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Real estate agent could avoid charges in Montvale arson, fraud

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

EXCLUSIVE: A real estate agent could be headed for trial in Hackensack if she doesn’t get into a special program that could clear her record of charges in connection both an arson fire that nearly destroyed a Montvale house and a mortgage fraud out of Paterson.

Nanette L. Vignapiano of Sparta was one of three people who Bergen County authorities said conspired to torch the Montvale house after attempting to sell the place without the owner’s knowledge.

While investigating that case, detectives found evidence that Vignapiano, 45, allegedly participated in another fraudulent sale, that of a house on East 25th Street in Paterson, Bergen County Prosecutor John L Molinelli said at the time.

According to the prosecutor, Vignapiano bought the property in 2002 and then transferred ownership for $415,000 five years later to a third-party straw buyer who wasn’t aware of the sale.

Vignapiano, meanwhile, continued to collect Section 8 rent on the property from the Paterson Housing Authority until March 2009, when she added a Greek native named Demetris Michalaki to the deed, according to an indictment returned by a Bergen County grand jury.

“This altered deed was submitted to the Paterson Housing Authority for continued Section 8 rental payments which were made to Michalaki until January 2012,” Molinelli said.

In the Montvale case, Michalaki provided Bank of America with an altered deed and a fraudulent letter authorizing the sale of the home to his father, Aristokilis Michalaki, for a dollar – even though he didn’t own it, Molinelli said.

The younger Michalaki was renting the Garden Lane house to another man, George Trantidis of Astoria, at the time, the prosecutor said.

Vignapiano participated in the scheme “by listing and attempting to sell the property knowing that the documents were fraudulent,” he said.

Bank of America caught on and notified the real owner, who told Trantidis to get out.

The next day, Feb. 12, 2012, firefighters responded to the house for what investigators deemed a suspicious blaze. Molinelli said Trantidis deliberately started the fire after tampering with a furnace gas valve, and also trashed the place.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana deAvila-Sileba advised Vignapiano this week to apply for Pre-Trial Intervention, better known as PTI.

Vignapiano at first seemed opposed to the idea, but deAvila-Silebi suggested she discuss it privately with her attorney. If Vignapiano went forward with a trial or plea, the judge said, she could lose her real estate license. She wouldn’t, however, if she’s accepted into PTI and completes the program, deAvila-Silebi said.

One of the objectives of PTI, program coordinators say, is to “provide an alternative to prosecution for defendants who might be harmed by the imposition of criminal sanctions as presently administered, when such an alternative can be expected to serve as sufficient sanction to deter criminal conduct.”

Defendants without prior criminal records can have charges removed if they follow certain conditions for a specified time period, ordinarily a year. If they do, their records are “expunged” — wiped clean.

Depending on the offense, PTI can require community service, restitution and/or fines, psychological testing, urine monitoring and alcohol evaluations.

They are not pleading guilty.

Should their bid be rejected, or they fail to complete the program, however, a trial can be scheduled, a plea bargained or the charges sent to a grand jury in Hackensack.

Vignapiano remains free on $25,000 bail. Authorities have been unable to find Trantidis and Michalaki, who are listed as fugitives.

All three are named in an 11-count indictment that includes charges of:

  • Conspiracy to commit theft by deception / forgery in Paterson, Montvale and Hackensack
  • Defrauding Washington Mutual Bank
  • Defrauding Bank of America
  • Defrauding the Paterson Housing Authority
  • Issuing a mortgage in a false name
  • Preparing a counterfeit deed, then issuing it to the Paterson Housing Authority
  • Issuing a false deed to the Bergen County clerk

STORY: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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