The son of a Harlem landlord is accused scamming potential buyers by trying to sell a building he did not own. The commercial property, located on a triangular lot just north of Central Park at 21-41 Lenox Avenue, was entirely owned by another man. But alleged grifter Henry Vargas told buyers the man, Manuel Duran Jr., was just an elderly farmer from the Dominican Republic whose share was only 10 percent.
Vargas had gotten all the information he needed to pose as the building's primary owner by convincing Duran he wanted to buy the property for $36 million. He then allegedly forged documents to make it seem as though he held 60 percent ownership. Last year an independent developer agreed to buy Vargas’s share for $4.8 million, giving him a $1 million down payment. Then at the beginning of this year, he got the New York Road Runners to buy the same 60 percent share for $8.5 million, prosecutors say.
The Road Runners never paid Vargas any money, but did waste about $300,000 in fees for lawyers and other consultants related to the transaction. Prosecutors believe Vargas was planning on fleeing to the Dominican Republic, where is father is from, but the whole ruse collapsed when someone from the Road Runners told one of the building’s tenants about the transfer, and that tenant notified Duran, the building's actual owner.
Vargas has already done a year in prison on another forgery rap, and he could face up to six years if convicted on various grand larceny charges. His father Victor Vargas owns several buildings in Harlem, and early last year the younger Vargas took out an $8.5 million mortgage on the buildings without telling his father, pocketing about $1.1 million and allowing the mortgage to go into default. Victor Vargas only found out when received a foreclosure notice and had to declare bankruptcy. He tells the Times, "I felt a range of emotions — shocked, upset, betrayed, victimized. I couldn’t believe my son would do this."