Archive for the tag 'fraud'

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:

grimm2

Grimm

Federal prosecutors have released documents outlining the government’s case against Congressman Michael Grimm, revealing that Grimm’s own texts and e-mails are being entered as evidence alongside testimony from former employees and business associates.

The Daily News reports:

The preliminary list of evidence includes emails between Grimm and a “Healthalicious manager,” “documents provided by a cooperat[ing] witness,” and “records provided by a Healthalicious employee.” Also listed are “text messages between Grimm and a cooperating witness.”

The list of evidence indicates a seemingly straightforward federal case. Prosecutors plan to prove Grimm maintained a false set of books and lied in financial filings. They will contrast the phony forms with material provided by cooperating witnesses, and with Grimm’s own statements in texts and emails.

Prosecutors are turning over an extensive list of financial documents. Those include years of tax, health and labor filings by Healthalicious and its parent company, Granny Sayz, records of Grimm’s personal finances, the restaurant’s accounts, bank account and credit card records and financial disclosure forms Grimm filed in Congress from 2009 to 2012.

Prosecutors are also offering as evidence the IRS 1040 forms filed by Bennett Ofraly, Grimm’s partner in the restaurant who prosecutors say has ties to the Gambino crime family, which Grimm once investigated while an FBI agent.

Grimm pleaded not guilty to the 20-count indictment alleging the local pol hid more than $1 million in sales at a business he owned to avoid paying taxes, as well as illegally employing undocumented immigrants.

The charges surround the operations of Upper East Side eatery Healthalicious, a venture he ran from 2007 to 2010. However, he’s also charged with perjury for lying to investigators about the business’ operations when he was questioned in 2013, while already serving in the House of Representatives.

It appears the case will not be resolved until after the November 4 elections, in which he faces a challenge from Democrat Domenic Recchia.

grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm has been barred from visiting the FBI’s New York field offices since he left the agency eight years ago, calling into question if the embattled representative left on good terms as he frequently claims.

The Grimm prohibition was discovered by DNAinfo, which reports:

Federal security personnel at the FBI’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan and a satellite office in Kew Gardens, Queens, posted Grimm’s photo inside their glass-enclosed stations in the event he showed up, sources said.

They were under orders to stop him and to immediately notify higher authorities on what further action to take, according to the sources.

“He is not permitted in our space,” one source told “On The Inside.”

“He is not welcome,” a former top FBI official said.

Grimm was hit with a 20-count indictment last Monday, alleging tax fraud and illegal hiring practices at an Upper East Side eatery he ran after his stint in the FBI, and before he ran for Congress. The U.S. Attorney’s office has suggested they’re also looking into potential campaign fundraising abuses.

The congressman often touts his military service record and his career at the FBI as qualifications on the campaign trail. In the law enforcement agency, he served as an undercover operative who penetrated the Gambino crime family, and also helped bring down a ring of white-collar criminals in 2003.

But his career was cut short in 2006, when he unexpectedly resigned. He has always said that he left on good terms to start a family.

The new revelations discovered by DNAinfo cast doubt onto those claims, though, with sources telling the outlet that Grimm was being investigated by the agency’s internal monitors for breach of protocol.

They report:

Sources said Grimm’s FBI identification picture was posted shortly after he resigned from the bureau in 2006 and it now hangs with about two dozen other ex-agents and federal employees.

“They are all employees who were fired, or they were under circumstances where they were forced out or felt they should leave, and all are no longer welcome back,” the former FBI official explained.

… Sources said Grimm, 44, was under internal scrutiny before he quit over allegations that he told a woman he met during a probe that he worked undercover — a violation of FBI protocol.

The FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility was also questioning so-called “voucher” expenses he submitted in connection with his undercover roles.

The sources believe the pressure of the inquiry played a role in his decision to exit the FBI — an agency he often professed to love, his colleagues noted — without getting a pension because he didn’t serve 20 years.

A spokesperson for Grimm told DNAinfo that the congressman was “unaware” that he was not permitted in FBI offices, and had no idea why. The spokesperson also provided a 2012 letter on FBI letterhead stating that the former agent “resigned his post in good standing with the FBI.”

Source: Facebook

Congressman Michael Grimm continues to face fallout from the criminal charges levied against him on Monday, with New York Republican leadership seeking ways to kick him off the ballot, and the national party booting him from programs to aid his reelection bid.

Grimm turned himself in to authorities Monday morning to respond to a 20-count federal indictment alleging tax fraud, systematically hiring undocumented immigrants and hiding more than $1 million in revenue from the government during his time as a restaurant owner before he became congressman. Grimm pleaded not guilty, and is portraying the investigation as a “political witch hunt” to unseat New York City’s only Republican in Congress.

While the congressman vowed to continue his reelection campaign, where he faces an aggressive bid from former Councilman Domenic Recchia, it seems Republican leadership in both his home borough and in Washington are reconsidering their support.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Staten Island GOP leadership are looking for ways to boot Grimm from the ballot altogether:

The road to replacing the Staten Island congressman on the ballot is narrow and complicated because the deadline for a challenger to get on the ballot passed earlier in April. Election-law experts and Republican Party officials said the sole viable option under New York law appears to be to nominate the Staten Island congressman for another office, such as running for an open judge position.

… Potential GOP candidates to run in Mr. Grimm’s place include state Sen. Andrew Lanza and state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a person familiar with the matter said.

The paper reports that a judgeship might be the only route available, but there are no open positions at the moment. Leadership told the paper that could change by September. A defense attorney who has worked on other federal tax evasion charges noted that it’s a tough rap to beat since the prosecution builds its case on documentation as opposed to witness testimony.

Meanwhile, in D.C., Grimm’s Republican colleagues are cooling on his prospects, according to the Daily News. He’s been removed from the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Patriot Program,” which helps candidates in swing district raise money and receive other support from the national party. He’s also been dis-invited from a fundraiser, and House Speaker John Boehner declined to defend the Congressman when questioned about the case.

The change in fortune for one of the GOP’s more charismatic candidates has him speaking in the third person:

“There are people that don’t like Michael Grimm because Michael Grimm is outspoken,” Grimm said. “I’m a Marine. I don’t relent.”

The congressman also took his message straight to supporters, posting a somewhat lengthy update on Facebook yesterday thanking them for their continued support and claiming that the “trumped-up charges against me are false.”

grimm

After turning himself into authorities yesterday morning, Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, a former FBI agent, pleaded not guilty to a 20-count indictment alleging the local pol hid more than $1 million in sales at a business he owned to avoid paying taxes, as well as illegally employing undocumented immigrants.

The charges surround the operations of Upper East Side eatery Healthalicious, a venture he ran from 2007 to 2010. However, he’s also charged with perjury for lying to investigators about the business’ operations when he was questioned in 2013, while already serving in the House of Representatives.

“Grimm made the choice to go from upholding the law to breaking it. In so doing he turned his back on every oath he had ever taken. Even after his return to public service, when called to account for his actions and questioned under oath Grimm went for the cover up, and lied about his role in his own business,” said U.S. attorney Loretta E. Lynch, who is prosecuting the case.

Lynch accused Grimm of under-reporting workers’ wages, many of whom were illegally working in the U.S., and also underreported the amount of money earned through the business – dodging local and federal tax liabilities by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When Grimm was questioned by authorities representing Healthalicious employees suing him in 2013 as part of a federal lawsuit, he allegedly lied under oath hide the company’s questionable practices, including denying that he paid workers cash.

The entire indictment can be read here [pdf]. He is charged with perjury, wire fraud, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, employment of illegal immigrants, obstructing and impeding tax laws, and conspiracy to defraud the United States – among others. He faces up to 257.5 years in prison.

The pol, who represents all of Staten Island as well as a large swath of Southern Brooklyn that includes Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay, was released on $400,000 bail after pleading not guilty yesterday.

The charges were somewhat surprising, as many believed that Grimm would eventually be the target of an indictment for campaign fundraising violations following an investigation that has been ongoing for at least two years. Although several associates of the pol have been busted in relation to that investigation, it appears the government seized on his business dealings after failing to connect fundraising improprieties directly to the elected official.

But Lynch said yesterday that the current charges could be expanded as the investigation continues.

The New York Times reports:

Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, did not detail why the investigation had changed. “Whenever there’s an investigation into someone’s business activities, it is usually very broad-reaching,” she said, adding that a larger investigation was continuing.

But, she said, Mr. Grimm had a sophisticated understanding of the law and finance, thanks in part to his background as an F.B.I. agent, where he did undercover work on Wall Street.

Aside from his work at the FBI, Grimm was an accountant.

Grimm remained defiant after appearing in court, holding a press conference where he described the investigation as a “political witch hunt” and vowed to continue his campaign for reelection.

The congressman did forfeit his seat on the House Financial Services Committee as a result of yesterday’s indictment.

Lynch said that her office will now also begin reviewing the cases he worked while at the FBI for potential malfeasance.

grimm

Congressman Michael Grimm turned himself into authorities this morning and will face federal charges. While the Republican politician has been dogged by a federal probe into his campaign fundraising for several years, it appears the charges to be unveiled today are connected to a restaurant he operated before entering Congress, and is separate from the campaign investigation.

The Washington Post reports:

While the investigation has focused on Grimm’s fundraising, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch is expected to announce an indictment centered on his restaurant business, which Grimm launched after leaving the FBI in 2006, according to officials familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending charges.

The state fined the Upper East Side restaurant, Healthalicious, $88,000 for not providing workers compensation. In a lawsuit against the company, workers accused the owners of not paying proper wages and sometimes giving out cash payments to skirt tax and business laws.

It is unclear whether federal prosecutors will eventually expand the charges to encompass Grimm’s campaign activities, but investigators have been moving on that side of the case against several key players, some with ties to the restaurant.

The company itself appears to have ties to persons involved in the fundraising probe. The operating company run by Grimm was connected to a company affiliated with Ofer Biton, the Israeli national who pleaded guilty to visa fraud. Biton not only helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Grimm, he reportedly sought the politician’s help in obtaining a green card.

Biton also served as the middle man between Grimm and popular Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, who helped raise money for Grimm’s 2010 campaign, and who is now facing allegations of bribing Israeli law enforcement officials and looting his charities.

The business’ accountant was also the accountant for Grimm’s campaign, and was a key witness before the federal grand jury in the case. While the indictment is expected to surround the business, the Daily News reports that the alleged financial irregularities are also linked to the campaign.

The Daily News reports:

Wayne Muratore answered questions about suspicious expense claims and tax documents just days before the panel opted to charge Grimm after a two-year federal probe, the sources said.

… The charges against Grimm are linked to alleged financial irregularities in the ex-FBI agent’s 2010 congressional run and to the eatery Healthalicious.

Muratore faces no criminal charges, but was visited several weeks ago by FBI officials and eventually grilled by prosecutors, the sources said.

He reportedly told the feds that certain expenses and tax documents linked to Grimm were not his work, the sources said.

Grimm, through an attorney, said that, ultimately, his name would be cleared, and he is expected to continue his campaign. New York Times reports:

Since word of his indictment emerged on Friday, Mr. Grimm has shown no sign of curbing his campaign. A lawyer for Mr. Grimm said he was the victim of a “politically driven vendetta.” And for now, party leaders are sticking with Mr. Grimm, whose district includes Staten Island and part of southern Brooklyn.

John Antoniello, the Staten Island Republican chairman, said he spoke to Mr. Grimm on Friday, and Mr. Grimm said he definitely planned to continue his campaign.

Meanwhile, on Friday, prosecutors indicted Grimm’s former girlfriend, Diana Durand, on charges of using straw donors to make illegal campaign contributions to Grimm and other Republican politicians.

Grimm represents Staten Island, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Coney Island and parts of Sheepshead Bay.

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.

« Prev - Next »