A Queens man fighting for more than a decade to regain control of the house he lost through a mortgage fraud could still be evicted — even after helping out in the federal case that convicted the man who took his deed. 

Johnnie Jackson, 64, has lived in the three-story white house in St. Albans for most of his life, he told THE CITY. His father transferred the home over to him as a birthday gift in 1994, and a few years later the mortgage on the home was paid off, city documents show. 

He took out a $108,000 mortgage on July 29, 2010 to help pay for some repairs, and less than a year later sought to refinance the loan after seeing low-rate ads in local newspapers, he said. 

But the refinancing company, Express Home Solutions, turned out to be one of many launched by David Gotterup of Long Island as part of what the feds say was a scheme to defraud homeowners and banks who lent money, according to federal court documents stemming from a 2015 case.

Jackson had signed paperwork that he thought was for the refinancing, but was actually to transfer the ownership of the house into the name of an alleged associate of EHS, James Campisi, according to federal prosecutors and city property records.

Another mortgage on the home was taken out in Campisi’s name on May 19, 2011 to withdraw cash on the property — but payments stopped, court documents show. 

Jackson only realized he was no longer the home’s owner when a person knocked on his door one day to ask him for rent sometime in 2011. 

“I said, ‘Rent money? What do you mean, rent money?” he told THE CITY. 

He went to the district attorney’s office to report what happened to his house, and found out federal prosecutors had already started investigating Gotterup. 

The St. Albans house that Johnnie Jackson is fighting to keep, Aug. 23, 2022. Credit: Katie Honan/THE CITY

Gotterup in 2017 took a plea deal on only one of the many indictments in the case,  involving loan-modification scams, but it didn’t include Jackson’s home. So he’s not officially eligible for restitution, according to his lawyers. 

In the 11 years since being scammed, Jackson has fought unsuccessfully to get the home’s deed transferred back over to him. Further complicating the process is that there’s a six-year statute of limitation on what’s known as a “quiet title action” — a legal proceeding that determines the rightful owner of a property. 

The clock started ticking as soon as the fraud happened, so the deadline passed in 2017, as the federal trial was ending. 

Now Jackson faces eviction from the house he shares with his brother and two of his dad’s former caretakers.

He had some support from the federal investigators whom he helped on the case. In July, they gave Jackson a letter for housing court that confirmed he lost his house due to a mortgage scheme. Following inquiries by THE CITY, the feds said they needed to amend the letter to note that Gotterup did not plead guilty to the charges in Jackson’s case.

Jackson said he still feels like he’s been abandoned by the governmental agencies he helped. 

“Everybody said they’re sorry, but I’m out of a house that was paid for,” said Jackson, who works as a long-haul driver for UPS.

His next date in Queens Housing Court is Oct. 20.  

How to Protect Against Deed Fraud

Tips from the city Department of Finance:

  • Sign up for the Notice of Recorded Document Program, which automatically notifies you by mail when a new record is filed on your property.
  • Check your property’s deed on the City Register at least once a year to make sure no fake or fraudulent documents have been recorded there.
  • If you think you are the victim of deed fraud, immediately report it to the Sheriff’s Office — at (718) 707-2100 or online — and to the district attorney in the borough where your property is located.

— Rachel Holliday Smith

A Rampant Problem

Between 2008 and 2011, Gotterup and his associates advertised in local papers and even went door-to-door at homes across New York City to push homeowners to refinance their homes, according to federal prosecutors. 

In all, his companies defrauded more than 1,000 homeowners across the city, federal prosecutors said. In 2017, Gotterup received a 15-year prison sentence for crimes including conspiracy to commit wire, mail and bank fraud. He’s currently at a federal facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, according to Bureau of Prison records.

In court it was revealed that, with the ill-gotten deed, a $370,000 mortgage was taken out in Campisi’s name on the St. Albans home — but no one ever made any payments, which began foreclosure proceedings. 

He then entered into a “deed in lieu of foreclosure” deal with the bank, which usually means the owner hands the deed to the bank and moves out. But Campisi never lived in the home. Jackson did. 

In 2019, Jackson received an eviction notice from that bank, Wilmington Trust, which became a trustee of the mortgage. The pandemic delayed some of the proceedings but he could be gone from the house within the next few months. 

“It’s a matter of equity and justice,” Jennifer Levy, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of New York in its Foreclosure Prevention Unit, told THE CITY. Another Legal Aid lawyer has been assisting Jackson in his eviction case. 

“It’s unfair because this homeowner is losing his home because of strict statute of limitations law, he was a cooperating witness.” 

A spokesperson for Wilmington Trust, a division of M&T Bank, declined to comment on the case. Campisi could not be reached for comment. 

Earlier this summer, the Legal Aid Society called on district attorneys across the city to do a better job of protecting victims of deed fraud. The New York Times reported in July that there were more than 3,350 complaints of deed fraud across the city between July 2014 and February 2022 – but few cases are ever prosecuted.