Archive for the tag 'fraud'

clothing-bins

Clothing donation bins are nothing new to the area, although the handful of organizations behind them place them with varying degrees of legality.

One company in particular appears to have thrown caution to the wind, with several placements around Southern Brooklyn that are blatantly illegal. These bins may not be placed on public property, as it is in the photo above, but we’ve seen these pink boxes from Narciso Recycling Company doing just that from here to Bensonhurst.

And it’s not just us. The Manhattan Beach Community Group took notice, too, sending the following note to their members:

In case you haven’t noticed there are a growing number of pink clothing boxes being place in and around Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay and elsewhere. These boxes are illegal, the owners, we are told, take the clothing and sell it!

The Department of Sanitation will remove the boxes. All you have to do is call 311 and report the location of a box you see.

MBCG President Judy Baron told Sheepshead Bites that the bins have been spotted on Shore Boulevard, at a construction site near Girard Street. The one above is on Ocean Avenue and Shore Parkway.

The New York Times looked into these bins earlier this month and found that they were not only illegal, but have become a burden to taxpayers.

A growing number of companies — many of them based in New Jersey — are illegally placing used-clothing bins throughout New York City, blocking sidewalks and serving as magnets for litter and graffiti. The receptacles typically have signs that indicate donated goods will go to the poor or, in some cases, to legitimate charities. But, city officials said, the needy do not benefit from much of what is collected. Instead, the clothing is often sold in thrift stores or in bulk overseas, with the proceeds going to for-profit entities that can be impossible to trace, or even to contact.

“They have become the bane of our existence,” Kathryn Garcia, the city’s sanitation commissioner, said. “We have seen a significant uptick in the number of clothing bins placed illegally on public sidewalks. A dramatic increase.”

City law bans such bins from being placed on sidewalks and streets; they are legal on private property with the consent of the owner.

We do want to note that not all companies place their bins illegally. As the excerpt above notes, if it’s placed on private property, it’s okay – although it’s up to donors to determine if their clothing will go to a good cause.

City Councilman Vincent Gentile introduced legislation earlier this month that could expedite their removal, and see the companies fined for placing it on public land.

Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten

Yaakov Weingarten (Source: vosizneias.com)

A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ordered Midwood Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten and his wife, Rivka, to pay more than $520,000 for setting up phony not-for-profit organizations claiming to benefit Israel and then using the donations as their personal piggy bank.

The Weingartens were busted last summer, accused of operating a call center out of 1493 Coney Island Avenue in Midwood to raise millions of dollars through 19 separate charities. The scammers claimed the funds would go to programs in Israel or to religious activities. But prosecutors say the charities never existed, and the funds instead went to Weingarten and his family.

Weingarten, 53, withdrew more than $2 million from the charity bank accounts between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors said. They used the funds to pay for mortgages on their two homes, remodeiling expenses, personal vehicles, video rentals, dental visits and even a trip to Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. They attempted to hide their shenanigans by transferring funds between the non-profit accounts. It appears the setup was too difficult for even the Weingartens to keep track of; they bounced more than 2,100 checks, resulting in more than $65,000 in donations being wasted on bank overdraft fees.

On Wednesday, the judge ordered the Weingartens to forfeit $522,315 as part of a civil judgement. Approximately $360,000 of those funds will go to two Israeli charitable organizations that carry out actual programs similar to the ones Weingarten claimed during his phony fundraising pitches to donors: the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, the preeminent pediatric hospital in Israel, and United Hatzalah of Israel, a leading Israeli volunteer emergency medical services organization.

Weingarten previously pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud, allowing him to escape time behind bars. However, he and his associates, Simon Weiss and David Yifat, are barred from any fundraising or charitable activites in the state of New York. He also faces five years probation, and has already paid $90,685 in restitution as part of the criminal charges.

The judge ordered the dissolution of 11 actual non-profits used by Weingarten, as well as eight that existed in name only. They are as follows:

  • Hatzalah Rescue of Israel, Inc.;
  • Shearim, Inc.;
  • Bnei Torah, Inc.;
  • Chesed L’Yisrael V’Chasdei Yosef, Inc.;
  • Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.;
  • Hatzalah Shomron, Inc.;
  • Pulse Foundation, Inc.;
  • Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholim Israel, Inc.;
  • Kupat Reb Meir Baal Haness Bnei Torah Eretz Yisrael, Inc.;
  • Congregation Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.;
  • Shearim Hayad L’Torah Center for Hatzalah L’Shabbat and Chesed L’Yisrael, Inc.;
  • Israel Emergency Center;
  • Magen Israel;
  • Hayad Victim Assistance Fund;
  • Lmaan Hatorah;
  • Our Children;
  • Zaka Israel;
  • Yaldel Simcha Yisrael;
  • Yad Yisrael.

“We are committed to fighting to protect everyday New Yorkers, particularly those who want to use some of their hard-earned money to support charitable causes, because there has to be one set of rules for everyone,” Attorney General Schneiderman said via press release. “My office will use all the tools at our disposal to protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous fundraisers for sham charities.”

grimm2Congressman Michael Grimm, facing a 20-count indictment on tax evasion, fraud and illegal hiring practices, may now head to trial in October, a month before elections.

SILive reports:

Speaking at a status conference in Brooklyn federal court on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gatta said that motion procedures and hearings in the case could be held by the end of September, with a trial to begin the following month.

… Gatta said that the discovery in the case is “not particularly voluminous” and that the case itself “is fairly straightforward.”

Grimm’s new attorney, Daniel Rashbaum, said that that “schedule may be OK. I don’t know yet.”

He sought a three- or four-week delay so that he could look at the evidence. By then, Rashbaum said, he’d have a better idea “what the discovery looks like in my mind.”

But U.S. District Court Judge Pamela K. Chen said she would give Rashbaum, who notified the court last week that he was taking over the defense, two weeks to “dive into the material.”

Prior to the conference yesterday, observers believed Grimm would not go to trial until after the November 4 elections, when he faces off against Democrat Domenic Recchia. If the prosecution’s request for an October court date is granted, it would be a significant blow to the pol, who will have to fight simultaneously for his seat and his freedom.

What a perfect photo for this article. (Source: Pedro Vezini/Flickr)

A recent report is raising questions about several local doctors who rank among the nation’s highest earners for Medicare claims, with many of them seeing the same patients thousands of times in just a few short months.

The doctors – occupational therapists, chiropractors and physical therapists – have been walking a quasi-legal line, sharing patients through a network in which they are seen, and billed, multiple times on the same day. One chiropractor and an occupational therapist had overlapping patients that were seen on the same day more than 11,000 times in 18 months, according to USA Today.

While referring patients to other doctors is common, a high frequency could indicated what experts call “churning” – cross-referring within a known network for financial gain and not medical need, and possibly for a kickback. The local network is also unusual because chiropractors, physical therapists and occupational therapists usually compete with one another, and would be unlikely to send referrals.

After reviewing Medicare data nationwide, USA Today found Southern Brooklyn docs stood out for their high referral rates. Here’s how they detailed the network:

The USA TODAY analysis found that six practitioners in Brooklyn all regularly saw the same patients, often treating each person dozens of times. Medicare paid the six a total of nearly $15 million in 2012, the only calendar year that payment data is publicly available. Additional practitioners also fed into and benefited from the referral network, but at smaller rates than the top half-dozen.

For example, physical therapist Wael Bakry and occupational therapist Victor Genkin, both part of the network, are the first and second biggest recipients of Medicare money in 2012 in their respective fields.

Medicare paid Bakry about $4.1 million for performing more than 184,000 procedures on 1,959 patients. Genkin brought in more than $2.3 million from seeing fewer than 1,200 patients.

According to Medicare’s data, over 18 months the two shared more than 700 clients, who saw both regularly — as many as 25 times each.

The top earning chiropractor in the nation, Brooklyn’s Alexander Khavash, was also a top referrer to Bakry and Genkin. According to the Medicare data, Bakry and Khavash shared more than 1,200 patients between them.

Often, but not always, the physical therapist and chiropractor saw patients back-to-back. One group of patients made a total of more than 17,000 visits to both doctors on the same day — an average of 13 times per patient — over an 18 month span.

The patients also regularly cycled through internist Abraham Demoz, who has used the same address as Genkin and Bakry. For example, Khavash saw 2,060 patients in 2012, according to the Medicare payment records. Demoz shared almost 1,800 of them with him over 18 months, the data show. Demoz and Genkin had about the same amount of patient overlap.

Mayura Kanekar is another Brooklyn provider who is part of the same circle.

Kanekar brought in nearly $3 million as the top Medicare-earning occupational therapist in the country in 2012. Occupational therapists work on people’s fine motor skills so they can perform daily tasks. Over the 18 months covered by Medicare’s referral data, a group of about 800 patients routinely visited both her and Khavash on the same day — seeing the two specialists back-to-back a total of 11,621 times.

None of the federal law enforcement officials USA TODAY interviewed would comment about whether any of the individuals are under investigation.

Some of those docs have also come up in other recent reports for their unusually high billing.

The USA Today report is lengthy and detailed – and a worthwhile read. Their reporters go to find the doctors at their listed medical offices, only to find abandoned storefronts or residential buildings. The look into the causes for the high rate of Medicare claims, and also address investigators’ challenges in finding and prosecuting such cases. Check it out, then feel sad.

ezpass

The MTA is warning E-ZPass users of a new e-mail phishing scam that has surfaced, in which digital con artists attempt to get at your private data by warning of phony unpaid tolls.

Phishing scams attempt to dupe users to send the scammer sensitive information, including usernames, passwords or banking information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.

Scam artists are sending out official looking e-mails carrying the E-ZPass logo, often from an e-mail account that appears to be connected to the service. A screenshot of the e-mail is shown above, stating that the user has not paid for driving on a toll road and that previous invoices have not been responded to. It provides a link to download the invoice.

In reality, the E-ZPass Service Center does not send out e-mail invoices for payments. All bills are sent through the United States Postal Service. The e-mails are not authorized by E-ZPass, MTA Bridges and Tunnels or any other toll agency associated with the service.

The agency is advising customers not to open or respond such e-mail, and instead send them straight to the trash bin. If you think you may have a legitimate e-mail from E-ZPass and want confirmation before opening it, you can call the E-ZPass New York Customer Service Center at (800) 333-8655.

Source: DVIDSHUB/Flickr

The American Red Cross is coming under fire for refusing to disclose how it spent more than $300 million in funds raised for Superstorm Sandy relief, claiming that the information is a “trade secret.”

Investigative news outlet ProPublica has been fighting to get the independent relief organization to reveal how it spent donated funds on Sandy between the storm and February 2014, but the organization refuses to give a breakdown.

But the organization did fork over information to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating this and other charities – so ProPublica filed a public records request with his office to see what was handed over.

The site reports what happened next:

That’s where the law firm Gibson Dunn comes in.

An attorney from the firm’s New York office appealed to the attorney general to block disclosure of some of the Sandy information, citing the state Freedom of Information Law’s trade secret exemption.

The documents include “internal and proprietary methodology and procedures for fundraising, confidential information about its internal operations, and confidential financial information,” wrote Gabrielle Levin of Gibson Dunn in a letter to the attorney general’s office.

If those details were disclosed, “the American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross’s business model for an increased competitive advantage,” Levin wrote.

The letter doesn’t specify who the Red Cross’ “competitors” are.

The Red Cross is a public charity and occupies a unique place responding to disasters alongside the federal government.

Some of the organization’s redaction requests were trivial: lines that simple read “American Red Cross,” or sections of letter stating they were willing to meet with the attorney general.

Those requests were denied by Schneiderman’s office, but others included information that the attorney general agreed was “proprietary and constitutes trade secrets,” such as “business strategies, internal operational procedures and decisions, and the internal deliberations and decision-making processes that affect fundraising and the allocation of donations.”

ProPublica has not yet received the documents from the attorney general, but the outlet says it will report on them when they do.

UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): Councilmember Mark Treyger, chairman of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, asked us to tack this on to the article, following the introduction (with Councilmember Ulrich) of a bill to create a monitor to oversee Sandy relief funding to prevent fraud.

“Citizens who donate to disaster relief efforts, including in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, have a right to know that their money is being used to help victims recover and rebuild. With so much funding at stake, and residents still in need of so much assistance, I remain concerned about the potential for misuse of relief funds, including by government agencies, contractors and private organizations. That’s why I worked with my colleague Council Member Eric Ulrich to introduce legislation this week establishing an independent monitor to investigate instances of waste, fraud and abuse in order to maximize the amount of aid delivered to impacted neighborhoods across New York City. To be clear, I am not accusing the Red Cross of any improper activity, but rather am reiterating the need for openness and transparency as the recovery effort moves forward.”

grimm2Congressman Michael Grimm, already in hot water over criminal charges that he evaded taxes and illegally employed undocumented immigrants, may have violated the internal ethics rules of the House of Representatives when he threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony in January.

The New York Times reports:

A one-page report by the office, a quasi-independent investigative body that serves almost like a grand jury, was released on Wednesday by the House Ethics Committee, the panel of lawmakers with the exclusive power to punish colleagues for ethical infractions.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, in a preliminary review, unanimously concluded in March that there was “substantial reason to believe that Representative Grimm threatened a reporter with bodily harm and engaged in a threatening or menacing act that created a fear of immediate injury,” which would violate local law in the District of Columbia as well as House ethics rules.

Grimm made headlines the night of the State of the Union when he was caught on camera threatening NY1 reporter Michael Scotto. He told the reporter he would “break him like a boy” and throw him off the balcony of the Capitol rotunda.

Scotto was interviewing him about a federal investigation into the congressman’s campaign fundraising that later led to criminal indictments of several Grimm associates. Grimm himself has so far escaped charges on that matter, but was slapped with a 20-count indictment alleging financial and employment improprieties in connection to a restaurant he operated before entering Congress.

The House panel will not investigate further at this time, setting it aside at the request of federal prosecutors.

The following is a press release from the MTA:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is reminding customers that if they have lost an item on a train or bus, or at a station, they can submit a lost property claim free of charge and directly to the MTA online, by phone, or in person. There is no charge for submitting a lost property claim to the MTA’s lost and found offices.

Recently, MTA customers have complained that online searches have directed them to an official-looking website, www.lostpropertynyc.com, which asks for personal information, then uses that information to generate a bill to be paid online by credit card.

The website implies that it contacts the MTA on behalf of the customers seeking lost property. However, the MTA’s lost and found offices do not do business with lostpropertynyc.com or any other third party company claiming to act on behalf of people who have reported lost items. The MTA’s lost and found offices return lost items only to those claimants who can identify that they are the rightful owners of the property.

“Anyone looking to submit a claim for lost property needs to go through the MTA’s official website,” said MTA Police Chief Michael Coan. “There is no charge to submit a claim to any of the MTA’s lost and found units.”

The MTA Police Department has launched a criminal investigation into the website. Because the website is also soliciting information from taxi and airport customers, and the MTA has notified the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The MTA’s lost and found offices are accessible from this web page: http://web.mta.info/mta/lost_found.html

The MTA maintains three units that serve as repositories for personal items that are left on trains and buses, or at stations. MTA New York City Transit’s Lost Property Unit, located at the 34th Street-Penn Station stop on the ACE lines, handles items left on the New York City Subway, New York City Buses, and Staten Island Railway. MTA Long Island Rail Road has a lost and found office in Penn Station, and MTA Metro-North Railroad has a lost and found office at Grand Central Terminal.

In 2013, the MTA’s lost and found offices received 67,320 lost items, and returned 34,572 of them to their owners while fielding more than 73,000 queries about lost items from customers.

grimm2

Grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm faces a 20-count indictment for tax evasion and illegal employment practices stemming from a restaurant he operated before running for Congress, charges he said are because the nation’s commander-and-chief wants to see him gone.

Grimm made the allegations against the Obama administration on Tuesday before a gathering of Republican supporters rallying for gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino. He also compared the United States to oppressive regimes in Iran and North Korea.

New York Observer reported on the statements:

“They change policy, they use regulation to legislate, they circumvent the Congress–this is now the norm for the Obama administration,” Mr. Grimm fumed at the Bay Ridge Manor in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

“And when you look and see why they come after me so hard, every day another negative story [against] the only Republican in New York City, it becomes obvious: they don’t want any opposition. This administration wants to do what it wants to do and they want you to forget about the America that you grew up in,” he said.

… “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m not sure what country I’m living in,” he said. “Four Americans are killed and murdered in Benghazi–no one’s held accountable …. The IRS, arguably the most feared agency in our entire government targeting people because of their political views. Now this happens in Iran, this happens in North Korea, but this is the United States of America.”

The site reported that the statements “drew loud cheers.”

Grimm has long maintained that the investigation against him, which began as a probe into his 2010 campaign fundraising, was a “political witch hunt” by Democrats looking to see the city’s lone Republican congressman unseated. Prosecutors, however, have submitted paperwork to the court suggesting that Grimm’s own documents show he kept two sets of books and paid employees – some of which were undocumented immigrants – in cash to avoid taxes.

Grimm’s assertion that he is the subject of political retaliation has sparked snark from colleagues, including State Senator Diane Savino. The pol, whose district is largely within Grimm’s, let forth a tirade on Facebook about Grimm’s conspiracy theory back in April:

[G]et a grip folks, Mikey is not that important, he is no threat to the power structure, he is a slick talker with a nice resume who seems to be in trouble. he was not on track for greatness as a national leader, not on track to upset the national scene. Conspiracy, please….

Grimm pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm kept a cell phone registered to his undercover, mob-connected FBI alter-ego years after leaving the job, and continued to use the phone while in Congress, according to a Daily News report.

The paper cites documents released by the U.S. Attorney earlier this week that outlines their evidence in their case against Grimm, who is accused of a $1 million tax fraud scheme, as well as illegal hiring and employment practices.

The paper reports:

Rep. Michael Grimm, who posed as a mobbed-up stockbroker named Michael (Mikey Suits) Garabaldi while working undercover for the FBI, kept his wise-guy alter ego even after entering Congress, newly unsealed federal documents show.

Grimm’s cell phone was listed under a “Michael Garibaldi of Centurian Consulting” as recently as 2012, when prosecutors sought a court order for permission to track all his calls, the documents show.

The embattled Staten Island Republican, who is now under federal indictment, used the phone as his primary number as recently as last year, and even received mail addressed to a Michael Garibaldi, a source told The Daily News.

Grimm, his spokesman and his lawyer did not respond to questions Wednesday about why he used the alias more than six years after leaving the FBI — and for at least two years after entering the U.S. House in January 2011.

The story also reveals the extent of the investigation into Grimm’s 2010 campaign fundraising. That investigation came to light shortly after it began in 2012, first noted by the New York Times, yet it was unclear how far-reaching it was. The new documents show that not only were Grimm’s phone lines were being monitored by authorities, but also that of gal pal Diana Durand, who has been indicted for her alleged role in funneling illegal funds to the Republican pol, and Grimm associates Ofer Biton and Ronn Torossian, who they believed, along with Grimm, has attempted to extort money from prominent Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Pinto.

Biton has also been arrested, and is cooperating in the government’s case against Grimm.

Grimm did not respond to the paper’s requests for comment, or those of the Staten Island Advance.

In fact, he appears to be dodging questions about the investigation, having made headlines yet again this week for jumping into a car and making a getaway from this FOX Detroit reporter:

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