Archive for the tag 'carl kruger'

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.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis (Source: James Edstrom)

Rasputin Restaurant owner and Russian Dolls co-star Michael Levitis, and three others, were charged with fraud this morning, as prosecutors claim they operated a debt settlement company that swindled more than 1,200 people out of a total of millions of dollars

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

Levitis, who owns Mission Settlement Agency at 2713 Coney Island Avenue in addition to Rasputin, was charged with mail and wire fraud along with three employees: Denis Kurlyand, its vice president of sales; Boris Shulman, a sales representative; and Manuel Cruz, an employee who assisted with customer solicitation.

(UPDATE: Prosecutors are moving to seize Levitis’ properties. Additionally, two other co-conspirators were identified and have already pleaded guilty.)

Prosecutors say that Mission Settlement Agency 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” customer, the criminal complaint says, by charging fees without ever rendering services.

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.

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.

It’s not the first time Levitis has claimed a government relationship he may not have had.

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, 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. According to Reuters:

The appeals court said it took into account mitigating factors presented by Levitis, including “the aberrational and unplanned nature of his misconduct,” his remorse, his cooperation with the grievance committee’s investigation and his reputation as an “ethical and honest attorney.”

Levitis, his mother and his wife, Marina, were also the 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.

Former State Senator Carl Kruger at a 2008 rally in support of the Atlantic Yards. Source: Tracy Collins (“threecee”) / Flickr

When you give a politician your money, how they spend it is out of your hands. Most of the time the money goes towards the extremely expensive cycle of campaigning. But, sometimes, when politicians find themselves in hot water, either fighting off ethical or criminal charges, they dip into their campaign reserves to pay off their expensive legal fees.

The New York Daily News is reporting that donors are getting sick of seeing their money used to defend corrupt public officials as opposed to advancing the agendas and goals that they were promised when they signed the checks.

Over the last nine years, the Daily News reported that politicians have spent $6.78 million in contributed dollars to pay off legal fees. Disgraced State Senator Carl Kruger led the pack by spending a staggering $1.5 million on his legal fees.

Michael Bebon, who gave Kruger $5,000, said he doesn’t mind politicians using campaign dollars for legal fees, as long as they are innocent of the charges. If they are found guilty, Bebon said he’d like to see the money returned to the donors.

“[Kruger] was convicted,” Bebon told the Daily News. “He was a crook. I don’t give money to crooks.”

In response to the growing outcry over corruption, Democrats in the State Senate have proposed a campaign finance reform package that bars politicians from using campaign funds to pay off legal fees. So far, the proposed plan has seen some bipartisan support, but the bill still has steep opposition.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has had to use his own campaign cash for legal fees, opposes the bill.

Silver has spent $75,000 in campaign cash on legal fees since 2004, including $40,000 tied to a recent probe into his handling of a secret taxpayer-supported $103,000 settlement with two women who accused Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) of sexual harassment. Silver has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

“There are legitimate expenses,” Silver spokesman Michael Whyland said. “It’s not taxpayer dollars we’re talking about here. You can be a subject of a baseless lawsuit that you have to defend yourself against.”

In 1989, the State Board of Elections ruled that politicians can use campaign funds to pay off legal fees as long as the investigation related to the person’s office or campaign.

Should politicians be able to use contributed money to pay off legal fees? As public figures, is it fair for them to be on their own when they are subjected to a wide range of potential lawsuits? Would barring them from using campaign funds to pay off legal fees make them more careful, honest and law-abiding? Let us know.

Photo by Erica Sherman

With the cost of renting out storefront property perpetually on the rise across the city, it comes as no surprise that many local politicians are having trouble meeting the budget limitations set for their respective headquarter bases. State senators based in New York City are allotted $40,000 a year for rental expenditures, but many have gone over that line, according to a report in the New York Post.

One of the state senators marked for going over their rental budget allotment is our own Marty Golden who rang up a yearly rent bill of $48,000 for his Bay Ridge headquarters. Still, its hard to blame Marty when a typical small storefront property on Sheepshead Bay Road goes for more than $4,000 a month.

Golden isn’t the only local politician having trouble meeting the limit:

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) paid $49,723 for his district office at 38-50 Bell Blvd. He insisted the Senate Republicans negotiated his lease — claiming he didn’t even know he was over the limit.

Even imprisoned ex-Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) and indicted former Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) got in on the fun, despite having represented lower-rent neighborhoods, spending $45,000 and $47,452, respectively.

[Jeff] Klein cut his annual rent by $15,000 by leaving his East Tremont Avenue district office for the Hutchins Center, where he pays “market rate,” said spokesman Eric Soufer.

“Believe me, nobody comes to work for us because of the accommodations,” Soufer said. “I’ve had college dorm rooms that are bigger than our office.”

The problem politicians like Golden face is that they could rent cheaper space on higher levels in office buildings, but they would lose on-the-street contact and easy access to their constituents.

We put the question to our readers as to what is more important; paying extra to keep your local politicians closer to the ground and more accessible, or saving costs by pushing their headquarters into harder to access office spaces?

Lipsky on CUNY TV (Source: cuny.tv)

Longtime lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who pleaded guilty to bribing ex-State Senator Carl Kruger, has been busy sharing his secrets with federal prosecutors, according to court papers released yesterday and first reported by the Daily News. Acting in full cooperation with with the feds, Lipsky hopes his actions will result in leniency when Federal Judge Jed Rakoff announces his sentencing this Thursday.

Lipsky faces a maximum of six years for his crimes, as he pleaded guilty to giving $260,000 in bribes to Kruger through dummy companies that Kruger controlled with gynecologist and close personal associate Dr. Michael Turano. Lipsky’s level of cooperation with federal officials has been sufficient to the point where prosecutors have included a three-page letter to Judge Rakoff requesting leniency.

“Lipsky credibly described the origin of his corrupt relationship with Kruger during his proffers with the government,” prosecutor Glen McGorty told the Daily News, adding that the information Lipsky supplied has been useful in expanding the investigation to “numerous other persons.” References to who these persons might be, and what these investigations might entail, have been redacted from the sentencing letter to “preserve the integrity of ongoing law enforcement investigations.”

The full extent of windfall Lipsky is offering might be reflected in how lenient Judge Rakoff’s sentence is this coming Thursday, but, according to a New York Times piece this morning, pols across the city are already sweating over the potential of a new round of indictments.

“I thought, ‘Who did Lipsky turn on?’ ”State Senator Liz Krueger told the Times. “I bet many people in elected office and in the lobbying world said to themselves, ‘I wonder if it’s X.’”

Former Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman and current Assemblyman Vito Lopez, in happier times. Photo by Aaron Short

“Politics are a labyrinth without a clue.” – John Adams

BETWEEN THE LINES: More than a year ago, Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned after he admitted taking part in virtual trysts with other women over the course of several years. The stupidity of that incident — and numerous others that preceded it — has apparently not penetrated the minds of shameless politicians as to what constitutes inappropriate conduct.

For decades, from casting to corporate couches, men in positions of power have taken advantage of women in the workplace. Decades after feminism inspired equal rights for women and brought such matters to light, you’d think the sleazy, obnoxious “boys will be boys” mindset would have fizzled out, but the creepy practice still permeates our culture.

For what it’s worth, let’s call groping, womanizing and related acts the “Dirty Old Man Syndrome,” though age, clearly, has no bearing on the matter.

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Despite being dogged by corruption allegations that ultimately led to his resignation and incarceration, former State Senator Carl Kruger spent his final legislative session in power introducing more bills than any of his colleagues.

The New York Public Interest Research Group’s (NYPIRG) analysis of the 2012 New York legislative session (pdf) revealed that Kruger, former senator of District 27, and Marty Golden, senator of District 22, were the two most active representatives during the 2011-2012 legislative session that wrapped up last month.

Despite his resignation in the end of 2011, during the 2011-2012 session, Kruger introduced a total of 372 bills into the legislature, more bills than any other senator during this term. Of the bills Kruger introduced into the Senate, NYPIRG did not record how many of them actually passed.

In second place statewide, is our other local state senator, Marty Golden. Golden introduced a total of 301 bills during the session. Fifty-five of the veteran Republican legislator’s bills passed in both houses.

“Clearly, Senator Golden has been a productive member of the State Legislature.” stated Jeffery Kraus, Golden’s campaign manager, in a press release.  “Introducing the second most bills of any senator in the last two years, Golden is making an impact.”

NYPIRG has provided the numbers proving politician activity, yet they leave it up to you to decide the rest, saying that judging impact and influence of the legislators in their report is more complicated than just evaluating the number of bills introduced or passed.

Jason Koppel (Source: Erica Sherman)

Former State Senator Carl Kruger’s chief of staff is heading back to work… on the reelection campaign of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.

City and State revealed yesterday that Jason Koppel, who served as Kruger’s chief-of-staff and campaign treasurer, and whose name came up in at least one of the FBI’s probes into Kruger, is now working as a consultant for Team Cymbrowitz.

“I call him and ask him about things that are important to the community, and that’s the extent of it,” Cymbrowitz told City and State. “He’s very well-connected on my constituents issues.”

Koppel recently resigned as Kruger’s campaign treasurer, where he sat on a trove of $417,000 even though his old boss is behind bars. And, as the FBI probe into Kruger’s dealings became public, it was discovered that Koppel received a 40 percent raise over the 16 months of the investigation, making him the highest-paid legislative staffer in Albany, raking in $162,442 a year.

It is not yet known how much Cymbrowitz is paying Koppel for his consulting services, as his hiring came after the time period covered by Cymbrowitz’s latest campaign financial filings.

Besides his well-paid work for the now-imprisoned pol, Koppel’s name surfaced in an FBI investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of Rasputin Nightclub owner and Russian Dolls “star” Michael Levitis.

Levitis was recorded by an FBI informant saying he would help a fellow restaurateur gain favor with Kruger by passing a bribe off to Koppel after taking a cut for himself. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $15,000 for lying to FBI agents.

All of that said, political observers are cautioning against guilt-by-association. City and State notes:

As a couple of Brooklyn political observers noted when contacted for this story, Koppel has been extremely thoroughly vetted since then — and never has been charged with any wrongdoing. That’s even as the U.S. attorney’s office recorded years of conversations among Kruger and others that were used as evidence against the senator, and Kruger himself cut a deal on a plea agreement.

Despite the fact that he confessed to accepting bribes and now sits in jail on charges of corruption, ex-State Senator Carl Kruger‘s campaign committee has over $417,000, according to the New York Post.

And, apparently, the campaign is keeping the reserves for the pol’s potential payday when he gets out of the big house.

The Post said that the committee, “Friends of Carl,” continued to exist after Kruger left the Senate in December of 2011, and even after he was placed in jail last month. They have not collected money in the past six months, yet they have been paying their bills and even kept some money aside for Kruger after he finishes serving his seven-year sentence.

In addition, Kruger is receiving a taxpayer-funded pension of $65,000 a year.

State election law says that political campaigns can use “contributions received by a candidate or a political committee may be expended for any lawful purpose,” said the New York Post.

However, the law continues and says that the money cannot be used for personal use unconnected to the political campaign. Yet law experts said that almost all expenses can be connected to politics, and therefore, officials can do whatever they’d like with the money.

Here’s how Capital Confidential, which first reported on the leftover warchest, puts it:

Recall: under New York’s current campaign finance laws, YOU CAN DO BASICALLY WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT WITH CAMPAIGN MONEY. Like buy a car. Or have your widow continue to spend it five years after you die. Legal legal legal. S’all good. This is, in my opinion, one of those things that makes the Empire State great.

Sen. Liz Krueger has proposed a bill to eventually let campaign committees die. It may shock you to learn that it hasn’t advanced at all.

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