Archive for the tag 'fraud'

Source: woodleywonderworks/Flickr

A new website created by the New York State Attorney General’s office aims to help homeowners easily identify and avoid mortgage rescue scams, while also providing direction on how to reach housing counselors and legal services organizations if additional assistance is needed.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman says AGScamHelp.com was developed to keep homeowners who are behind on their mortgages from getting deeper into debt by becoming victims of any number of scams.

“Easily accessible from smartphones, tablets, and other devices, AGScamHelp allows users to quickly search the name of any organization offering mortgage modification assistance,” he wrote in a piece of the Huffington Post. “The app will show that an organization is ‘Trusted’ if it is part of the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program, or has been approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

If the organization has not been approved by HUD of the AG’s office, you’ll be advised to use caution since it’s not government-vetted. They’ll also provide info on how to spot a possible mortgage rescue scam, who to contact nearby for counseling or legal services, and how to report potential scammers so the AG’s office can investigate them.

According to a recent report from the Center for New York City Neighborhoods and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the average New York homeowner who falls victim to a scam loses about $4,187, almost $900 more than than the national average.

Check out the site at AGScamHelp.com.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

Prosecutors filed a request for a “Curcio hearing” in Congressman Michael Grimm’s tax fraud case Friday, likely targeting his recently hired legal counsel, reports the Staten Island Advance.

It was not revealed who was named in the request, but the motion comes after attorneys Stuart N. Kaplan – who once worked with Grimm at the FBI – and his partner Joseph Sconzo joined Grimm’s legal defense team in November. Named for a landmark case in which a lawyer represented two brothers in separate criminal cases, a “Curcio Hearing” is typically requested when there is a conflict of interest for the defendant’s counsel.

The pair also represented Grimm’s ex-girlfriend, Diana Durand, when she was charged with illegally contributing $10,000 to the congressman’s congressional campaign. In that case, a similar “Curcio hearing” was requested, and prosecutors argued that Kaplan’s friendship with the congressman would compel him to advise Durand to withhold information from federal authorities that could incriminate Grimm in the tax fraud case but help Durand during sentencing. Durand eventually accepted a plea deal that did not require her to cooperate in the case against her former beau.

Kaplan and Sconzo deny that there was a conflict of interest in their representing Durand, according to the Staten Island Advance:

Shortly after joining Grimm’s defense team, Kaplan told the Advance, “My loyalties were strictly and solely in her best interest.”

He said that if Ms. Durand could have helped the government’s investigation, “I would have urged her and I would have supported her and I would have counseled her to come forward … This woman had zero, nothing to offer.”

The Law Offices of Kaplan & Sconzo did not get back to us in time to comment on this story.

Grimm was indicted for 20 counts of tax fraud in April for under-reporting payroll expenses and income from his Upper East Side restaurant, which he owned before running for congress.

3027 Avenue V, the address of one of the shell companies affiliated with the alleged scam.

3027 Avenue V, the address of one of the shell companies affiliated with the alleged scam.

Ten people – including three Brooklynites – were arrested and charged for their roles in an alleged $70 million scheme to defraud Medicaid and Medicare by submitting phony claims to the programs through three sham medical clinics, including one based on Avenue V.

The bust was announced December 3, when the suspects were slapped with charges including conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, healthcare fraud and money laundering. Three of the suspects – Vadim Zubkov, Nikoloz Chochiev and Jason Brissett – hailed from Brooklyn while the remaining seven were Queens residents.

Prosecutors say that the defendants recruited homeless people and the financially vulnerable who were insured by Medicare or Medicaid, hauling them to the three clinics to undergo unnecessary medical tests. The procedures were administered by unlicensed personnel, and the clinics ultimately billed more than $70 million in fraudulent claims, according to prosecutors, paying kickbacks to the phony patients.

Find out who was arrested, where the clinic was and how the alleged scam operated.

The official Ocean Avenue address of Merkaz, which is also Fetman's home address and an organization under his control, through which he allegedly embezzled the funds. (Source: Google Maps)

The official Ocean Avenue address of Merkaz, which is also Fetman’s home address and an organization under his control, through which he allegedly embezzled the funds. (Source: Google Maps)

The chief financial officer of Manhattan-based nonprofit Aish HaTorah, Jacob Fetman, of Midwood, was charged yesterday with embezzling more than $237,000 from the international Jewish outreach organization through another non-profit under his control.

According to District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office, Fetman routed the organization’s donations through three separate Aish bank accounts that he controlled. From November 2010 to August 2013, he allegedly transferred $922,931.74 of that money to a bank account for Merkaz, a religious organization whose official address is shared with Fetman’s Ocean Avenue home, and which he runs, according to prosecutors. Merkaz is not a part of Aish in any way.

He then bounced some of the money back to Aish – $685,454.43 – a net loss to the organization of $237,477.31, said Thompson’s office.

Aish is one of the largest international outreach organizations in the world, with 30 branches on five continents. Established in 1974, it encourages Jewish people to reconnect with their faith and culture. The organization operates seminars, produces events for Jewish singles, provides education and training to local faith groups and publishes Aish.com, a leading website for Jewish-related lifestyle and religious content.

Fetman, 45, served as the organization’s CFO for 17 years. Fetman was terminated when Aish officials discovered the banking irregularities.

“This defendant abandoned his duty to safeguard Aish HaTorah’s finances and allegedly stole $237,477 in charitable donations from this venerable non-profit organization. He will now be held accountable,” said Thompson in a press release.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis (Source: James Edstrom)

Michael Levitis, who owned Rasputin restaurant until it was seized by authorities, and who was also a castmember of the failed television show Russian Dolls, was sentenced to nine years in federal prison yesterday for a fraudulent debt collection scheme that preyed on the vulnerable.

Levitis was also ordered to pay restitution of $2.2 million to the victims, and a fine of $15,000. His company, Mission Settlement Agency, was ordered to pay a fine of nearly $4.4 million.

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

The Manhattan Beach resident pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and wire fraud conspiracy for his role masterminding a ploy to victimize more than 1,200 struggling people through phony debt collection services, according to United States Attorney Preet Bharara. He previously denied his role in the scheme, and even claimed to be a victim of “rogue employees” – a tale prosecutors didn’t buy.

“Michael Levitis preyed upon people across the country who, like so many Americans, were struggling to pay off their debts after the financial downturn,” said Bharara. “Through Mission Settlement Agency, Levitis lied about quick, guaranteed cures to their serious financial problems in order to trick them out of money they could not afford to lose.  Worse, he created, for many people, a nightmare of spiraling debt and plummeting credit scores that plagues them to this day. With his sentence today, he has been held responsible and punished for his crimes.”

“[Levitis'] crimes here … were directed at desperate people, hundreds of desperate people drowning in debt.”

 

–Judge Paul Gardephe.

Levitis’ defense team previously requested a lighter sentence of just five years, but Judge Paul Gardephe balked at the request for a crime he found “extraordinary” in its cruelty.

“There is something special and extraordinary about the crimes here: the fact that they were directed at desperate people, hundreds of desperate people drowning in debt, trying to find a way out of their problems,” he said during the sentencing. “The determination to extract from these people their last few dollars makes this crime extraordinary.”

Levitis will be under home supervision until he heads to prison in February, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors say Mission offered debt settlement services to people struggling to pay off credit card debt, promising to negotiate with the lenders on behalf of clients for a lower settlement amount. From 2009 to May 2013, Levitis, 38, directed Mission’s employees – Denis Kurlyand, Boris Shulman, Manuel Cruz, Felix Lebersekiy and Zakhir Shirinov, all of whom pleaded guilty as well – to make fraudulent claims in the sales pitches to clients.

Such promises included an ability to slash their debts by 45 percent, which never in fact happened. Additionally, the company sent potential clients letters falsely suggesting that the agency was connected to federal government programs.

In the end, Mission collected more than $2.2 million in fees from more than 1,200 customers, and never paid a penny to the customers’ creditors. Instead, he funneled the funds to cover expenses at his beleaguered 2670 Coney Island Avenue restaurant, Rasputin, as well as to make lease payments on two different Mercedes cars and pay the credit card bills of his mother, Eva Levitis.

Prosecutors explicitly said some of the funds went to throw the lavish parties featured in the reality show “in which he starred during the course of the scheme,” meaning Lifetime’s Russian Dolls.

That show debuted on Lifetime in August 2011, despite criticism from the Russian-speaking community that they feared they’d be depicted as “thugs, criminals and outcasts.”

It was canceled after four episodes.

Prior to the show, Levitis already had an uneasy relationship with the law. As critics of the show feared, it did in fact portray a criminal – the same month his involvement in the show became public, Levitis had pleaded guilty of lying to federal investigators in relation to an FBI probe dating back to 2007.

That investigation explored an alleged influence peddling scheme in which Levitis was recorded telling another restaurateur that then-State Senator Carl Kruger would help him with state matters if he held a fundraiser and turned over thousands of dollars for the politician’s campaign.

Kruger is currently in federal prison after being found guilty for accepting at least $1 million in bribes in an unrelated investigation. Levitis at the time was sentenced to three years probation and fined $15,000.

Since the current charges involving Mission Settlement were made public, Levitis has attempted to maintain a profile in the community through a private Facebook page called Russian Insiders. Moderated by Levitis, his mother, and his wife, users have complained of “Putin-style censorship” on the page, in which members are banned for any mention of the multiple Levitis scandals.

Sources have also said he frequently uses the page to disparage Sheepshead Bites as “anti-Russian,” presumably because of this outlet’s extensive reporting on his unscrupulous activities.

clothing-bins

The City Council passed a bill cracking down on illegal clothing donation bins Thursday.

The law – introduced by Councilman Vincent Gentile – penalizes organizations that put drop-off bins on the street with no intention of giving the collected garments to the needy. The bill allows the city to remove the bins immediately, fining first-time violators $250 and repeat offenders $500. Previously the city would post a notice on the illegal bins, giving the owner 30 days to remove them.

The number of complaints about drop-off bins has skyrocketed in the last two years, jumping from 97 reported in 2012 to 2,093 this past June, reports the New York Daily News. Not only are the sketchy bins an eyesore, but many of them are actually scams, selling the garments for a profit overseas.

“These bins are illegal, unsafe, and undermine the efforts of the legitimate charities that actually collect clothing for those in need,” Gentile said in a statement. “This law will impose strict penalties on the shady companies engaging in this illegal practice. I want to thank City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverto and her staff for their diligent work on this issue.”

Clothing bins will also be registered with the city and owners will be required to report how much they collect.

I've been told that the owner is definitely an NJ resident who moved from the neighborhood. But the photo is just too good not to use for this post.

I’ve been told that the owner is definitely an NJ resident who moved from the neighborhood. But the photo is just too good not to use for this post.

Apparently, the four car owners in Sheepshead Bay that actually have their car registered in 11235 are paying the highest rates for car insurance of any zip code in New York State.

The data was analyzed by consumer advice website ValuePenguin.com, which attempted to rank the affordability of car insurance across the state. What they found was, lo and behold, New York City has the highest costs, with Brooklyn leading the way. We asked the number-crunchers at ValuePenguin to break it down further, and what they found was that the 11235 zip code covering Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach leads all of Brooklyn.

Drivers in 11235 pay, on average, $5,585 a year, according to the report. That’s 2 percent higher than the borough average, $5,308 a year. The borough itself is 30 percent higher than the city average, and 250 percent higher than the state.

The rates were calculated based on a single 30-year-old male and a 65-year-old male who drives a 2010 Toyota Camry about 12,000 miles a year, to commute to work. It’s based on somebody with a good credit history and in good condition, and hasn’t had an accident or traffic violation in the past five years – so, basically a person who is a better candidate for cheap insurance than this neighborhood’s shoddy, luxury-car driving maniacs.

The other zip code covering a big chunk of Sheepshead Bay, pays $5,351 on average, and 11223 – Gravesend – pays $5,354. Collectively, it appears all the zip codes along the Southern Brooklyn coastline* pay more than the borough average for car insurance:

  • 11214 (Bensonhurst) – $5,354
  • 11223 (Gravesend) – $5,351
  • 11235 (Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay) – $5,585
  • 11229 (Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest) – $5,351

* They did not produce numbers for Coney Island, so we can’t say this comprehensively.

So why is the insurance so high along the coastline? It could be the risk posed by storms like Superstorm Sandy, which saw thousands of cars destroyed in the flood. But seeing as how rates were high even before Sandy, maybe, just maybe, it’s something a little more sinister.

But what’s it matter? Chances are that you have Pennsylvania plates, or you’re a chump.

Check out the study.

Litvin gives “pro” legal tips, discussing how the banks are out to rip you off.

Gennady Litvin / Source: About.me

Gennady Litvin / Source: About.me

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing a local law firm and its namesake attorney, accusing them of running a fraudulent mortgage rescue scheme that ripped off financially vulnerable homeowners facing foreclosure.

The attorney general filed suit in New York County Supreme Court yesterday against Midwood-based Litvin Law Firm and Miami-based Litvin, Torrens & Associates, as well as their principal attorney, Gennady Litvin.

Litvin Law Firm is located at 1716 Coney Island Avenue, and Litvin lives in Brooklyn. The firm’s website claims it can provide “foreclosure defense in 31 states across the US,” as does Litvin’s About.me page. Their YouTube page has a handful of testimonial videos from satisfied clients, as well as legal tips from Litvin himself. And radio and TV ads touted connections to “state attorney generals and the federal government.”

But it was all a sham, according to the attorney general.

One of the testimonial videos, claiming that Litvin’s firm successfully eliminated her mortgage in Alabama – even though Litvin was not permitted to practice in Alabama.

The suit claims that the law firms targeted struggling homeowners, then billed them monthly fees ranging from $595 to $750 each for services they would not – and often could not – offer.

Using third-party marketers, the firms picked up clients from across the nation, claiming that they would have a “custom made attorney defense team” that provided “a level of service that usually is only enjoyed by large corporate clients.” They said they’d do “forensic loan audits” to find errors in their mortgage documents and defend against foreclosure, winning concessions from lenders.

In reality, they only had offices in two states and were not permitted to provide foreclosure defense in many of the places where they enrolled clients. Homeowners in most cases never spoke to an attorney, never received representation, and never saw the benefit of the hundreds or thousands of dollars paid to the firms. Most wound up negotiating with lenders on their own, according to the attorney general.

The third-party marketers have already been taken to task by the Federal Trade Commission, agreeing to a permanent ban on mortgage and debt relief services and paying $3.6 million to pay back duped clients.

The Litvin Law Firm was given the boot from practicing in Rhode Island in January after that state’s attorney general found he was offering mortgage foreclosure assistance despite not being licensed in that state.

The attorney general is on the lookout for possible victims of Litvin’s scheme. If you believe you were a victim of the Litvin Law Firm; Litvin, Torrens & Associates; or any of its affiliated marketers, or if you believe you were a victim of another mortgage fraud, please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Complaint forms are available here. You may also call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

Schneiderman’s office is also reminding beleaguered homeowners of the free services available through the Home Owner Protection Program (HOPP), which uses funds from the National Mortgage Settlement to fund legal services and housing counseling across New York to provide foreclosure prevention services. Consumers can call 855-HOME-456 for help.

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Gnomiki Day Care at 2221 Ocean Avenue, which was closed due to its history of violations. Its sister site at 2623 Ocean Avenue has been recommended for closure as well. (Source: Google Maps)

The operators of nine child care facilities – seven in Brooklyn and two in Staten Island – were charged last Friday with submitting false documents to the city to cover up a slew of health and safety problems, according to Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation Mark Peters, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, Jr.

At the centers, which served about 400 children, investigators said they found a long list of egregious conditions, including rat droppings, poison, a mountain of trash, and a fire alarm falling off the wall, the Daily News reported. Additionally, the DOI said they discovered owners had submitted fake educational degrees, forged medical records, and falsified letters stating employees had been trained in child abuse identification.

The city recently closed four of the centers:

  • Gnomiki Day Care, Inc., 2221 Ocean Avenue, closed due to the site’s violation history, city officials said.
  • Next to Home, 1123 Flatbush Avenue, was shuttered due to a city Department of Buildings vacate order issued in response to multiple DOB and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene violations.
  • Next to Home, 1159 Flatbush Avenue was closed because investigators said the program had been operating under an expired DOB certificate of occupancy.
  • One of a Kind Child Care, 6318 Amboy Road, Staten Island, ended operations after DOHMH petitioned to revoke the permit.

At the remaining five sites:

  • Next to Home, 5566 Kings Highway, was “never leased and never provided services to children,” the DOI said
  • ABC Little Star, 2345 85th Street, is still operating and city officials said DOHMH inspected it this week, finding no new violations.
  • Gnomiki Day Care, Inc., Group Family Day Care, 2623 Ocean Avenue, has been recommended for closure.
  • Next to Home, 353 Ocean Avenue, closed after the owner stopped operations, city officials said.
  • One of a Kind Child Care, a group family daycare operating at 6306 Amboy Road in Staten Island, is operating, but the owner that was arrested will be excluded from the program, officials said.

The site owners who were arrested were:

  • Viktoriya Federovich, 38, of Brooklyn, was the owner of Gnomiki Day Care, Inc. She was charged with presenting fraudulent documents to the city, including two Certificates of Completion for Identification and Reporting of Child Abuse and Maltreatment for an assistant teacher and a volunteer, the DOI said.
  • Elena Kaplan, 53, of Brooklyn, was the owner ABC Little Star Day Care, and, according to the DOI’s investigation, she allegedly submitted a number of false documents to the city, including a a fake public school teacher certificate for herself and state Nurses Association Certificates of Completion for various members of the staff confirming they had received training in identifying child abuse, when, in fact, they allegedly had not, the city officials said.
  • Owen Larman, 41, of Brooklyn, a convicted felon who was found guilty of operating a $12 million mortgage fraud scheme in 2007 and who was also charged in this case with stealing close to $60,000 in public funds. He was the owner and operator of Next to Home Child Care, which provided services at three locations in the borough. Next to Home also obtained a registration to operate a fourth child care program at 5566 Kings Highway, but the DOI said this site did not actually provide any services.
  • Gina Schiavo, 44, of Staten Island, was the owner of One of a King Child Care. According to the DOI, she allegedly introduced an individual to a DOHMH inspector under another teacher’s name and fraudulently provided documents with the name and qualifications of the teacher. When the inspector questioned the individual about her identity, Schiavo allegedly admitted that the individual was using another person’s name.

“These defendants forged and falsified documents in order to cover up safety risks and steal money intended for actual child care, as charged,” Peters said in a prepared statement. “Our investigations underscore the importance of continuing to vigorously police the integrity of the city’s child care systems, an effort that is very much continuing.”

In his statement to the press, Thompson too issued harsh words for the defendants.

“Each day parents throughout the city count on child care providers to protect the safety of their children,” he said. “It is disgraceful that greedy operators would circumvent safety provisions for their own benefit. Our parents and children deserve better and that’s why we worked so closely with the Department of Investigation on these cases.”

Photo by Ariela B.

The offices of Grigory Shyknevsky, D.D.S., at 2523 Ocean Avenue, where one of the accused worked. (Photo by Ariela B.)

First phony lawyers, now phony dentists.

Authorities arrested four people for pretending to be dentists and practicing on patients out of two Sheepshead Bay area clinics.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed felony charges against Konstantin Shtrambrand, Ilya Zolotar, Sergey Tolokolnikov and Hakob Gahnapetyan for practicing dentistry without a license. They face up to four years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say that Shtrambrand, 43, Zolotar, 48, and Tolokolnikov, 54, saw patients at J.S. Atlantic Dental at 1707 Avenue P.

Gahnapetyan, 44, worked out of the dental offices of Grigory Shyknevsky, D.D.S., at 2523 Ocean Avenue.

The first clinic is owned by Joseph Grigory Shyknevsky, the son of the owner of the second clinic. Both are also being investigated, although no charges have been filed.

The sham practices came to light after the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit dispatched undercover investigators to the clinics. There they spotted each of the defendants wearing scrubs and performing dental work. Zolotar was seen drilling a patient’s tooth, and the other three were overheard doling out medical advice.

Schneiderman blasted the alleged frauds for putting unsuspecting patients at serious risk.

“New Yorkers deserve to have confidence that the people providing them healthcare are licensed professionals,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Plain and simple: there is one set of rules for everyone and my office will not tolerate those who seek to skirt the rules, including in the medical profession.”

The August 28 bust, in which the clinics were raided by authorities, comes just weeks after FBI agents raided a Brighton Beach law office. In that bust, a man allegedly had stolen the identity of a retired lawyer and fraudulently represented clients in at least 11 court cases.

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