Archive for the tag 'fraud'

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.

Source: Nathan James/Flickr

Legislation aimed at reducing auto insurance fraud in New York State passed the Senate on Monday, bringing the bill which allows insurance companies to retroactively cancel the policies of fraudsters one step closer to law.

The Senate bill was sponsored by State Senator Marty Golden, who describes it in this press release:

Today the New York State Senate passed S1959A, sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), which allows insurance companies to retroactively cancel policies taken out by people who commit auto fraud. These criminals often take out policies and pay for them with bad checks or stolen credit cards just before they stage accidents. Under current law, insurance companies cannot cancel the policy and policyholders wind up paying for it through higher premiums. This bill would take that burden off honest consumers and therefore lower the insurance rates.

“Auto insurance fraud is costing New Yorkers millions of dollars, and it’s time that fair and honest members of our community stop paying for the crimes of others,” stated Senator Golden. “This legislation will give insurance companies the right to revoke insurance policies for those who try to game the system.”

This measure would bring New York in line with the other large no-fault states and remove any incentives for staged accidents. In fact, only seven other states (AZ, CO, KS, ME, MD, NC and SD) do not allow for retroactive cancellation. Innocent victims of uninsured drivers would be covered under their own policy or the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation.

The bill, which you can read here, now moves onto the Democratic-led Assembly, where it has support from a number of Democrats, including local Assembly members Steven Cymbrowitz and Dov Hikind.

Previous versions of this bill – and two others passed by the Senate to combat auto fraud – died in the Assembly.

Auto fraud continues to be an ongoing issue in Southern Brooklyn. The longest-running and largest auto insurance scam ring in history ended in April 2012, when authorities busted 36 individuals – many of them Southern Brooklyn residents – using anti-Mafia RICO laws. The individuals were accused of exploiting New York’s “no-fault” insurance law, which allows drives and passengers to obtain up to $50,000 for accidents injuries regardless of fault.

Prior to that, another ring was busted in Brooklyn, leading to the arrest of 16 people for allegedly ripping off companies for $400,000 between 2009 and 2011.

A smart chip-equipped credit card. (Source: DennisSylvesterHurd/Flickr)

State Senator Marty Golden, citing a rise in credit card fraud in his district and beyond, is touting legislation he co-sponsored last month that would require credit card companies to install smart chip technology in every card issued to a New York State resident.

Golden held a press conference in Bay Ridge on Friday to advocate for the legislation, saying that merchants in his district have reported a spate of credit and debit card fraud, as well as “hackers” who have stolen data from local businesses. He was joined by Third Avenue Merchants Association President Robert Howe as well as Dimitri Akhrin, president of the Bank Associates Merchant Services.

“This legislation would require smart chip technology to be incorporated in our debit and credit cards to help protect against identity theft. Over the past few weeks, my district has been targeted by hackers who have been able to break through the security walls of some local stores. The false charges reported to my office have been made in Brooklyn, Long Island, Connecticut and event [sic] Puerto Rico,” said Senator Golden in a press release.

The senator cited Bureau of Justice Statistics reports estimating that 16.6 million people have suffered from identity theft in 2012 to 2013, 15.3 million of whom had an incident involving a debit or credit card.

According to tech site NerdWallet, manufacturers and advocates say smart chips are a safer alternative to magnetic stripe cards. Smart chips store encrypted account information and cannot be read by swiping. Instead they’re scanned into a terminal that reads the chip and can require a pin number to decrypt the chip’s information. They are not susceptible to common data scamming techniques as are magnetic strips, such as swiping, which allows fraudsters doubling as waiters or cashiers to discreetly pass your card through a handheld device that stores the card’s data.

Smart chips do have their own vulnerabilities, but the website notes that implementation in Europe has seen dramatic decreases in fraud.

The bill, which can be read here, was introduced on February 14 by upstate Senator Joseph Griffo with Golden as a co-sponsor. The Assembly version was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny.

American companies have been slow to adopt the technology because of the cost of replacing existing systems, including in-store point-of-sale systems and ATMs. The legislation does not address who will foot the bill, suggesting the business-owners will have to invest in new hardware if the law passes.

Yehuda Sadok (Source: LinkedIn)

Yehuda Sadok (Source: LinkedIn)

Yehuda Sadok, the Brighton Beach man accused of posing as an Israeli secret spy to swindle an elderly widow in an international jewelry deal, has filed a counter-suit against the widow’s daughters in an effort to clear his name.

Going by the moniker Oody Geffen, Sadok was accused by the widow’s daughters of romancing their wealthy, jewelry-dealing mother in order to get her to fork over $20 million worth of inventory for a shady deal with a Saudi sheikh.

The daughters’ suit said he claimed to be a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and dined with Robert DeNiro.

But now Sadok is saying it’s all hooey and the daughters are just bitter that they were written out of the will for being rotten to their mother.

The New York Post reports:

But Sadok denies to Page Six that he ever claimed to be a Mossad agent, and says he met Martin through a mutual friend and ex-FBI agent who asked him to track down an Israeli who’d stolen $1 million in jewels from her. They became friends when he recovered $850,000 of the gems.

“She was a lovely, simple . . . lady who was like my grandmother,” Sadok said. He added that Martin confided she had “two spoiled daughters” she’d lavished with “the best schools, the best clothes,” but they’d “become ‘two devils.’ They were very mean and rude to their mother.”

… Sadok also denied he ever said he was pals with Russian leader Putin (“I wish I was”), or that he claimed to know Robert De Niro, as the suit alleges. He contends that a friend who was a regular on “The Sopranos” was casting a film and trying to get De Niro for a role, and that he’d introduced that TV actor to Martin at her office. “That’s how they got this idea I was a producer,” Sadok said, “and came [up] with this nonsense about De Niro, [who] I never met in my life.”

Source: wmfawmfa/Flickr

Area resident Petr Murmylyuk was sentenced to 30 months in prison for conspiring to hack into retail brokerage accounts and execute sham trades, the U.S. Attorney announced on Friday.

Murmylyuk, who also went by the name Dmitry Tokar, pleaded guilty in July 2013 to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. He had previously pleaded guilty to charges of identity theft and tax fraud for a separate but related scheme.

According to prosecutors, Murmylyuk admitted to his role in conspiring to steal from online trading accounts at Scottrade, E*Trade, Fidelity and others wit the aid of foreign nations visiting, studying and living in the United States.

Here’s how the scheme went down, according to prosecutors:

Members of the conspiracy first gained unauthorized access to the online accounts of brokerage firm customers. The conspirators then used stolen identities to open additional accounts – referred to in the Information as “Profit Accounts” – at other brokerage houses. They then caused the victims’ accounts to make unprofitable and illogical securities trades with the Profit Accounts, leading to losses in the victims’ accounts and gains in the Profit Accounts. One version of the fraud involved causing the victims’ accounts to sell options contracts to the Profit Accounts, then to purchase the same contracts back minutes later for many times the price.

The members of the conspiracy recruited foreign nationals visiting, studying, and living in the United States to open bank accounts into which illegal proceeds could be deposited. The conspirators then caused the proceeds of the sham trades to be transferred from the Profit Accounts into those accounts, where the stolen money could be withdrawn.

In addition to the prison term, Murmylyuk is ordered to serve three years of supervised release, and pay restitution of $505,357.79.

mossad

Yehuda Sadok (Source: LinkedIn)

It seems a Manhattan widow should have taken a cue from the theme song of the 1960s television show, Secret Agent: “Beware of pretty faces that you find. / A pretty face can hide an evil mind.”

Except his face ain’t all that pretty. But, according to the now deceased widow’s daughter, it hid a mind evil enough to nearly dupe the vulnerable woman and her family out of $20 million, and sparked a change in her will that caused her daughters to lose their inheritance.

Brighton Beach resident Yehuda Sadok, 48, is accused in a lawsuit filed by the widow’s daughters of posing as an Israeli spy who pals around with Vladimir Putin and Robert De Niro. The purpose, they say, was to get the widow, Emilie Martin, to hand over $20 million in jewelry for a deal with a Saudi sheikh.

From the Daily News:

Using the name Oody Geffen, Sadok “convinced my mother that he is a former intelligence officer from Mossad (the Israeli Secret Service), keeps a cyanide capsule in his mouth, has a close personal connection to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Israeli Prime Minister, and is a friend of film actor Robert De Niro,” DiFabrizio said in court papers.

… Oody — who also claimed to be a movie producer — convinced Martin in the fall of 2009 to let him sell her jewelry in Dubai, telling her she should hand over $20 million in inventory from her business so he could have a “private sale” for Sheikh Mohammed, his family and friends, according to court papers.

He convinced Martin they’d use the profits to buy “a fancy condominium in Abu Dhabi where they would live happily ever after,” court filings say.

According to DNAinfo, that deal came on the heels of another one, in which Sadok had successfully pursuaded Martin to sell $1.4 million in jewelry to a company serving as an agent of the Sheikh of Dubai. The daughters say Sadok took home a $420,000 commission on the deal, even though the business lost $170,000.

Ultimately, the daughters, who own a portion of the business, successfully stopped the $20 million Saudi jewelry deal in court in 2009. The elder Martin died in 2011, but as a result of the bad blood caused by the deal, the daughters say, they’ve been cut out of the will and her estate has been split up between the mother’s estranged siblings.

The current lawsuit seeks to get the existing will tossed out of court, saying that it was written up under “an insane delusion.”

Sadok said the daughters have got the story all wrong, and that his relationship with Martin was nothing more than a close friendship.

Sadok, a married father of six, told DNAinfo New York on Friday that he was a close friend to Emilie but never claimed to be a spy or have famous friends.

“Robert De Niro, Mossad, who says something like that?” Sadok asked. “I never met Robert De Niro in my life.”

When asked how he met Emilie, Sadok said that a former FBI agent had introduced him to her. Sadok said he was helping the FBI agent retrieve jewels for Emilie.

Sadok also said that he had a platonic friendship with Emilie and that his whole family, including his mother, got to know her.

“I heard all these stories. I’ll be honest with you. Does it make any sense? I think it’s very silly to say something like that,” Sadok said when asked if he tried to romance Emilie.

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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