MAYS LANDING — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the sentencing of two Atlantic County men who had pleaded guilty after producing fake deeds for Atlantic City properties in order to scam real estate investors out of over half-a-million dollars.
After an unsuccessful motion to withdraw his guilty plea, Richard Toelk Jr., 54, of Atlantic City, also known by the alias “Richard Donato,” was sentenced Monday, May 8, 2023 for theft by deception. State Superior Court Judge Donna Taylor, presiding in Mays Landing, denied Toelk’s motion and sentenced him in accordance with a plea agreement he previously reached with prosecutors, ordering him to serve a three-year prison term.
Toelk’s business partner, attorney Keith Smith, 60, of Egg Harbor Township, was sentenced Monday, May 15, to a non-custodial five-year probationary term by state Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury.
The court also ordered the pair to be jointly liable for paying restitution to their victims in the amount of roughly $580,000.
“Buyers placed their trust in these two defendants and handed over large sums of money to them, after being deceived by this elaborate fraud, complete with convincing-looking fake documents. But they were betrayed and taken advantage of,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Through the work of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, this scheme unraveled. And through these plea agreements, the victims now have an opportunity to recover their losses.”
“These defendants manufactured an illegitimate paper trail and filed it with the county to make this charade seem believable,” said OPIA Executive Director Thomas J. Eicher. “They claimed public property as their own in order to line their pockets, victimizing their unwitting buyers and the Atlantic City government. These sentences are a just result.”
The investigation revealed that Toelk and Smith produced at least 20 fake deeds for real estate in Atlantic City and filed them with the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office from November 2018 through January 2019.
Toelk retained some for himself while marketing and selling others to investors in New York City and Philadelphia.
But most of the properties were actually owned by the Atlantic City municipal government, while a handful were privately owned. The land was not up for sale, and the defendants lacked the authority and legal title to sell the properties.
The fraudulent deeds purported to transfer the ownership of the various properties, in several cases for just a dollar each, from the rightful owners to limited liability companies owned by the defendants. Among the properties was a parcel actually owned by Atlantic City along the boardwalk, worth in excess of $1 million.
The scammers used the bogus deeds to close on real estate transactions with out-of-state investors, who paid the defendants an estimated $580,000 combined thinking they were acquiring real estate when they were in fact gaining the title to nothing.
The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption South Unit. Before the guilty pleas were taken, the case was scheduled to be tried by Deputy Attorney General Brian Uzdavinis, the lead prosecutor, and Deputy Attorney General Kara Webster, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher.