FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Unscrupulous Landlords Plead Guilty to Scheme to Defraud
Rent Regulated Tenants by Unlawfully Evicting Them From
Residential Buildings in Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg
Defendants Admit Trying to Force out Tenants in Rapidly Gentrifying
North Brooklyn Neighborhoods
Investigation by Governor Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit, Brooklyn DA and City Agencies
Found Evidence of Hazardous Construction Intended to Harass Tenants
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that two Brooklyn landlords have pleaded guilty to scheme to defraud and unlawful eviction for forcing or attempting to force rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes by destroying their apartments and making them uninhabitable in order to collect significantly higher market-rate rents. The investigation was initiated by the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit concerning allegations of extreme harassment and intimidation in many of the approximately ten buildings owned and managed by Joel and Amrom (aka Aaron) Israel in Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, and that resulted in the TPU referring the case to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution.
“New York has zero tolerance for those who seek to defraud or discriminate against rent-regulated tenants trying to make a home for themselves and their families,” Governor Cuomo said. “Together with our state and local partners, the Tenant Protection Unit will further crack down on unscrupulous landlords and ensure that those responsible for this reprehensible conduct are held to full account. The state is committed to protecting tenants’ rights and ensuring access to safe, decent, affordable housing statewide.”
Acting District Attorney Gonzalez said, “Landlords across Brooklyn should be put on notice by today’s felony guilty pleas that illegal actions they may take to harass and intimidate tenants in rent regulated apartments will not go unpunished. Anyone trying to cash in on soaring market rents by breaking the law and abusing tenants will face serious consequences. I promise to continue to vigorously prosecute building owners who brazenly flout the law as they try to illegally evict protected tenants.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “This administration has no tolerance for landlords who use reckless and illegal tactics to force tenants out of their homes. We are fighting aggressively to protect New York families and our precious stock of rent-stabilized housing – including by bringing cases in criminal court against abusive landlords.”
New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin said, “The Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit continues to fight for the rights of tenants to live without fear of intimidation or abuse in apartments that landlords are targeting for turnover to market rate. When the TPU finds evidence of civil or criminal wrongdoing – they advance the investigations accordingly – and seek prosecutions and appropriate legal action to the full extent of the law on behalf of vulnerable tenants. This prolonged scheme was particularly devastating because it deprived tenants of plumbing and cooking facilities for months, creating hazardous and desperate living conditions. This is the first of several criminal referrals the TPU has made and it sends a resounding message that New York State is working closely with law enforcement and is at the forefront of protecting tenants’ rights.”
New York City Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been said, “Today we send a message that law enforcement won’t stand by as landlords try to force tenants out of their homes and take existing rent-stabilized housing away from the community. After years of aggressive enforcement and legal actions, HPD was delighted to partner with the DA recently to welcome residents back into their repaired homes at 300 Nassau, one of several properties owned or managed by Joel and Amrom Israel. I want to thank Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for continuing the great work started by the late Ken Thompson to take housing crimes seriously and hold owners like the Israels accountable.”
New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said, “The Buildings Department will continue to work proactively with our partner agencies to investigate and identify bad actors who seek to undermine the development process. Tenant harassment is unacceptable and we will use every enforcement tool at our disposal to prevent nuisance construction that unnecessarily displaces residents. I congratulate and thank Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and his team for all their hard work on this case. I also want to recognize the efforts of our Buildings Marshal’s office, who assisted with this case.”
The Acting District Attorney said that the defendants, Joel Israel, 35, and his brother, Amrom (aka Aaron) Israel, 38, both of Borough Park, Brooklyn, and their corporations, JBI Management Inc., Linden Ventures LLC, 324 Central Realty LLC, Salmor Realty 2, LLC and Salmor Realty LLC today pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and various counts of unlawful eviction before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun.
The defendants entered into a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office in which they will receive five years’ probation; each be required to perform 500 hours of community service; and to make restitution of approximately $248,000 to be shared among eight tenants who were harassed while they variously lived at the following locations: 98 Linden Street in Bushwick, 324 Central Avenue in Bushwick, 300 Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, 15 Humboldt Street in Williamsburg and 386 Woodbine Street in Bushwick. The corporations will be sentenced to a conditional discharge.
As a condition of the plea, the Israel defendants will settle claims by the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit by agreeing to a five-year settlement agreement that, among other things, requires the defendants to create policies and procedures for their businesses that own and/or manage rent regulated buildings and apartments; to hire an independent monitor who will report directly to the TPU and the District Attorney’s Office, and will oversee the defendants’ rent regulated properties and ensure they comply with the rent laws through the term of their probation; and to fund a “Tenant Compensation Monetary Fund” with $100,000 that will be administered by the monitor, with approval by TPU, to compensate tenants who vacated their apartments and/or experienced harm due to harassment, a reduction in services, or other unlawful acts of JBI. This payment is in addition to the criminal restitution.
The Acting District Attorney said that, according to the plea allocution, as landlords and managers, Joel Israel and his brother Amrom Israel, and their companies, owned or controlled at least five rent-stabilized buildings in northern Brooklyn. The defendants knew about the rent stabilization laws that governed their buildings, including that their tenants were entitled to receive required services, to have their leases renewed, to have limits on the amount of rent they paid and to not be evicted except on grounds required by law. In all five buildings, the defendants schemed to harass tenants, evict tenants and deny the tenants their property rights. The purpose of the scheme was to remove the rent stabilized tenants from their apartments in order to make a greater profit by renting the apartments at market rate.
Since its creation in 2012, the Tenant Protection Unit enforcement activities have led to the registration of over 55,000 improperly deregulated apartments and the recovery of over $3 million in overcharged rent for unsuspecting tenants through settlement agreements and administrative proceedings. Acting District Attorney Gonzalez would like to recognize the TPU staff who assisted with this case, Rent Inspector Ryoneal Wilson, Assistant Counsel Karis Rasmussen and Senior Attorney Monique Thomas, under the direction of Legal Director Vernitta N. Chambers and Investigations Director Lewis Gray, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Gregory C. Fewer and under the overall supervision of Deputy Commissioner Richard R. White.
HPD’s Emergency Repair Program spent more than $42,034 since 2002 to make repairs to immediately hazardous violations at 300 Nassau, and initiated several housing court cases, including a comprehensive case, before the City determined that the conditions in the building were unsafe to the tenants’ life, health and safety, and vacated the tenants. In 2014, the residents initiated a 7-A case with the assistance of Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A, and HPD’s Housing Litigation Division joined them in successfully obtaining an order appointing a 7-A Administrator. HPD provided the 7-A Administrator of 300 Nassau Avenue 7-A Financial Assistance in the amount of over approximately $565,000 to repair or replace major systems and make other repairs. In addition, HPD’s Office of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services have been heavily involved in fighting to protect the tenants at 98 Linden Street and 224 Schaefer Street, and continue to work with residents of these buildings to find resolution to extensive maintenance conditions.
Acting District Attorney Gonzalez thanked Assistant Chief Ryan Gobin, Supervising Deputy Marshal Alicia DeFilippo and Senior Deputy Marshal Dominick Mezzapesa, of the New York City Buildings Department’s Marshal’s Office, who worked under the direction of Buildings Marshal Salvatore Agostino and Deputy Commissioner Timothy Hogan, for their work on the case.
The case was investigated by Detective Investigator Jacqueline Klapak and Supervising Detective Investigator Michael Seminara, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Edwin Murphy and Chief Joseph Piraino.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Gavin W. Miles, Counsel to the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau and Senior Assistant District Attorney Samantha Magnani, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Chief of the Real Estate Fraud Unit and Assistant District Attorney Felice Sontupe, Chief of the Frauds Bureau, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division and Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief.
Tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments and believe they are being harassed should contact the TPU at (718) 739-6400 or TPUinfo@nyshcr.org. For more information about the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit go to: www.nyshcr.org/TPU