Allcorn, Morgan and Horn.
In 1974 a grand jury found four indictments against defendant Jack Thrunk. Each charged him with forging and counterfeiting a different deed, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:109-1. A lengthy trial to a jury, commencing February 23, 1976 and terminating on March 4, 1976, resulted in his being convicted on one indictment and in his being acquitted on the other three indictments.
The deed for the alteration of which defendant was convicted had been executed by First National City Bank in a number of fiduciary capacities, including one as a surviving executor under the will of Archibald D. Russell, deceased (bank deed). On June 4, 1976 the judge denied defendant's motion for a new trial and imposed a fine of $2,000, a suspended term of one to two years in State Prison and probation for a period of two years. Defendant filed a timely appeal of his conviction.
All four deeds purported to convey certain lands and interests therein to the grantee, Mo-Park Industries, Inc. (Mo-Park). Mo-Park owns and operates a mobile home development on a 38-acre tract of land which had been owned by the Russell estate. Defendant had been employed by Mo-Park as a construction consultant and foreman from 1961 to 1971. Thereafter he was not on the payroll but remained in contact with the company, coming to the office practically every day and occasionally picking up mail. Defendant owns two percent of the shares of Mo-Park.
Prior to May 1974 Mo-Park decided it wished to purchase the property on which it operated its mobile-home development from the Russell estate as well as from other titleholders. Defendant was familiar with title searching and
located the principal heirs. He turned this information over to the company's attorney. Mo-Park successfully negotiated with First National City Bank for a portion of the property. Defendant went to New York City, where he received from the attorney for Mo-Park all four deeds which were later altered, with instructions to record them at the Ocean County Courthouse as soon as possible. The discrepancy in the deeds came to light during subsequent negotiations between an attorney for said bank and an attorney representing a descendant of Archibald Russell. At that time it was noticed that the original versions of the deeds drafted by said attorney differed from those which had been recorded. On all four deeds changes were made on the first page, in the witnessing part. We need refer only to the change in the bank deed. That part, as pertinent, originally read:
The parties of the first part * * * have remised, released and forever quit-claimed, and by these presents do hereby remise, release and forever quit-claim to the said party of the second part, all that right, title * * *.
This clause was followed by a precise description of the property by metes and bounds. The above-quoted portion of the deed was altered to read:
WITNESSETH, the parties of the first part * * * have and by these presents do release and forever quit claim to the party of the second part, its successors and assigns, all rights, title and interest that the parties of the first have or may have in all lands described on page 421 of Book S 22, recorded in the Office of the Surveyor General, and in particular but not limited to
The same metes and bounds description of the property remained.
At the trial three expert witnesses expressed conflicting opinions as to the effect of the alteration of the deeds. From that testimony the jury could have found that the alteration
of the bank deed resulted in the inclusion therein of a larger quantity of land than is described in the original deed.
Defendant first contends that the trial judge erred in his rulings restricting testimony as to "title" to the various parcels and in charging the jury that "each first page [of the respective deeds] was materially or falsely altered."
N.J.S.A. 2A:109-1 provides, in pertinent part:
Any person who, with intent to prejudice, injure, damage or defraud any other person:
a. Falsely makes, alters, forges or counterfeits any record or other authentic matter of a public nature or character, or any printed or written instrument or indorsement, ...