Archive for the tag 'corruption'

Source: Henry campaign.

A candidate hoping to unseat State Senator John Sampson, who is mired in legal trouble, is touting his support from district residents.

Sean Henry announced today that more than 300 voters have pledged support for his campaign, just a week and a half after campaign operations got off the ground.

“The 19th District deserves better and I’m honored the community has rallied around my campaign for State Senate over the week and a half. With the support of these first 300 residents, I look forward to building a campaign that focuses on what the community truly deserves from an elected official – results,” said Henry in an e-mail statement.

Henry is looking to take out State Senator John Sampson, who currently represents the 19th District, which spans a chunk of Sheepshead Bay, as well as Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie, Bergen Beach and Mill Basin. Sampson has been facing troubling headlines since May 2013, when he was charged as part of a far ranging corruption scandal, and he’s currently facing embezzlement charges from his role in the sale of foreclosed homes.

Henry, who last year ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the 42nd District, is a Chicago native who faced homelessness as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Army in 1995, and attended Southern Illinois University. He moved to Brooklyn in 2000 to earn a master’s in Public Administration at New York University.

In addition to homeless issues, Henry is building a campaign around affordable housing, adding seats in local schools, improving mass transportation, and securing promises to residents for Superstorm Sandy-related aid.

Henry isn’t the only one looking to unseat the embattled incumbent. Leon Miles, an advocate for the disabled, is also in the running.

Two other candidates have yet to formally announce, but are widely rumored to be seriously considering the seat: Samuel Pierre, who heads a nonprofit and is a former staffer of Sampson’s, and Dell Smitherman, a political director with healthcare workers’ union 1199 SEIU. Both are members of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club that’s closely aligned to the county party leadership, which has not yet said if they will support Sampson’s reelection or the campaigns of one of his opponents.

Henry, Miles and Smitherman all have registered campaign committees with the state Board of Elections. Pierre does not.

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.

Sampson (File photo)

State Senator John Sampson, who represents parts of Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, racked up the fifth highest Senate travel bill, which will be paid by taxpayers.

Sampson, who served as Senate leader in 2009 when Democrats briefly controlled the body, has been charged with embezzlement, for which he has pleaded not guilty. Two other colleagues who also made headlines last year for corruption charges – Malcolm Smith and Eric Stevenson – filled out two more of the top five travel spenders in the Senate.

The local pol collected $15,449 in per diems, in addition to $9,068 for travel expenses related to gas, mileage and tolls, according to the Daily News.

Per diems are paid out by the taxpayers for each day the legislators spend in Albany rather than their district. Additional travel expenses can be reimbursed if on legislative business. The reimbursement system has come under fire for rampant abuse in the past, with some pols claiming trips to Albany – and being reimbursed the per diem, gas and tolls – when they were actually elsewhere,  including vacation.

Sampson, Smith and Stevenson also curiously put in for per-diem reimbursements all year long, even though the legislative session ends in June.

Kings Highway and East 16th Street (Source: Google Maps)

Kings Highway and East 16th Street (Source: Google Maps)

A Cardozo School of Law student is suing the city and two police officers from the 61st Precinct, claiming they wrongfully arrested him after he chewed them out for parking in a bus stop to grab some food.

Tzvi Richt, 22, was given two disorderly conduct summonses after he got fed up and mouthed off to two officers who he claims chased off a man for parking in a bus stop – and then took the spot for themselves.

The incident happened in December, when Richt was on his way home from final exams. He spotted two officers in their patrol car at Kings Highway and East 16th Street. The boys in blue were honking at a man using a nearby ATM to move his car from a bus zone. When that man hurriedly pulled away to avoid a ticket, the cops pulled into the bus stop, left their vehicle, and hit a nearby food truck for some chow, the suit alleges.

The New York Post details what happened next:

Richt approached NYPD officers Graham Braithwaite and Jason Pinero and quizzed them about the apparent double standard.

“Plaintiff asked the officers whether they thought what they had done was right,” the suit states. “Kicking a civilian’s car out of a bus stop so that they could park there just to get food.”

Richt claims that he asked the question in a respectful manner and was not “yelling or shouting,” according to court papers.

Braithwaite tried to shoo Richt away – but he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“Plaintiff responded by asking whether he wasn’t allowed to ask a question of a police officer,” the suit states.

Braithwaite then demanded Richt’s identification – but the student asked if they had the right to make the request.

That’s when Braithwaite put him in cuffs and threw him in the back of the cruiser, the suit claims. Pinero apparently attempted to urge his partner to forget about it and move on, but to no avail.

Richt spent an hour and a half behind bars before getting the disorderly conduct citations.

The Daily News notes that the summonses were tossed in court, and that Braithwaite has been transferred to desk duty while his superiors investigate.

Thompson (Source: BrooklynDA.org)

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced the launch of a Public Integrity Hotline this week, giving Brooklynites a place to call to report public corruption.

“My office is committed to rooting out public corruption in Brooklyn, and we take every complaint about corruption seriously. For that reason, I created a dedicated Public Integrity Hotline to encourage people to come forward with information about government wrongdoing,” said Thompson in a press release.

The DA’s Public Integrity Bureau will review complaints received through the hotline involving allegations of bribery, malfeasance by elected officials and public servants, election fraud, corruption of government contracting process, as well as fraud, waste and abuse of government programs and funds.

Anyone with information about government corruption is encouraged to call the Public Integrity Hotline at (718) 250-2747. People also have the option of filling out a Public Integrity Complaint Form on the Brooklyn DA’s website.

The launch of the hotline comes after a wave of scandals in recent years, including the conviction and imprisonment of Sheepshead Bay State Senator Carl Kruger, who was busted for accepting as much as $1 million in bribes. Senator John Sampson is currently under scrutiny for a number of alleged abuses of his office, including misusing funds and stealing money from the sale of foreclosed homes.

Food

Would you risk perjury for this? (Source: WhiteCastle.com)

Two men are suing the NYPD over a 2012 incident, in which they claim the cops roughed them up and took their White Castle burgers.

Danny Maisonet and Kenneth Glover have filed suit in Brooklyn Federal Court against the police department, saying that cops falsely arrested them because they wouldn’t hand over their sliders on Halloween 2012.

Daily News reports:

They were getting out of a taxicab, carrying a bag of the burgers, when they walked into cops rounding up a group of men suspected of looting a supermarket on Neptune Ave., lawyer Robert Marinelli said in the suit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

The cops — it’s unclear if they were kidding or starved out of their minds — demanded the bag of food. The plaintiffs refused to turn over the burgers.

With the long journey necessary to obtain White Castle burgers, a trip well-documented by Obama administration officials, the pair were not feeling particularly charitable to the officers, and declined their solicitations.

According to the lawsuit, the cops then “struck [them] with flashlights and handcuffed” them. The two were charged with obstructing government administration and disorderly conduct. Officer Angelo Pizzarro’s report of the incident claims they were standing in his way, forcing him to walk all the way around two people and a bag of hamburgers to get to the alleged supermarket looters.

The charges against the two were dismissed. They did not go to Guantanamo Bay, as one might expect.

Sean Henry (Source: electseanhenry.com)

Homeless advocate Sean Henry has formally announced his bid to unseat State Senator John Sampson, who is mired in legal troubles connected to corruption allegations.

News of Henry’s campaign hit Politicker yesterday, and the campaign issued a press release and launched a website this morning. Among the announcements is that Henry has already put together a professional political team, positioning himself as a serious contender.

According to the candidate’s website, Henry is a Chicago native who faced homelessness as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Army in 1995, and attended Southern Illinois University. He moved to Brooklyn in 2000 to earn a master’s in Public Administration at New York University.

Henry went to work at the Department of Homeless Services, where he worked his way up the ranks to Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner, and claims to have spearheaded negotiations between city agencies and private organizations on community-based housing stability services. He most recently worked as a consultant to a non-profit offering community-based services.

“Too many people in this district our struggling, and I understand what that feels like,” said Henry in a press release. “There are people living without hot, running water for weeks on end; people whose ceilings are crumbling before their very eyes. There are kids who aren’t getting the education they deserve at the schools given to them. This situation is unacceptable. The people of the 19th Senate District deserve an elected official that places their needs above all else, and that’s what I will do as their representative.”

Henry, who last year ran for City Council in the 42nd District, an election ultimately won by Inez Barron, appears to mean business. He’s hired political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, as well as professional fundraisers, an election law attorney and an experienced public relations team.

The announcement could spell trouble for State Senator John Sampson, who currently represents the 19th District, which spans a chunk of Sheepshead Bay, as well as Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie, Bergen Beach and Mill Basin.

Sampson has been facing troubling headlines since May 2013, when he was charged as part of a far ranging corruption scandal.

In March of 2012, Sampson allegedly sought out [former Queens State Senator Shirley] Huntley’s advice after being approached by a businessman allegedly offering bribes in exchange for help regarding his business at Kennedy International Airport. The airport is located in the district Huntley used to represent.

Since then the list has grown longer. It was alleged that the senator sought to silence witnesses in the case suggesting he stole more than $400,000 from the sale of foreclosed homes. Later that same month, state officials began investigating the fate of more than $39,000 earmarked for a charity for inner city youth. He is also being eyed for three cases of campaign donations that seemed to vanish from Sampson’s accounts, and allegations that businessmen who lobbied his office were charged retainer fees for duties that are supposed to be part of his job as a legislator.

Sampson hasn’t announced what his reelection bid yet, but he continues to maintain innocence in the investigations. According to Politicker, if Sampson decides to run for reelection he will have the hard job of clearing his name with the public and beating two challengers. The other challenger to the seat is Leon Miles, another former Council candidate.

Oberman

Igor Oberman, who ran in the Democratic primary and then in the general election as the Working Families Party candidate to replace former Councilman Michael Nelson, raised more than $40,000 from donors while using his work phone at Taxi and Limousine Commission job, a Department of Investigation report claims.

Oberman served as an attorney for the commission, but was using the office to make calls for support during his City Council campaign, a violation of city rules, according to the report obtained by Crain’s Insider.

Oberman faced off against Democrat Chaim Deutsch and Republican David Storobin. Deutsch ultimately won the race by a wide margin.

The report also raises questions about his relationship with his campaign’s consultants, the Advance Group, which was simultaneously hired by the co-op Oberman runs, Trump Village 4.

Crain’s reports:

Last April, records show, Mr. Oberman signed off on a six-month, $45,000 lobbying contract with the Advance Group for the portion of the massive Coney Island co-op he runs a part of, Trump Village, at the same time the Advance Group was running Mr. Oberman’s political campaign, separately earning $73,000. Mr. Oberman says the lobbying expenses were entirely legitimate and separate from the campaign.

Both Mr. Oberman, president of the board of directors of Trump Village West, and the Advance Group face separate investigations from the city Campaign Finance Board into their practices during the 2013 election cycle.

The contract between Trump Village 4 and Advance was terminated in September, when Oberman lost the primary.

Separately, the Department of Investigation report, which was forwarded by a source, states that despite a warning not to do so, Mr. Oberman had “excessively used TLC resources” to conduct his political campaign, operate a realty business, and other business related to Trump Village, the massive Coney Island co-op of which he runs a part. Troves of campaign documents were found on his work computer, according to the report.

Mr. Oberman’s $82,500-a-year city job had been to oversee the prosecution of consumer-initiated complaints concerning the agency. But of the 1,900 calls Mr. Oberman made during a five-month period at the beginning of 2013, fewer than one-quarter were related to government business, an examination of phone records found. Mr. Oberman declined last summer to be interviewed by investigators, the report states. Mr. Oberman was dismissed from his job last September, according to a TLC spokesman.

Oberman denied the allegations to Crain’s.

Early in the race, Oberman seemed like a strong contender, having raised more than $94,000 during the first significant campaign disclosure period – $20,000 more than the next candidate. However, allegations later surfaced that Oberman had abused his role as president of the board of the 1,144-unit Trump Village 4 to aid his campaign, including in using the co-op’s funds to send out thinly-veiled campaign materials bearing his face – an allegation still being investigated by the Campaign Finance Board. (Disclosure: Trump Village 4 ran an ad on Sheepshead Bites during this time. It was paid for by Trump Village and designed by Sheepshead Bites. It did not depict Oberman whatsoever – although the material it linked to did feature his name and face.)

The candidate was also the target of allegations from his rivals that he had filed phony complaints with the Campaign Finance Board to mire his opponents in paperwork. By the September primary, five complaints had been made targeting three candidates. It appeared as if four of those complaints came from one campaign – Oberman’s – and were dismissed. The fifth was against Oberman himself, and is the complaint still under investigation by the agency.

Opponent Ari Kagan, who filed that complaint, also accused Oberman of suppressing Russian votes by sending out phony mailers with incorrect polling sites.

Sampson (File photo)

Sampson (File photo)

The U.S. Attorney’s office unveiled an updated indictment of State Senator John Sampson yesterday, growing the list of corruption allegations to include lying to the FBI about actions his office took to benefit a liquor store, of which he held secret ownership.

Politicker reports:

The U.S. Attorney’s office today announced that Mr. Sampson, who once led the Senate Democrats, is accused of “making false statements to FBI agents about directing members of his Senate staff to take actions to benefit a Brooklyn liquor store in which Sampson secretly held an ownership interest.”

According to prosecutors, Mr. Sampson was recorded hiding his stake in an unnamed liquor store in its license application.

“During a series of telephone calls that were captured on the Sampson Wiretap, the defendant … told the Partners that [his] ownership interest should not be disclosed in the Application” today’s indictment reads.

Mr. Sampson was also recorded instructing an anonymous government staffer to help the store deal with outstanding tax obligations. The senator even appeared to be aware of the potential illegalities involved, telling the staffer to “do it on your own cell phone and do it on your own time.”

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch’s office also accuses the senator of lying about the liquor store and his office’s involvement when speaking to federal agents.

An attorney for Sampson sought to downplay the charges, saying the senator has been “fully cooperative” in the investigation and that he “has not betrayed the public trust.”

The Sheepshead Bay portion of Sampson's district, which connects to the remainder of his district via a one block stretch. (Click to enlarge)

The Sheepshead Bay portion of Sampson’s district, which connects to the remainder of his district via a one block stretch. (Click to enlarge)

“After years of investigation and two indictments, the government has not charged Senator Sampson with a crime relating to the misuse of his public office. The new charge in the superseding indictment simply alleges an unrecorded statement to an agent of the FBI, which the government chooses not to believe, with respect to a matter for which the government fails to charge any substantive crime,” the attorney said.

Following redistricting, Sampson’s district grew to represent a huge swath of the heart of Sheepshead Bay, between Avenue Y and Avenue U, from East 14th Street to Knapp Street.

Sampson is already facing charges unveiled in May 2013, after he was recorded by former State Senator Shirley Huntley, who turned into a cooperating witness after pleading guilty to stealing taxpayer money through a nonprofit organization. In the recorded conversation, Sampson allegedly sought Huntley’s advice after being approached by a businessman offering bribes for him in his business at JFK Airport.

Sampson was also accused of stealing $400,000 from the sales of foreclosed homes, and was charged with two counts of embezzlement, five counts of obstruction and two counts of making false statements to the FBI.

It was then alleged that the senator sought to silence witnesses in the case by requesting the witness list from a friend in the U.S. Attorney’s office so that he could “take them out.”

Later that same month, state officials began investigating the fate of more than $39,000 earmarked for a charity for inner city youth. While the taxpayer funds went to the group, the nonprofit was unable to provide records for how it was spent. Shortly after the organization received the funds, its leader and Senator Sampson opened the liquor store mentioned in yesterday’s indictment, Gateway Wine & Spirits, and the charity went defunct. The treasurer of the charity said he was never made aware by the group’s leader or the senators office of the $39,560 grant.

At the time, Sampson’s spokesman said that the senator had withdrawn his stake in the liquor store and that questions about it were “moot.”

The spokesperson also made statements at the time that are contrary to allegations made in yesterday’s indictment.

Times Union reported in 2013:

[The spokesperson] said no law enforcement officials had inquired about the matter.

“Why would they?” He asked. “We’re looking for storms in teacups, I suspect. The senator did what any senator, when their constituents petition them, would do.”

The investigation continued to expand in 2013, with three cases of campaign donations that appeared to vanish from Sampson’s accounts, and allegations that businessmen who lobbied his office were charged retainer fees for duties that are supposed to be part of his job as a legislator.

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