Archive for the tag 'fraud'

hockejos

There are at least a dozen cameras between these houses.

John Hockenjos successfully won his freedom after fighting a false arrest in 2011, but he remains mired in a legal battle that threatens to see his property turned over to what he says is an unscrupulous developer. This month, a Queens-based state senator joined the battle, saying Hockenjos is another in a long line of victims of malfeasance and incompetence at the Department of Buildings.

Hockenjos and his wife, Irina, have been fighting with their East 23rd Street neighbors Elen and Argo Paumere since June 2009, when the Paumeres purchased the home next to them with plans for an ambitious overhaul. According to the Hockenjoses, red flags flew fast when they were approached to sign documents turning over a two-foot easement to their new neighbor.

They didn’t sign, and that triggered an all-out war between property owners, according to the Hockenjoses, which includes allegations of physical violence, corruption and even involvement in the false arrest. It has also cost them their jobs, their health, and more than $150,000 in legal fees, they say.

“We’re jobless. We’re money-less. Our health was destroyed tremendously. We lost our reputation,” Irina Hockenjos told Sheepshead Bites. “[The neighbors say] we’re criminals in all kind of ways. We’ve sued them in civil court because they’ve said we’re insane, and that John is a Russian mobster and he walks naked in the street.”

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via Daily News

Irina Shelikhova

The 50-year-old leader of a massive $77 million Medicare fraud ring in Southern Brooklyn was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $36,241,545 to the government on Tuesday, announced United States Attorney Loretta Lynch.

Irina Shelikhova was busted at John F. Kennedy airport in June 2012, where she arrived after living on the lam in the Ukraine for two years. After serving her 15-year sentence, followed by three years of supervised release while excluded from Medicare, Medicaid and all federal health programs, she faces deportation.

The bust was a part of a nationwide sweep that was the biggest Medicare fraud bust in American history. Ninety-four people in total were arrested. One of the top prizes for authorities was the break-up of the Shelikhova ring, in which 13 people have been convicted so far.

“Irina Shelikova used fake doctors and forged documents to defraud Medicare out of millions of dollars of very real money. As the owner and operator of three medical clinics, Shelikova engaged in a brazen scheme of fraudulent billing and kickbacks, going so far as to pay kickbacks to elderly patients in exchange for their Medicare numbers and their silence. She relied upon her web of payoffs, kickbacks, and Russian propaganda to support her criminal scheme, but the truth caught up with her and justice has now been served,” said Lynch in a press release.

Shelikhova owned and operated Bay Medical Care, at 8686 Bay Parkway in Bath Beach, which billed Medicare under three different corporate names – Bay Medical Care, Wellcare Medical, and SZS Medical Care.

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Honoring real survivors at a Holocaust Memorial Park ceremony. Photo by Erica Sherman

The ringleader of a $57.3 million fraud scheme that siphoned money from of a Holocaust reparations fund was sentenced to eight years behind bars yesterday, announced United States Attorney Preet Bharara.

Semen Domnitser played a pivotal role in the scheme, prosecutors say, having worked as a caseworker and program director that processed the fraudulent applications in return for kickbacks. Domnitser gave his seal of approval to ineligible recipients, many of whom were born after World War II and at least one that was not even Jewish.

In addition to eight years in prison, Domnitser was sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to forfeit $59,230 and pay restitution in the amount of $57.3 million.

“As the highest ranking insider to participate in this despicable fraud against the Holocaust Claims Conference, Mr. Domnitser played an integral role in the scheme by processing fraudulent applications to the Conference and turning a profit of thousands of dollars for himself,” said Bharara in a press release. “With today’s sentence, he will be held to account for victimizing Holocaust survivors by diverting funds meant to help them to his own pocket and contributing to this $57 million scheme.”

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Source: Google Maps

The home on Ford Street that Joseph McClam claimed he lived in. (Source: Google Maps)

Federal agents busted an alleged fraudster on charges of stealing thousands in relief funds from FEMA when he falsely claimed to have lived in Sheepshead Bay when Superstorm Sandy struck last year. According to the criminal complaint, Joseph McClam said he was living at 2798 Ford Street when Sandy rolled through, when he had actually been been living in North Carolina.

McClam, 52, collected more than $32,000 from the government by claiming that the Ford Street home was his primary residence and suffered damage from Sandy. According to investigators, though, McClam, who owned the Ford Street residence, rented the building to various tenants until a fire heavily damaged the structure in 2010, leaving the building uninhabited and in a state of disrepair for more than two years before Sandy. Now living in North Carolina, he allegedly set up a fake New York mailing address when filing claims with the FEMA website for the purposes of soliciting relief funds.

Following an initial FEMA inspection, during which McClam was present, McClam received the maximum payout possible, $29,952 for home repair and $2,948 for rental assistance. According to prosecutors, McClam told FEMA inspectors that he had been living in the basement apartment of the structure while it was being renovated. But, prosecutors say, McClam hadn’t paid his water bill since 2009 and hadn’t had a Con Edison electric account open for the building since the fire struck in 2010 – making it an unlikely residence.

Secondary residences affected by Superstorm Sandy are not entitled to FEMA grants. Instead they are categorized as a business by the government, and homeowners were instructed to apply for Small Business Administration loans to cover the repair.

According to a Daily News report, McClam is a singer in a Motown cover band and was released on $50,000 bail. His lawyer provided no comment following his release.

Yeah, screw Canada. (Source: mezzoblue/Flickr)

BETWEEN THE LINES: In conjunction with occasional Sheepshead Bites postings of Crime Prevention Tips from the NYPD’s 61st Precinct, here’s my tale of identity theft.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Whoever said it was wisely precautious and I nearly found out how accurate that phrase is.

Someone with my fundamental awareness of ID theft tricks, telemarketing and sweepstakes scams and other forms of electronic exploitation, as well as a prior victimization, should never fall for a second scam. But, to paraphrase that insufferable pop song — oops, I almost did it again.

Nonetheless, anxiety, and an opportunity for supplemental income, almost led me into a fraudulent business relationship. Before I made any commitment or revealed too much personal information, I realized it was a rip off-in-progress, parallel to the notorious Nigerian money transfer scam. Ultimately, common sense, a little savvy, and advice from a friend triggered internal red flags and taught me an indispensable lesson without any loss.

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Council candidate Ari Kagan

Ari Kagan

Following our report last week about potential voter suppression in the 48th Councilmanic District primary, in which a defeated Ari Kagan suggested Democratic candidate Igor Oberman had undermined the Russian-American vote in order to benefit Republican David Storobin, Kagan has now self-published a roster of allegations against the duo, claiming their negative tactics contributed to his narrow defeat to Chaim Deutsch.

Here’s the cliff notes, with some notes from us in italics. It’s broken up into three part – allegations about Oberman’s campaigning, allegations about his association with Storobin, and complaints about anonymous attacks which he loosely ties to Oberman and Storobin:

Oberman’s negative campaign:

  • Oberman spent most of his time, effort and money “to attack” Kagan
  • Oberman produced a “disgusting” TV commercial saying he accepted $200,000 from Manhattan developers to destroy affordable housing an rent regulations. A “Secret Mission” mailer went out with the same. (A developer-backed PAC spent about that much trying to influence this election in favor of Kagan, which surely is fair game for criticism. However, Kagan didn’t “accept” any money, nor could he coordinate with the PAC, making the claim a little deceptive. From what we’re hearing in multiple campaigns, the PAC backed candidates supported by the county Democratic club and did not actually evaluate their candidates)
  • Oberman booked a radio commercial saying a “journalist cannot run for City Council – only a lawyer can.” (This is the first we’ve heard of this. Can anyone confirm?)
  • Oberman sent a mailer claiming Kagan was part of the Communist Party. (That happened. And Kagan was part of the Communist Party. Which, I think, is kind of a prerequisite to being politically active in a communist system, no?)
  • Oberman said that Kagan never denied the allegations that he was once a KGB agent. (Kagan claims he did, and points out that as an aide to Congressman McMahon he needed to pass a security clearance.)

Oberman – Storobin connection

  • Oberman is a “close social friend” with Storobin (Storobin denied this to Sheepshead Bites, saying they’ve never been to each other’s birthday parties.)
  • Storobin made claims that Kagan was incompetant, lazy, solicited bribes, and “I have no brain.” According to Kagan, these claims were repeated by Oberman. (We have not seen materials to back this up.)
  • “On September 9, 2013, at 3 p.m. they came together to Brighton 6 Street building to criticize me there.”
  • A previous employee of a Storobin campaign distributed palm cards for Oberman near the Shorefront Y on election day.
  • Both repeated accusations against me almost verbatim at their radio appearances.

Anonymous activities

  • There were four separate robo-call campaigns with a female voice saying, in Russian, “Don’t vote Kagan, he was a KGB agent.” (I don’t know about four calls, but we did hear these calls went out.
  • There was an anonymous literature drop in Brighton Beach saying that Kagan never worked a full-time job and “no elected officials wanted to hire me.” Kagan says this was likely done by Storobin, who had previously made the same attack against him. He also pointed out that he was offered full-time work for Comptroller Liu, but turned it down. (We can’t verify that.)
  • Other attacks made by Storobin also appeared in anonymous Russian language fliers.
  • An anonymous robo-call went out on Rosh Hashanah purporting to be from the Kagan campaign with the goal of putting off Jewish voters.
  • A flier was distributed with photos of Kagan with Senator Eric Adams and Coney Island activist Sophia Williams, both African American, with Russian text that said, “Don’t vote for Ari Kagan! He is supported by Obama socialists!” Kagan described this as “racist.”
  • Postcards were mailed telling voters in Russian that their poll site had changed to a non-existent location.

Here’s how Kagan sums the whole things up: “The bottom line is simple – attacks by Mr. Oberman and Mr. Storobin as well as anonymous calls, flyers and fake post cards played an important role in my defeat.”

Why?

“Their goal was clear – to prevent me from winning the Democratic nomination, so Mr. Storobin would run against non-Russian in a heavily Russian district.”

These are some pretty intense allegations. But, at the moment, the evidence is only circumstantial.

We look forward to seeing some hard proof of who was behind some of the more despicable acts, like the apparent attempt at voter suppression.

One of the false poll site change postcards sent out to Russian speaking voters, according to Ari Kagan.

One of the false poll site change postcards sent out to Russian speaking voters, according to Ari Kagan.

Ari Kagan, who narrowly lost his bid for the Democratic nod during last week’s primary, is alleging that dirty campaigning from a rival candidate and an anonymous trickster helped bring down his candidacy, and has offered up evidence that suggests an effort to suppress the Russian vote in the 48th District.

According to Kagan, thousands of Russian-language postcards went out to voters of the 48th District, telling them that their poll site had been changed to a non-existent poll site in another district. Kagan said he found out about the dirty trick the night before the primaries as phone calls from supporters began trickling in to his campaign office as well as to his radio show on Davidzon Radio. He has since collected several dozen of them and supplied a copy of the one above to Sheepshead Bites.

It reads:

Information for election
Announcement
Change location of your election site
Your new:
Co-op 2475 West 16th Street

The location given is actually in the 47th District, and there is no poll site there. Some voters as far away as Avenue O in Midwood received these, and all were in Russian language. They were sent from a Manhattan post office.

Now, Kagan is demanding the authorities look into the matter.

“It needs investigation. It’s a federal crime. We’re not talking about five people, 10 people. I realized how big a crime it was when people began calling me, my friends, my campaign office asking about their polling site,” he said, noting that he tried to minimize the damage by doing a robocall and a segment on his radio show informing voters that cards had gone out with false poll site information.

Kagan was not alone in his outrage.

“It’s absolutely reprehensible and I condemn any effort to intentionally mislead voters. We have to encourage people to be involved in the political process,” said Chaim Deutsch, who won Tuesday’s primary.

“This act was a violation of everything we hold dear in our country,” added Theresa Scavo, who finished in third. “Whoever did this criminal act took away certain individuals’ right to vote and may have caused an upset in the election process. The potential voters could have been on their way to vote for any of the candidates on the slate, maybe me. There should be a thorough investigation and justice must be served.”

The postcards lack a return address and any identifying information, so they’ll be hard to trace back to a source.

Kagan, though, said he suspects his fellow Russian-American candidate, Igor Oberman.

“I suspect it was the campaign that focused during the last week totally on me and not on the district. I suspect the campaign that was the dirtiest in all my memory. That would be Igor Oberman, who ran a divisive, nasty, dirty campaign,” Kagan told Sheepshead Bites. “But this is a suspicion, I have to prove it.”

When asked for comment about the postcards and Kagan’s allegations, Oberman’s campaign offered the following statement: “Neither the campaign nor Igor Oberman have any knowledge of voter suppression tactics of any kind used during the Primary Campaign in the 48th District City Council race.”

Kagan said he believes it’s Oberman because Oberman is the only campaign that went negative, and focused all of its attack ads on Kagan and no other candidate. He cited the CFB complaints we previously reported on, as well as misleading ads taken out by the Oberman campaign alleging Kagan would eliminate Section 8 housing and rent stabilization. He said Oberman booked no such attack ads against other candidates in the race, and none of the other candidates had negative ads at all.

While it would appear that a suppression of Russian-American voters would hurt Oberman as much as Kagan, however, Kagan pointed out that Russians appear to have voted for Kagan over Oberman at a rate of five to one. He suspects that Oberman’s campaign was not aiming to be victorious, but rather to keep a Russian-speaking candidate off the Democratic ballot in order to benefit Republican candidate David Storobin, who Kagan said Oberman is friends with.

The allegation echoes that recently made by Councilman Lew Fidler, who claimed Oberman was a “mole” for Storobin, and had passed the Republican details of Fidler’s campaign strategy while volunteering for him during the 2012 special election in which Storobin and Fidler faced off.

Oberman declined to respond to the charge, but Storobin dismissed it outright.

“That’s completely false. It’s preposterous on so many fronts. First of all, I wish I was that charismatic to get them to throw themselves under the bus for me, but I don’t think I am,” he said. “I think the logical suggestion is that it would be one of the non-Russian candidates in the race, because it’s targeting Russian votes.”

He added that he and Oberman are not friends, but merely friendly acquaintances, although he did not account for why the Democrat contributed to his recent State Senate campaign.

He also said Oberman’s campaign did not bare the marks of one that was attempting to split the Russian vote, with the candidate having focused his spending on younger Russians and non-Russians, rather than the elderly Russians that comprise Kagan’s base.

“You can follow the money trail with most things, and the money trail shows he wasn’t going after Ari’s base. He was going after the young Russians and non-Russians. The amount of money he spent on Russian media was less than 10 percent. It defies all logic,” he said.

Kagan’s argument also appears weakened by the announcement this morning that Oberman would continue his campaign as a third party candidate, which would most likely detract from Storobin’s support from the Russian community.

Prior to the announcement, though, Kagan remained convinced.

“Do I believe [Oberman] was doing it for Storobin? I have a lot of reasons to suspect this. A lot of reasons . And of course, both of them will deny it,” he said. “Igor Oberman served his purpose. He bashed Ari Kagan, and he took some votes away from Ari Kagan. That’s why Storobin didn’t bash Oberman or anyone else. Just me, me, me,” he said, referring to Storobin’s lone attack during the entire campaign.

The following is a message from the offices of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

Photo by Erica Sherman

Photo by Erica Sherman

The only thing worse than having maxed-out charge cards and a mortgage in default is when your kids have them. Hard to believe, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that no fewer than 8.6 million households had at least one member, age 12 or older, who became a victim of identity theft. Children are, in fact, 51 times more likely to have their identity stolen than adults.

As a member of the Assembly’s Codes Committee, I recently helped to pass legislation (A.7872-A), which would protects a students’ right to privacy. The bill gives parents of students – and students age 18 or older – the opportunity to opt out of the state Education Department’s disclosure of personal identifiable information to a third party. A child’s personal information should never be compromised.

Unfortunately, this growing trend of child identity theft has led to nightmare scenarios that are becoming increasingly problematic to correct. While a 12-year-old child cannot sign a mortgage agreement, child identity theft can occur when a child’s Social Security Number and other personal information is stolen and used by someone to assume that identity.

Because children rarely carry debt at such an early age, and they are essentially “blank slates,” they unfortunately also represent the perfect targets for unscrupulous identity thieves. These false identities can be used to acquire credit cards, set up bank accounts, obtain driver’s licenses and even take out loans for car and house purchases. Oftentimes, because children do not have credit reports, the identity theft is not discovered until significant financial damage has been done.

Parents must remain vigilant in protecting their children from identity theft. The following useful steps can be taken to avoid the devastating effects of child identity theft:

  • Keep an eye out for mail addressed to your child, especially credit card offers or debt collection materials;
  • Don’t share your child’s Social Security Number unless it’s necessary and ask what it’s needed for and how it will be protected;
  • Speak to your child about the importance of keeping their personal information safe;
  • Acquire a credit report with your child’s personal information by contacting the three credit agencies below or visitingwww.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each agency. If activity is discovered, immediately report findings with the three credit agencies and file an identity theft report with local police.

For more information regarding child identity theft or to file a complaint, contact the State’s Division of Consumer Protection at 518-474-8583 orwww.dos.ny.gov .

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me on this and any other matter. My district office can be reached at (718) 743-4078 and we’re located at 1800 Sheepshead Bay Road. We’re open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m.to 5:30 p.m. and Fridays until 3 p.m. during the summer. Of course, you may always email me at cymbros@assembly.state.ny.us.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis (Source: James Edstrom)

Three of the six individuals charged in connection with an alleged debt settlement fraud scheme have pleaded guilty, with the latest one ratting out his former boss Michael Levitis as the mastermind.

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

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced yesterday that Denis Kurlyand, the former vice president of sales for Sheepshead Bay-based Mission Settlement Agency, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the multi-million dollar scheme that allegedly preyed on as many as 1,200 debt-saddled victims. After leaving court, Kurlyand then spilled the beans to the New York Daily News, saying that Mission’s de facto owner, and the owner of now-shuttered Rasputin Supper Club (2670 Coney Island Avenue), called the shots.

“I followed instructions from Michael,” Kurlyand, 30, told the paper.

Kuryland, however, didn’t give the paper any details of his plea deal, and faces a maximum of 60 years in prison. He will be sentenced in December, and has agreed to forfeit $2,196,522 to the government.

Rasputin was padlocked in May.

Kurlyand was arrested in May, along with Levitis, Boris Shulman and Manuel Cruz for their roles at Mission Settlement. According to prosecutors, the company claimed to help customers struggling with credit card and bank debt by helping them reach settlements that could cut the amount owed. But the company “systematically exploited and defrauded” customers, the criminal complaint said, by charging fees without ever rendering services.

As we reported in May:

Mission also served as the middle man, collecting payments from customers that were supposed to be passed on to those they owed. Instead, the indictment says, from mid-2009 to March 2013, about 2,200 customers paid nearly $14 million, of which only $4.4 million went to the creditors.

Levitis’ home at 1001 Oriental Boulevard. Prosecutors are moving to seize it to repay his alleged victims. (Source: Google Maps)

The company kept $6.6 million for itself as fees. As many as 1,200 of the clients paid $2.2 million in fees without “a single penny” reaching their creditors.

Meanwhile, Levitis used the remaining funds as his personal piggy bank, directing some of it to pay his own debts on Rasputin Restaurant (2670 Coney Island Avenue), as well as to lease two luxury Mercedes cars. He did also manage to pay down the credit card debt of his mother, Eva, who owned the company on paper, the Post reports.

According to the indictment, as part of his sales pitch, Levitis touted an affiliation with the federal government and one of the three leading credit bureaus in the U.S., relationships that prosecutors say was all smoke.

The U.S. Attorney’s statement elaborated further on Kurlyand’s role:

KURLYAND served as Mission’s Vice President of Sales from 2009 through 2012. In that capacity, he provided instructions to Mission’s sales representatives, who in turn lied to prospective customers about the agency’s fees to induce them to become customers of Mission. KURLYAND also helped arrange for solicitation letters to be sent on Mission’s behalf to prospective customers that falsely suggested that the agency was acting on behalf of or in connection with a federal governmental program. The letter included an image of the Great Seal of the United States and indicated that it was coming from the “Reduction Plan Administrator” of the purported “Office of Disbursement.”

The day of he arrest, prosecutors moved to seize bank accounts and properties of Levitis, and padlocked the iconic restaurant.

Levitis has pleaded not guilty, and claimed to be a victim of government neglect after he supposedly tipped them off to malfeasance by “rogue employees.”

The arrest of two individuals - Felix Lemberskiy and Zakhir Shirinov - related to Mission Settlement preceded the May arrest, and they pleaded guilty in April.

Kristina Zelinsky (Source: Facebook.com)

Kristina Zelinsky (Source: Facebook.com)

Prosecutors today announced the indictment of Kristina Zelinsky, a 34-year-old resident of Brighton Beach’s Oceana condominium development, for allegedly scamming $25,000 in Medicaid benefits while living a life of luxury.

According to the indictment, Zelinsky lied on forms to skim off a measly $25,000 over 10 years while she lived in a luxurious penthouse condo, went on shopping sprees for top fashion items, drove expensive foreign cars, and enjoyed pricey trips to Las Vegas.

Zelinsky's mugshot (Source: Brooklyn DA)

Zelinsky’s mugshot (Source: Brooklyn DA)

Prosecutors say Zelinsky filed for Medicaid in 2003, claiming that she had no income and that her husband only made $22,000 annually. Successful in enrolling in the program, she continued to file annually for the next 10 years, always listing income amounts that maintained Medicaid benefits for herself, her husband and their two children.

But while she was crying poverty to the government, she was living the high life, according to the indictment. Zelinsky purchased one of Oceana’s glitzy penthouse apartments in 2007 with a mortgage of $850,000. Condos in the development at the time were selling for as much as $2 million.

“When a person such as Ms. Zelinsky lives in luxury and owns vehicles that most people only see in movies, New York State taxpayers should not finance her health care,” said James C. Cox, the Medicaid Inspector General. “This indictment should serve as a warning for others who are involved in—or considering—schemes that defraud the Medicaid system, to reconsider their actions.”

Zelinsky was also far from dependent on her husband for cash, according to investigators. She owns a business, Kristy Billing and Collection, and had several personal bank accounts whose deposits far exceeded the maximum amount permitted for Medicaid recipients.

In 2008, for example, she made personal deposits averaging  $4,600 a month, and in 2009 made average monthly deposits of $10,600. Meanwhile, Medicaid limits during those years were $2,650 and $2757, respectively.

Additionally, investigators say credit card records for Zelinsky show that while she was enrolled in Medicaid, she shopped at Jimmy Choo, Juicy Couture, and Las Vegas-area hotels and restaurants. Investigators also uncovered luxury cars including an Aston Martin, Porsche and a BMW in Zelinksy’s name.

The Brooklyn District Attorney has charged Zelinksy with welfare fraud in the third degree, grand larceny in the third degree, and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. She faces up to seven years in prison.

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