MANHATTAN (CN) – The son of a prominent Harlem landlord was charged with forging documents to sell a nonprofit group a commercial building near Central Park that he didn’t own. Henry Vargas “sold” the property to the nonprofit that oversees the New York City Marathon, the Manhattan district attorney said.
The building was wholly owned by a man named Manuel Duran Jr., District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said in a statement.
Vargas, 35, is accused of passing himself off as the owner of the property at 21-41 Lenox Ave., known as Harlem’s Triangle Building. He allegedly used forged documents to dupe real estate developers, attorneys and architects.
According to the district attorney’s office:
Vargas claimed to own 60 percent of the building just north of Central Park, and said his father owned 30 percent and Duran 10 percent. Pete Skyllas, a plumber and real estate developer, agreed to buy the young Vargas’ share for $4.8 million, and paid him $1 million as a down payment.
Then the New York Road Runners Club signed a deal with Vargas to buy the entire property for $8.5 million. The organization put $1 million in escrow in anticipation of the sale.
Vargas gleaned information about the building and its tenants from Duran by posing as a potential buyer.
Morgenthau said the house of cards collapsed when the Road Runners notified tenants of the pending sale, and one of them called the real landlord. Duran said he had “no inkling” of the scheme to sell his property.
The Road Runners lost $300,000 on attorney’s fees, real estate consultants and environmental studies.
Vargas pleaded not guilty to scheming to defraud, grand larceny and forgery. The grand larceny charge carries the longest sentence, with a maximum of 15 years in prison.
He previously served 1 year in federal prison for forgery.
A profile of Vargas appeared in the New York Real Estate Journal in 2008, touting him as an “innovative businessman” who helped with “re-establishing the Harlem community as a lucrative investment area.”
The article said his father, Victor Vargas, was a property owner and landlord of “once notorious dwellings in Harlem” who has earned “community approval and praise, and acclaim for his work.” And his son Henry “maintained and pioneered a family heirloom vested in revitalizing Harlem.”
Henry Vargas spearheaded the “Harlem Luxury Living” initiative and even showed up on billboards. “His work in the community will forever be the subject of conversation for many years to come in Harlem,” the Real Estate Journal reported.