Beach 120th Mystery Property Raises Alarms

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There’s an air of mystery surrounding a property at 174 Beach 120th Street. Once the subject of a scam involving one resident forging documents to take over the home of a deceased woman, the home is now raising alarm again as neighbors speculate it could be the site of a future homeless shelter. But the owner claims that’s not the case. 

Recently, the doors of the long boarded up home at 174 Beach 120th, have been open, with people going in and out, leading to curiosity among neighbors. After all, the home has an intriguing history. In February 2017, journalist Katie Honan shed some light on a scam involving the home and one next to it in a DNAInfo article. The Department of Investigation began looking into Donata Rea after she registered her friend, Mary Karen Connors’ homes for the Build it Back program and received up to $60,000 to repair the homes. However, that move would unveil a bigger scheme at hand, as Connors died on November 18, 2011. She had no next of kin. Two years after Connors died, Rea allegedly transferred the properties to herself by forging several power of attorney documents. According to charges, Rea rented out one of the homes and made more than $50,000 in rent before selling it for $800,000. Rea was later arrested and the case went to court. Rea wound up with a plea deal, receiving five years of probation and paying $70,000 restitution for the scam. As for the homes? They went up for public auction in March 2017. A local purchased the home located at 178 Beach 120th Street, and 174 Beach 120th Street was sold to Mimi Fuhrman, a Manhattan resident and a Senior Lease Negotiator for the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services, for $505,000 in the summer of 2017.

Neighbors say Fuhrman introduced herself early on, but little had been taking place at the property, until recently, when a man with a yellow Hummer was spotted going in and out of the home. Fran McCabe, who lives directly across the street from the home, started asking questions and the alleged responses she received raised some alarms.

“He was here last Sunday, so I asked him what he’s doing, and he said, ‘you’re going to be very happy because I’m trying to help veterans. I’m putting in an 11-bed veterans’ residence because I’ve always wanted to help veterans since I was unable to serve,’” McCabe claims. Then she pushed further. “He told me about how he’s going to carefully vet each one and they will be the cream of the crop and it will be quiet and safe because everyone will be in uniform. He said in order to live there, you need to be working, and they can’t come in during the day, they can only come back at night, and if they’re not working, he’s going to get them jobs as auxiliary policemen. He also said he’s going to give them a stipend out of his pocket,” McCabe claims. “I told him that this sounds like a shelter, and he said, ‘don’t call it that.’”

McCabe says the man identified himself as Steven Kates, who allegedly called his project the American Veterans Residence. McCabe also expressed concern because a quick internet search of Kates’ contact information leads to multiple claims of scams involving Kates. Steven Kates’ name also appears on an application filed with the NYC Department of Buildings for the Beach 120th property, listing him as the owner, despite Fuhrman being named owner on the most recent sales records with the NYC Department of Finance. The application, filed on February 8, 2019, listed the job description as “RENOVATION OF EXISTING 3 STORY CLASS B-SRO. FIRST FLOOR, 3 ROOMS, SECOND FLOOR, 4 ROOMS THIRD FLOOR 5 ROOMS. NEW BATHS & REPAIR SPRINKLER SYSTEM. NO CHANGE TO EGRESS, USE OR OCCUPANCY.” The plan that calls for renovating 12 rooms, was disapproved by the DOB on May 15, 2019.

Kates did not respond to The Rockaway Times by press time, however, Fuhrman did. In a phone call to The Rockaway Times, Fuhrman outright denied the rumor that her property was becoming a homeless shelter and said she was confused by the recent interest in her property, as she hasn’t been working on it currently due to personal hardships in her life. “I’m kind of letting my architect work through this stuff, but it got back to me that someone said I was putting a shelter there and that cannot be further from the truth,” she said.

She explained further, saying, “I have two friends who were in homeless shelters in the past few years and both worked with me, and I always said to myself, if I ever found anything, I’d love to use it to help people, but not as a homeless shelter. There’s a big difference. I want to help people who need housing, but not a homeless shelter,” she said. “My plan for this property has changed three times. It took me a long time to get the certificates and paperwork to even begin work. If I had known it was a two-year process, I don’t know if I would have done this. I thought I was selling it to somebody, but I wanted to have a place there for myself. At one point I wanted to do a bed and breakfast, but other people are involved now so it’s not completely up to me anymore. But one of my requirements is that I want to help working people who need help, especially after seeing my friends go through that. I can’t tell you that’s 100% what I’m doing. But I’m definitely not doing a homeless shelter.”

Fuhrman went on to say that she’s investing a lot of money into the property to improve it. The recently-disapproved application was submitted with an estimated cost of $319,500. “I wouldn’t be putting any money into it if it was going to be a shelter. The fact that I’m making it really nice should tell you something. My friend that was in a shelter makes a decent salary, but she couldn’t afford an apartment. She said she’d be paying almost all her money for rent, so she went into a shelter instead. Do I agree with what she did? No, but she finally got into some program where she’s living in a suite with an older woman and paying like $1,000 a month.” Fuhrman explained that she hopes to offer something similar. “Everybody has to be working. It’s not just a freebie. They’d be paying rent. I have a bit of say and I get to approve anybody that goes in there. Nobody is going in there unless I interview them and say it’s okay. I’m going to try for the right people, people that look nice and are in similar situations to what my friends were in, people with a good job that are trying to make it better for themselves. I’m not going to put this much money into a building and have people destroy it.”

As an actual proposed shelter for Beach 101st Street moves forward, neighbors on Beach 120th say they’ll continue to have their guard up. “I don’t believe anybody anymore,” McCabe said. “I’m almost at a point where I wish Donna Rea didn’t get caught because we don’t know what might happen here now.”

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