose owners are the most susceptible to fraud, including the elderly – or even the estate of a deceased individual. We will aggressively prosecute those who would manipulate official filings for their own profit, as crimes like these become easier and easier in the digital age.”
“We will continue to send the message that fraudulent activity associated with the transfer of deeds will not be tolerated,” said New York City Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha. “We have already strengthened our internal processes with the City Register and the Sheriff’s office, which have led to these types of arrests, and we are currently pursuing legislation.”
According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, beginning in September 2013, ZI is accused of fraudulently obtaining titles to four buildings on the Upper West Side and one building in Hamilton Heights by filing forged deed transfers with the Register’s Office.
On September 26, 2013, ZI allegedly filed a forged deed transfer purporting to purchase a building located on West 145th Street from its legitimate owner, the 468 West 145th Street Corporation. The forged transfer included a fraudulent signature from an individual claiming to be the president and owner of the corporation. ZI is also charged with forging an additional document to support that individual’s claim, when, in reality, that person had no association with the corporation, and therefore was unable to authorize the property’s transfer.
On April 30, 2014, ZI is charged with filing fraudulent deed transfers for three adjacent townhouses located on West 84th Street. ZI allegedly forged the signature of the legitimate owner on the documents, authorizing the transfer of the deeds to an unrelated real estate corporation without the consent of the owner.
Finally, on September 24, 2014, ZI allegedly filed a fraudulent deed transfer for a property located on West 73rd Street, transferring the property from its legitimate owner, Aviation Distributors, to his company, Kojo Global Real Estate Development. In October 2014, in order to support his claim to the property, ZI allegedly made false assertions to the Register’s Office that Aviation Distributors was founded by his father. ZI is also charged with providing the New York County Sheriff’s Office with a fraudulent contract dated December 1, 1976, purportedly showing Aviation Distributors’ original purchase of the building for $360,000 cash, in an effort to legitimize his claims.
Assistant District Attorney Carey Ng is handling the prosecution of this case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Michael Ohm, Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau; Judy Salwen, Principal Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau; and Jodie Kane, Chief of the Rackets Bureau; and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division. Rackets Investigator Matthew Grieve assisted with the investigation under the supervision of Donato Siciliano, Supervising Rackets Investigator; Michael Wigdor, Assistant Chief Rackets Investigator; and Walter Alexander, Chief Investigator. Paralegal Stephanie Alvarez is assisting with the case, as is Special Investigator Ian Kellaway.
District Attorney Vance thanked New York City Department of Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha and the Office of New York County Sheriff Joseph Fucito, including Investigators Michael Trano and Jonathan Saat, for their assistance with the investigation.
JOHN KOJO ZI, D.O.B. 12/05/1961
 The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.