Archive for the tag 'carl kruger'

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

When developers proposed a 22-story development at 1501 Voorhies Avenue, the community balked at the sheer scale of the project. After sitting silent for five years and a change in ownership, new plans have been filed for a whopping 30-story residential development.

Muss Development and AvalonBay submitted the plans to the Department of Buildings yesterday outlining a 333-foot tall building, with 266,244 square feet of residential space spread across 250 units. At 30 stories, it will be approximately four times taller than anything else in the area except the St. Mark Church belltower.

The building will have a lounge, playroom, bike storage, and outdoor recreation space, according to plans filed with the agency. There will be 14,530 square feet of office space and parking for 124 vehicles inside a split-level garage, and another 52 spaces available outside.

The building’s basement level will be used for storage in addition to parking, with mechanicals and utilities elevated to the first floor to protect against flooding. The lot was overwhelmed with water during Superstorm Sandy.

The plans are being designed by the architecture firm Perkins Eastman, a top-tier outfit that has done a number of ultra-modern luxury apartment developments in New York City and elsewhere. They previously teamed up with AvalonBay to build Avalon White Plains and Avalon Riverview North in Queens.

Avalon White Plains (Source: Eastman)

Another development by the same architect and developing company, Avalon White Plains (Source: Perkins Eastman)

And if Muss Development sounds familiar, it should. Muss made a name for itself in outerborough residential development when it built Brighton Beach’s Oceana Condominium complex. It appears they’re trying to replicate that success with luxury market-rate apartments in Sheepshead Bay.

As we previously reported, Muss and AvalonBay snatched up the 110,028-square-foot lot in July for $20.2 million. Originally it appeared the lot was split in two, with the former Verizon parking lot taking up 87,500 square feet and a commercial strip along Sheepshead Bay Road at East 16th Street comprising the rest. The latest plans appear to indicate that the development will encompass both sites, but it’s still unclear.

The land was sold by Acadia Realty Trust, which purchased them for $20.3 million in 2008. Acadia, in partnership with PA Associates had planned a two-building complex dubbed Station Plaza that included a 22-story mixed-use tower. There was to be mall with four floors of shopping, a new public street that cut through the property at East 16th Street, and more than 650 parking spaces – anchored by 16 floors of residential condominiums.

The plans are currently under review to see if they exceed zoning. We’ll keep you posted.

Addition (September 25): The development was also covered by Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY).

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

The approximately footprint of the combined properties now owned by Muss Development. (Source: Google Maps)

Muss Development, the developer that built and manages Brighton Beach’s Oceana Condominium complex, has snapped up a sprawling 87,500-square-foot development site on Sheepshead Bay Road that was previously slated to become a mall – and they’ve announced plans to make it fully residential.

The deal was done in two parts, with Muss teaming up with AvalonBay Communities to purchase 1501 Voorhies Avenue, currently the vacant lot adjacent to the subway station that was once occupied by Verizon, at $16.2 million. In a separate deal, Muss acquired for $4 million the attached property at 1600 Sheepshead Bay Road at East 16th Street, where Citibank and several vacant storefronts are currently located.

These are properties with a back story.

The sites were sold by Acadia Realty Trust, which purchased them for $20.3 million in 2008. Acadia, in partnership with PA Associates had planned a two-building complex dubbed Station Plaza that included a 22-story mixed-use tower. There was to be mall with four floors of shopping, a new public street that cut through the property at East 16th Street, and more than 650 parking spaces – anchored by 16 floors of residential condominiums.

A rendering of the four-story mall previously planned for this location. A 16-story tower would have been perched atop this.

A rendering of the four-story mall previously planned for this location. A 16-story tower would have been perched atop this.

That was the plan, until the economy tanked and PA Associates were tied up with former State Senator Carl Kruger in a corruption scandal. Even before all that, we noted that the ambitious plan was a long way from becoming a reality.

Muss Development is looking to ditch the mall idea altogether, and make the larger property, the Verizon lot, fully residential. It will be split between condominiums and rental units, according to Commercial Observer, and can be built up to 250,000 square feet. It’s not yet clear how tall that would be, but the previously planned 22-story tower was one of the few that could be built in the area without seeking approval from the community due to the immense size of the lot. So while the new owners will not be able to build quite as tall, they can still make a good reach for the sky.

It’s unclear what the plans are for the Sheepshead Bay Road site, which currently has 4,000 square feet of retail and 9,000 square feet of commercial space.

Levitis (Source: Facebook)

Stories about crime and corruption featuring Eastern European perps are juicy material for members of the “Russian Insider – News, Reviews and Gossip” group on Facebook, but the page has gone silent on one of the juiciest of stories: the guilty plea of former Rasputin owner Michael Levitis, who admitted this week to masterminding a debt-relief scheme that leeched $2.2 million from those who turned to him for help.

That’s because the page is run by Levitis himself, as well as his wife, Marina, and mother, Eva. Sources told Sheepshead Bites that the crew has been removing any mention of the scandal and booting members of the nearly 7,000-strong closed group.

“So yesterday the story was out but no one was posting it, all you saw is people posting ’7/11′” – a reference to the seven-to-11 year sentence Levitis faces – “So I private messaged one of the people who told me anyone who posted the story was banned and the story removed. I posted a few comments saying … ‘I wonder it anyone is going to address this’. This morning I was banned from the group as well,” a source told Sheepshead Bites.

According the About section of the page, it serves as “A Group for Russian-Americans to post local news, issues, business reviews, or anything else that concerns us… Let’s try to stick to interesting, useful and buzzworthy posts….”

But while the news of Levitis’ bust last year and guilty plea this week has exploded on social media, it’s not viewed by the page’s moderator as “local news” or “buzzworthy” enough to share with the community, members say.

Meanwhile, screenshots sent to Sheepshead Bites by another source show that members commonly share news items about those in the community who’ve been busted for similar crimes:

insider2A former member of the group mused to Sheepshead Bites that it was an example of “Putin-style censorship.”

A handful of members told Sheepshead Bites that the group is often used to promote businesses they believe are connected to Levitis, including an online “Groupon”-style coupon site.

Apparently, Levitis is also using the group to prepare his reading list for his upcoming stint in the big house:

levitis

The 2713 Coney Island Avenue office of Mission Settlement (Source: Google Maps)

First he denied the charges. Then he claimed he was a victim. Now former Rasputin owner Michael Levitis has come clean, admitting to scamming nearly $2.2 million from more than 1,200 cash-strapped victims who turned to him for help.

Levitis (Source: Facebook)

Levitis and the debt-relief company he ran, Mission Settlement Agency, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court yesterday to fraud charges, admitting to his role as the scheme’s mastermind.

“Michael Levitis and his company, Mission Settlement Agency, preyed on the desperation of financially struggling people across the country. Today’s guilty pleas ensure that the defendants who falsely offer debt relief, telling their victims a pack of lies in order to line their own pockets, will be held to account,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.

As part of the plea deal announced yesterday, Levitis agreed to forfeit $2.2 million to the government to pay back victims. He faces between seven and 11 years in prison when he’s sentenced this August.

Levitis and three others were cuffed in May 2013 for operating a debt settlement company that prosecutors said took millions of dollars in fees for services never rendered.

Mission Settlement claimed to help customers struggling with credit card and bank debt by helping them reach settlements that could cut the amount owed. But while Mission collected payments from their indebted clients, they never paid down their debts. From mid-2009 to March 2013, more than 2,200 customers paid nearly $14 million, of which only $4.4 million went to creditors, according to the criminal complaint.

Rasputin was padlocked in May 2013.

The company kept $6.6 million for itself as fees. As many as 1,200 of the clients paid $2.2 million in fees without “a single penny” reaching their creditors.

Prosecutors said Levitis took the money and used it to live a luxurious lifestyle, paying down his own debts on Raputin Restaurant (2670 Coney Island Avenue), lease two luxury cars, and paid off his mother’s credit card bills.

He also misled clients, with the company claiming in sales pitches that he was affiliated with the federal government and a leading credit bureau, none of which was true, according to prosecutors.

The others involved in the scheme all turned tail and pleaded guilty in August 2013, with at least one of them ratting out his former boss as the mastermind.

“I followed instructions from Michael,” Mission’s former vice president of sales, Denis Kurlyand, told the Daily News after the plea deal.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors seized it to repay his victims. (Source: Google Maps)

Levitis stood fast, though, insisting on his innocence and said he was a victim of government neglect. He pleaded not guilty and claimed that he had attempted to tip off authorities to malfeasance by “rogue employees,” but that his warnings fell on deaf ears.

After his arrest, prosecutors filed papers to seize approximately 40 bank accounts connected to Levitis, as well as Rasputin Restaurant and two properties he owns in Manhattan Beach.

It’s the second time in four years that he’s been in hot water.

Back in 2010, Levitis was charged with lying to federal agents after he got caught up in a bribery case involving former State Senator Carl Kruger.

Levitis told a fellow nightclub owner, who was secretly recording the conversation for the FBI, that he had an inside line to the state pol, and could assist him with a liquor license issue if he steered thousands of dollars to Kruger – with a kickback for Levitis’ role in setting it up.

As the case moved forward, Levitis’ claim that he had influence in Kruger’s office began to unravel, and Levitis, who is also an attorney, later pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents, sentenced to three years probation and fined $15,000.

In April 2013, Levitis was also hit with a six month suspension of his license to practice law – retroactive to January 2012 – for his role in the case.

Levitis, who along with his wife Marina and mother Eva – who owned Mission Settlement on paper – were  co-stars of Russian Dolls, a failed Lifetime reality series canceled less than two months after its premiere.

The case against Levitis and Mission is being hailed as historic, as it’s the first criminal referral from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency established after passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. The CFPB is also bringing civil charges against Mission, Levitis and others.

Levitis may still face criminal tax violations, according to the plea deal.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis (Source: James Edstrom)

Three of the six individuals charged in connection with an alleged debt settlement fraud scheme have pleaded guilty, with the latest one ratting out his former boss Michael Levitis as the mastermind.

The offices of Mission Settlement Agency at 2713 Coney Island Avenue, (Source: Google Maps)

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced yesterday that Denis Kurlyand, the former vice president of sales for Sheepshead Bay-based Mission Settlement Agency, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the multi-million dollar scheme that allegedly preyed on as many as 1,200 debt-saddled victims. After leaving court, Kurlyand then spilled the beans to the New York Daily News, saying that Mission’s de facto owner, and the owner of now-shuttered Rasputin Supper Club (2670 Coney Island Avenue), called the shots.

“I followed instructions from Michael,” Kurlyand, 30, told the paper.

Kuryland, however, didn’t give the paper any details of his plea deal, and faces a maximum of 60 years in prison. He will be sentenced in December, and has agreed to forfeit $2,196,522 to the government.

Rasputin was padlocked in May.

Kurlyand was arrested in May, along with Levitis, Boris Shulman and Manuel Cruz for their roles at Mission Settlement. According to prosecutors, the company claimed to help customers struggling with credit card and bank debt by helping them reach settlements that could cut the amount owed. But the company “systematically exploited and defrauded” customers, the criminal complaint said, by charging fees without ever rendering services.

As we reported in May:

Mission also served as the middle man, collecting payments from customers that were supposed to be passed on to those they owed. Instead, the indictment says, from mid-2009 to March 2013, about 2,200 customers paid nearly $14 million, of which only $4.4 million went to the creditors.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors are moving to seize it to repay his alleged victims. (Source: Google Maps)

The company kept $6.6 million for itself as fees. As many as 1,200 of the clients paid $2.2 million in fees without “a single penny” reaching their creditors.

Meanwhile, Levitis used the remaining funds as his personal piggy bank, directing some of it to pay his own debts on Rasputin Restaurant (2670 Coney Island Avenue), as well as to lease two luxury Mercedes cars. He did also manage to pay down the credit card debt of his mother, Eva, who owned the company on paper, the Post reports.

According to the indictment, as part of his sales pitch, Levitis touted an affiliation with the federal government and one of the three leading credit bureaus in the U.S., relationships that prosecutors say was all smoke.

The U.S. Attorney’s statement elaborated further on Kurlyand’s role:

KURLYAND served as Mission’s Vice President of Sales from 2009 through 2012. In that capacity, he provided instructions to Mission’s sales representatives, who in turn lied to prospective customers about the agency’s fees to induce them to become customers of Mission. KURLYAND also helped arrange for solicitation letters to be sent on Mission’s behalf to prospective customers that falsely suggested that the agency was acting on behalf of or in connection with a federal governmental program. The letter included an image of the Great Seal of the United States and indicated that it was coming from the “Reduction Plan Administrator” of the purported “Office of Disbursement.”

The day of he arrest, prosecutors moved to seize bank accounts and properties of Levitis, and padlocked the iconic restaurant.

Levitis has pleaded not guilty, and claimed to be a victim of government neglect after he supposedly tipped them off to malfeasance by “rogue employees.”

The arrest of two individuals - Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov - related to Mission Settlement preceded the May arrest, and they pleaded guilty in April.

john sampson nysenate

Source: nysenate.gov

The dirt keeps piling up on the doorstep of embattled State Senator John Sampson. The latest accusation, revealed in a New York Daily News report, details how Sampson charged a $10,000 retainer fee to businessmen who were trying to secure land deals.

Sampson, who represents parts of Sheepshead Bay, is currently embroiled in a bribery scandal involving the theft of money from foreclosed home sales, and in which he allegedly threatened witnesses lined up against him, and another scandal involving missing charity money.

The latest scandal has Sampson under the microscope of the FBI, who had taped Sampson’s dealings with various businessmen. Sampson, who is also a lawyer, allegedly demanded retainer fees for activities that are supposed to be part of his job as a legislator. The Daily News described a scenario with a man looking to open a Cadillac dealership on city land known as Four Sparrows, on Flatbush Avenue near Toys ‘R’ Us – a deal that has gone through, and on which construction is ongoing:

One of those questioned by the FBI, sources say, is Brooklyn auto dealer Lilaahar (Sammy) Bical, owner of Kristal Auto Mall, one of the biggest Cadillac dealers on the East Coast.

Last year the FBI confronted Bical about Sampson’s role in helping him eliminate hurdles blocking Bical’s plan to buy a city-owned plot on Flatbush Ave. near the Belt Parkway.

Bical wanted the land to expand his dealership. But he faced opposition from some local politicians, including then-Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), who was trying to help developer Bruce Ratner build a shopping mall on the same property (Kruger was later indicted in an unrelated case and is now in prison).

Seeking help, Bical turned to Sampson. The senator requested a $10,000 “retainer fee” up front, and Bical wrote the check, sources say. Soon after, Sampson arranged a sit-down with Bloomberg administration officials at City Hall.

The report goes on to detail other instances where Sampson blurred the line between acting as a State Senator and an attorney. In the case of Sampson’s dealings with Bical and the city, a city official described the State Senator’s presence in the meetings as “an awkward situation because he’s not just a lawyer – he’s also a senator.”

Bical ended up paying $200,000 less for the property than the city said it was worth.

On the turf of former State Senator Carl Kruger and embattled State Senator John Sampson, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch came before a group of concerned citizens with a message: don’t despair, not everyone is corrupt, be you must be active and involved to ensure the best from your elected leaders.

Madison Marine Homecrest Civic Association hosted the event on Thursday, May 16, inviting Lynch to the Carmine Carro Community Center in Marine Park to talk about the recent cases. Lynch’s appearance came amid scandalous headlines involving Sampson who’s at the center of a handful of federal probes, and less than two years after the arrest and resignation of Kruger. Both represented portions of Marine Park.

The entire 40-minute talk by Lynch, which included questions from the audience, is posted above. But, aside from Sheepshead Bites, a slew of other reporters were at the event. Here’s what some of them wrote:

From Newsday:

Don’t “succumb to cynicism and apathy. Don’t give up — stay committed,” said Lynch, who is the chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, which also includes, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.

“Stay involved . . . Don’t give up.”

… When the audience was asked how many of them believed all politicians are corrupt, nearly everyone in attendance raised a hand.

Lynch told the audience, “We have to take back the system from the people who trampled on it. I don’t own it, you own it.”

From the Brooklyn Eagle:

Lynch took that message a step further when she said that not only should people not give up on the political process, but also that their participation is necessary.

… U.S. Attorney Lynch stated that apathy hurts the democratic process and that – along with wiretaps, undercover officers, and witnesses using recording devices – ordinary citizens who notice inconsistencies often play a big role in bringing corrupt politicians down.

“We are all enforcers,” Lynch said. “We all play a role. People need to get involved. ‘See something, say something’ is not just a slogan for the subway.”

Lynch also cautioned people to be patient in corruption cases and warned that just because somebody’s name is brought into the mix doesn’t necessarily mean they are corrupt.

“There can often be names that come out that should not have come out because, especially early on in an investigation, it’s impossible to determine their involvement and often it just tars their names,” she said.

Political reporters converged on Lynch after the event, asking her about recent allegations from minority lawmakers that the feds, including Lynch, were unfairly targeting elected officials of color. Lynch, herself an African-American who began her career working in civil rights, denied the charges.

From the Eagle:

When Lynch was questioned about whether black politicians are unfairly targeted, she replied, “Not stealing money is not a high standard. We look at the behavior of everyone. Our goal is to protect communities. You deserve integrity regardless of what your background is.”

And from Politicker:

When Lynch was questioned about whether black politicians are unfairly targeted, she replied, “Not stealing money is not a high standard. We look at the behavior of everyone. Our goal is to protect communities. You deserve integrity regardless of what your background is.”

… “No matter what type of case we prosecute, people who may feel targeted are concerned and make all kinds of statements about it,” Ms. Lynch said. “It’s part of the problem of public corruption that it really almost makes everyone look as if they’re involved, even if they’re not. And so you have people get very paranoid and very nervous and feel as if they’re under a microscope … We don’t go around targeting people other than those that we strongly have evidence [against], but I think what happens is, the atmosphere is very toxic, for lack of a better word, and it does affect people and that’s a byproduct of these cases,” she said.

A slew of local elected officials, including Councilman Lew Fidler and Assemblymembers Helene Weinstein and Alan Maisel, spoke before Lynch, and used it as an opportunity to remind attendees that the recent headlines reflect a few “bad apples.” They also touted anti-corruption legislation they’re working on, including disallowing lawmakers from using campaign funds on legal fees, and the ability to strip convicted legislators of their pension.

You can see their remarks here:

Source: aresauburn via flickr

While it seems that every major American city has its own brand of political corruption, New York’s scandal plagued politicians are marked by the high cost their misdeeds inflict on taxpayers. The New York Post is reporting that the accumulated cost of all the illegal and unethical actions of dirty politicians have cost taxpayers at least $49,710,630.64 since 2006.

The rogues gallery is led by former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who cost the state $36 million in pension-fund management fees after taking nearly $1 million in illegal gifts; ex-state Sen. Pedro Espada, who funneled $7 million to himself and family members through a Medicare-funded nonprofit; and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who cost taxpayers $103,000 in secret settlements after staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

The huge sum of money does not include the $440,000 in bribes that have recently put State Senator John Sampson in hot water. It also doesn’t include money promised by politicians that was never distributed, including $80,000 in discretionary funds given to a dummy company by Councilman Dan Halloran in exchange for a bribe.

The list of crooked pols also includes former State Senator Carl Kruger, who was bribed into funneling $900,000 to certain nonprofits. Kruger is currently serving a prison sentence on federal corruption charges.

Levitis (Source: Facebook)

Rasputin owner and Russian Dolls co-star Michael Levitis pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy and was released on $1 million bail after his indictment yesterday. But, more interestingly, Levitis claims he’s a victim of government neglect who had tried to tip off authorities to malfeasance by “rogue employees.” He said he was ignored.

This nugget from the New York Times has all you need to know:

Mr. Levitis, who was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud, pleaded not guilty and was released on $1 million bond. His lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, said by phone that his client had known about the investigation for several months, had cooperated fully and had tried to provide information to the government about certain employees he believed were responsible for wrongdoing. Mr. Lichtman said his client was ignored.

“The frustrating part about this is we repeatedly attempted to present evidence to the government that there were rogue employees that were working at Mission and were engaging in the sort of fraud that we now see in the indictment,” Mr. Lichtman said.

“We’re prepared to fight it to the end,” he added.

The Times also notes that the investigation into Mission Settlement Agency and Michael Levitis was aided by undercover agents and a cooperating witness who posed as a customer.

As we first reported yesterday, Levitis is alleged to be the ringleader of a fraud scheme, in which a company he controlled – Mission Settlement Agency – preyed on debt-laden victims. The company claimed to reduce a client’s debt to creditors and make payments on their behalf. In reality, prosecutors say, the company collected fees and did little or nothing to help clients, and Levitis used the fees to pay operating expenses at Rasputin Restauraunt, lease two luxury Mercedes and pay off his mother’s credit card bills.

Prosecutors have filed to seize approximately 40 bank accounts connected to Levitis, as well as Rasputin Restaurant and two properties he owns in Manhattan Beach. The assets would be used to pay back his victims if Levitis is found guilty.

Levitis and three other co-conspirators face 20 years in prison for each charge. Two additional employees were charged, pleaded guilty, and are aiding the investigation.

His attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, has represented high-profile clients including John Gotti, Jr., and rappers The Game and Fat Joe.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors are moving to seize it to repay his alleged victims. (Source: Google Maps)

Prosecutors have filed papers to restrain approximately 40 bank accounts operated by Michael Levitis or those connected to him, and have moved to seize two Manhattan Beach properties in order to preserve funds for victims of his alleged fraud, according to statements by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The home at 132 Norfolk, also owned by Levitis, which prosecutors are moving to seize. (Source: Google Maps)

According to the indictment, investigators have identified several bank accounts in the name of Levitis, Rasputin, Mission Settlement Agency and alleged co-conspirators which may be turned over to victims of the debt settlement fraud charges revealed this morning. They are also targeting his stake in Rasputin Restaurant, at 2670 Coney Island Avenue.

They also list two properties owned by Levitis – his home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard, and another property at 132 Norfolk Street.

If Levitis is found guilty and ordered to compensate as many as 2,200 victims of fraud through Mission Settlement Agency’s services, the properties will be liquidated to reimburse the victims.

The charges revealed this morning allege that Levitis and three co-conspirators offered debt settlement services, in which they collected fees without doing the services they advertised. Moreover, they are believed to have made false claims about their fees and their track record. And while clients forked over millions of dollars to be paid to their creditors, little if any ever made it that way. Instead, Levitis used it to pay operating expenses at Rasputin, lease two luxury Mercedes, and pay down his mother’s credit card debt.

Aside from the four that were charged this morning, two other Mission sales representatives were also charged: Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov. These two employees have been separately charged and have already pleaded guilty.

Mission Settlement Agency also went by the names Mission Abstract LLC and Alpha Debt Settlement.

View the U.S. Attorney’s remarks on the case, as well as the indictment.

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