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The Fraud in 4A: How a Mother-Son Team Bilked a Board Since 1995

Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial on September 26, 2014

4 W. 105th Street, Manhattan Valley, Manhattan

4-6 West 105th Street, Manhattan, New York City
4 West 105th Street, Manhattan
Sept. 26, 2014

The details of the case, recently decided in Manhattan Supreme Court, are so convoluted they'd get the Minotaur lost in the labyrinth. But to streamline it, two words: Gladys Gutierrez.

Gutierrez served as board president of the self-managed co-op from 1990 to 1996. She and her son, Raymond Ramos, a.k.a. "Mike," testified that in June 1995, the board passed a resolution approving the sale of 4A from shareholder Patrick Millet to Ramos for $9,000. The total sale price was $18,000, which Ramos said he was splitting with his roommate, James Smallhorn, a.k.a. "John McCabe."

Under neither name was Smallhorn / McCabe mentioned in that resolution. Nor did Ramos present a signed a contract of sale or a canceled check, bank statement or any other document reflecting that he paid Millet anything. Neither did he provide the board with any financial information before his alleged purchase. In fact, he couldn't even recall whether he even filed tax returns for 1993 and 1994. And he never attended an admission interview.

You Say You Want a Resolution?

Yet there it was, a board resolution approving the sale — signed by president Gutierrez, treasurer Elias Yacob and secretary Nilsa Adorno, and adorned with what Judge Nancy M. Bannon dryly noted as "an indecipherable stamp in the section marked 'seal.'" Gutierrez additionally told the court that vice president Tesfa Seyoum also voted in favor, though the document doesn't bear her signature.

Turns out it didn't bear Yacob's either, though his signature is there — or, rather, was forged. No, actually, that's not true — "forged" implies some attempt at mimicking the real signature. But Yacob's driver's license, admitted into evidence, shows a signature bearing, as Bannon put it, "no resemblance to the purported signature on the board resolution." 

And treasurer Yacob wasn't finished: He also testified Gutierrez didn't allow him to conduct any of the co-op's financial transactions nor allow him or anyone else to see any of the documents relating to the building's finances. She refused to turn over documents when requested, including documents concerning 4A, and refused to turn over the corporate seal. Because the building was in poor financial health, however, the board believed it couldn't afford an ongoing attorney or building manager who might have intervened.

"Downtown Somewhere" 

There's more. The purported sale occurred, Ramos said, during a "meeting downtown somewhere" without Millet — who hadn't lived in the building since 1991 and whose whereabouts were unknown. But Gutierrez and the co-op's attorney for the sale, Anna Stern, were there. Ramos left early and entrusted the rest of the transaction to his mother, the board president — who never mentioned to the board's attorney that she was his mother and so perhaps not a disinterested party.

And so it went at apartment 4A. In 1996, a year after the "sale" to Ramos, Yacob "noticed that many different types of people stayed … [at] 4A, including 'Russian and Spanish' people," the court said. Yacob testified that Gutierrez sometimes stayed in 4A and sublet her own apartment. Con Edison representative Zola Farquharson said that from 2002 on, electric bills went to five separate individuals: The still-unaccounted-for Millet (November 2002 - October 2003), Michelle Cruz (August 2004 - August 2005), Gutierrez (September 2005 - January 2006), Jorge Hernandez (January 2006 - October 2008) and Ramos (from December 2008). Ramos from at least 2002 to 2007 was receiving his mail at a Brooklyn address, but hey, he explained, he takes medication that "messes with my memory."

Beginning of the End

Things went along this way for years and might have continued had not the HDFC itself filed an eviction notice against Ramos in 2009, saying Ramos was a sublessee of Millet and not an owner. It gave him 10 days to vacate. Ramos in turns filed a lawsuit — which in retrospect, given the house of marked cards that then began tumbling down, might not have been his smartest move.

There's so much more, including Gutierrez being found in contempt of court in 1996 for disregarding an order to turn over financial records for several apartments. As for the royal heir, "The course of conduct exhibited by the plaintiff will not be countenanced," thundered the judge. On Dec. 30, she confirmed Ramos is not a shareholder "and that the purported stock certificate and proprietary lease issued to the plaintiff are invalid and void."

Unfortunately for 4 W. 105th Street, the judge denied the HDFC's request to declare it owner of the share of 4A. The missing Millet is still the owner, she said — and until another court can sort it out, 4A has only one foot in the building and the other foot in limbo.


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