They wandered into New York City government offices this week, indignant at how the cogs of bureaucracy had slowed their grand plans of thievery.
Lasharan Amos, 42, arrived on Tuesday at the New York City sheriff’s office in Queens, wondering why the city was taking so long to give her ownership of a home that the authorities said in fact belonged to her mother.
Two days later, Jethro Chappelle Jr., a former convict who uses a wheelchair because of a gunshot wound, did the same. He took an elevator to the 13th-floor City Register’s office in Manhattan, demanding to know why the city had not yet recorded two deeds he had filed for abandoned properties in Harlem.
Ms. Amos and Mr. Chappelle were promptly arrested and charged with various counts of grand larceny, perjury and offering false statements to public officials. Their arrests were the first since June, when the Department of Finance, in coordination with the city sheriff’s office, began flagging irregularities in a deed transfer system that has long gone unguarded.
Working with corrupt notaries public, or sometimes simply by searching public records online, those inclined to have long been able to forge property deeds, claiming, for instance, to have taken ownership of a family member’s home or a building that had long been neglected. As long as the documents were properly formatted, officials had little choice but to record the deed transfer.
When there were gaps in required information or other problems with the forms, the documents were just returned to the filing parties with instructions about how to fix the flaws. Tricking the system was so easy that people like Mr. Chappelle, 51, who had been arrested on an attempted murder charge in 2003, and convicted of assault a year later, and Ms. Amos apparently were confident enough to announce themselves to city agencies.