A New York newspaper stole the Empire State Building in an attempt to expose a loophole in the city's legal system, it revealed today.
In what it described as "one of the biggest heists in American history", the New York Daily News stole the two billion dollar (£1.35 billion) 102-storey Art Deco skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan.
The newspaper, which listed original King Kong star Fay Wray as a witness in the documents, made a fake £20 notary stamp which shared a name with bank robber Willie Sutton, and filed paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property.
Just 90 minutes later, the agency rubber-stamped the transfer of the Manhattan landmark from Empire State Land Associates to the newspaper's fake company, Nelots Properties LLC. Nelots reads "stolen" backwards.
The stunt, which the newspaper splashed under the headline Skycaper, comes after a series of deed fraud cases in the city - and in the UK.
Brooklyn assistant district attorney Richard Farrell, who is prosecuting several of the cases, told the newspaper: "Crooks go where the money is. That's why Willie Sutton robbed banks, and this is the new bank robbery.
"Once you have the deed, it's easy to obtain a mortgage."
The system, run by the office of the city register, does not require clerks to verify the information - a feature the newspaper described as "a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions".
Unlike the thieves, the News did not obtain a mortgage on the Empire State Building and simply returned the property to its rightful owners yesterday, less than 24 hours after the fake deed was filed.
In October, a forensic accountant with Navigant Consulting claimed mortgage lenders could have up to £17 billion of fraudulent loans on their books in the UK.
Paul Doxey and other experts told Channel 4 News there had been a boom in fake applications over recent years, involving the purchase of as many as 60,000 properties.
And in July, the Financial Services Authority announced tough new measures to try to curb soaring numbers of mortgage fraud cases.
The plans included tightening its surveillance of lenders and brokers and sharing intelligence with other law enforcers and regulators, including the National Fraud Strategic Authority.
The announcement came after two men and a woman were jailed that month for their part in a sophisticated mortgage fraud which made them more than £1 million.
Two men and a woman posing as potential buyers copied homeowners' details and then used the information to alter title deeds and secure massive mortgages on the properties.
Mohammed Urfan Al Haq, Shazad Hussain Aslam, both 27, and 23-year-old Sandeep Kaur were involved in a scam to fraudulently obtain the title deeds to a number of properties in the West Midlands and the North of England.
Once the deeds were obtained, loans were taken out using the properties as security. The loans were later cashed in and laundered into gold bullion.
But police were alerted about their activities and Al Haq and Kaur were jailed for four years, and Aslam for five years, for money laundering and fraud charges by a judge at Birmingham Crown Court.Reuse content