Saturday, February 23, 2019

83rd Assembly District Democratic Club Breakfast

  It was a packed house at the Eastwood Manor as the Democratic Club of the 83rd Assembly District held their petition breakfast where the few candidates on the ballot, and local elected officials spoke to club members. After the breakfast attendees picked up petitions to get signatures for Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, Civil Court Judge candidates Matthew P. Raso, Michael A. Frishman, and Jessica I. Bourbon, along with a slate of Judicial Delegates and Alternates. 

Above - The table where Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., N.Y. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Congressman Eliot Engel, State Senator Jamaal Bailey, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark are seated at. Councilman Andy King arrived from an event a short time later. 
Below - Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr. gives a few remarks about the candidates and elected officials representing the 83rd assembly district.

Above - State Senator Jamaal Bailey says a few words, as his mentor and former employer Assemblyman Carl Heastie listens to his pupils words.
Below - Bronx DA Darcel Clark who is not allowed to talk politics except in the year she is up for re-election thanks the 83rd A.D. Democratic Club for endorsing her. 

Senator Rivera Hosts 7th Annual Black History Month Celebration

  At the William Hodson Community Center located at 1320 Webster Avenue State Senator Gustavo Rivera held his 7th Annual Black History Month celebration Thursday afternoon. There was entertainment by the Renaissance Youth Center, and others. Senator Rivera handed out awards to several volunteers for their service to the community.

Above and Below - Individual members of the Renaissance Youth Center came forward to give inspirational thoughts about what Black History Month means to them.

Above - Senator Rivera gives Jessica and Beatrice Carrion of Renaissance Youth Center citations.
Below - Senator Rivera gives  citation to Renaissance Youth Center director Ms. Jeanette Diaz a citation also.


  Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced the founding of “Camp Junior” at Harriman State Park during his annual “State of the Borough” address, his tenth since taking office in 2009.

This new camp was created in memory of Lesandro “Junior” Guzmán-Feliz, a 15-year-old who was murdered at the hands of gang members in June and galvanized the city, spawning the “Justice for Junior” campaign. “Camp Junior” will be administered by The Fresh Air Fund and has the full support of Lesandro’s parents, Leandra Feliz and Lisandro Guzman.

“Junior was everything we want our children to be. He was a good student and a member of the NYPD Explorers. He was kind to his parents and his neighbors. His candle was dimmed to soon, but he can be a shining light for generations. Starting this summer, we will give hundreds of Bronx kids a chance to learn by his example,” said Borough President Diaz during the speech.

“Camp Junior” has been created through a partnership between the borough president’s office, The Fresh Air Fund and the New York State Department of Parks. The program will take hundreds of Bronx kids upstate each summer to enjoy recreation and educational opportunities free of charge, and will include an anti-violence curriculum.

Borough President Diaz encouraged those who were touched by Junior’s story to donate to The Fresh Air Fund, who will administer “Camp Junior,” and help make the new program a success.

“When this tragedy struck, I heard from so many from across the nation who asked how they could help our community heal,” said Borough President Diaz. “The answer is simple: help Camp Junior succeed.”

To support “Camp Junior” donate online at, text JUNIOR to 41411 or call The Fresh Air Fund directly at 212-897-8900. Information on how to sign up for “Camp Junior” can be found at

Borough President Diaz discussed a wide variety of other issues during the speech, including the state of New York City Public Housing (NYCHA) as well as his #CleanUpNYCHA social media campaign, which uses social media to drive change at public housing developments. The borough president also announced new legislation, in partnership with Assembly Member Marcos Crespo and State Senator Zellnor Myrie, to give NYCHA tenants reductions in their rent when they go without basic services, in the same matter that a rent stabilized tenant in a private building would have. 

“Many would say that the worst landlord in New York City is New York City,” said Borough President Diaz. “I agree.”

Borough President Diaz spoke of the City’s plans to build a new jail at the site of the tow pound in Mott Haven, reiterating his opposition to the plan and pointing out that a better site for the jail exists adjacent to the Bronx Hall of Justice at the family court building.

“Criminal justice reform experts say jails should be located next to court houses for myriad humane reasons in the interest of justice. Why not here?” said Borough President Diaz. “Nothing is set in stone. If they can make changes to their plans in Manhattan, why can't they make changes in The Bronx?”

The borough president called for a wholesale review of the Third party Transfer program, which the de Blasio administration has proposed to expand as a vehicle for removing buildings from bad landlords.

“Bad landlords should be held accountable. However, the TPT program has been used to seize homes from minority homeowners in The Bronx and Brooklyn,” said Borough President Diaz. “We need a wholesale review of this program before we expand it.”

Borough President Diaz also called for expanded MWBE opportunities at the City’s pension funds, announcing that he would be introducing a resolution as a trustee on the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS) board mandating that the board allocate double the percentage of its funds currently managed by MWBEs.

“My resolution requires that diversity increase until our fund managers better represent the diversity of our city,” said Borough President Diaz. “Women are 60 percent of NYC’s workforce, and minorities comprise approximately fifty-five percent. Together, we will level the playing field at our pension fund.”

On the upcoming Census, Borough President Diaz urged all New Yorkers to participate in order to preserve New York’s clout in Washington, D.C., in regards to funding and political representation. He also stated that he would not fill out any question on the Census that asked for his citizenship status, and encouraged those in attendance to follow his lead.

“I will not answer any question asking about my citizenship status, and I encourage my fellow citizens to do the same,” said Borough President Diaz. “Remember, we are a sanctuary city, and those principles will guide our participation in the Census.”

The borough president closed his speech by noting how his borough has met the challenges of the past decade, and calling for New York to follow the example set by The Bronx.

“The challenge of our time is to provide a chance and an equitable city while keeping New York's soul - a collection of our hopes, love, and creative endeavors alive, well, and burning strong. For, all New Yorkers need is a chance, an opportunity, and equity to succeed,” said Borough President Diaz.

Dawn Smalls, Candidate for Public Advocate, Raises Over $1M Through Fundraising and Public Funding

Dawn Smalls for Public Advocate

Dawn Smalls, candidate for Public Advocate, has raised over $1M, the third highest amount in the crowded race. The funds are comprised of fundraising efforts and New York City's matching funds program.
As a first-time candidate, she continues to break barriers as reports circulate about how hard it is for women to raise money in political campaigns. She was the first woman to qualify for NYC's matching funds and has been the highest female fundraiser in the race.
Smalls has released a video to celebrate the campaign and encourage voters to head to the polls. The video highlights her work on the campaign trail across the five boroughs, as well as the campaign's achievements holding with elected officials who had a head start with campaign funds and establishment support.
"I'm so proud of the campaign we've run over the past few months," said Smalls. "I've seen support grow across the five boroughs, people are ready to support a new crop of diverse candidates with the experience, the wherewithal, and the know-how to GET RESULTS."
Learn more at

New Bronx Chamber of Commerce - Upcoming Chamber Sponsored Events and Chamber Member Services!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Bronx Man Charged With Murder-For-Hire Conspiracy

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Angel M. Melendez, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced the unsealing today of an Indictment charging SYDNEY SCALES, a/k/a “Sid,” a/k/a “Moe Black,” with conspiracy to commit murder for hire, as well as narcotics and firearms offenses.  A second defendant on the Indictment, ERNEST HORGE, a/k/a “Ern,” a/k/a “Mac,” is charged with narcotics and firearms offenses.

SCALES was arrested this morning in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and will be presented today in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.  Horge was arrested in the Northern District of New York, and he will be presented there today.  The case has been assigned to the Honorable Laura Taylor Swain. 
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged in the indictment, Scales and Horge were responsible for significant narcotics – including fentanyl – and firearms offenses.  Scales allegedly then conspired to kill a rival drug dealer.  This alleged drug dealing and violence are intolerable, and thanks to the outstanding work of HSI and the NYPD, Scales and Horge now face significant federal charges.”
HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Angel M. Melendez said:  “This man is alleged to have contracted the killing of a rival drug dealer to further his position in the dark world of narcotics distribution and gun wielding.  There is no place in our communities for an individual pushing drugs onto our streets and using guns for intimidation.  Law enforcement has strengthened partnerships across to board to rid our neighborhoods of those who choose to plague our city with violence and drugs.”
As alleged in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court and in other court papers and proceedings[1]:
From in or about 2016 through in or about 2019, both SCALES and HORGE participated in a narcotics conspiracy involved in the distribution of crack cocaine, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl, in the Bronx and elsewhere.  SCALES and HORGE also used, carried, and possessed firearms, which were brandished and discharged, in connection with the narcotics conspiracy.  In addition, in or about June 2017, SCALES conspired to commit murder for hire, agreeing to compensate other individuals in return for their locating and killing at least one rival drug dealer.  SCALES also used, carried, and possessed firearms in connection with the conspiracy to commit murder for hire.          
A chart containing the names and maximum penalties for each defendant is set forth below. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of HSI and the NYPD’s Bronx Violent Crimes Squad.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Frank Balsamello, Sarah Krissoff, and Gina Castellano are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. 
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment constitutes only allegations, and every fact described herein should be treated as an allegation.                                                                                                                                                                                                         

21 U.S.C. § 846

Life in prison

Mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison

Using, Carrying, and Possession of Firearms, which were Brandished and Discharged, in Connection with a Drug Trafficking Crime

18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(iii), 2
Life in prison

Mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison
Conspiracy to Commit Murder For Hire

18 U.S.C. § 1958(a)
10 years in prison
Using, Carrying, and Possession of Firearms, in Connection with the Conspiracy to Commit Murder for Hire

18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(i), 2
Life in prison

Mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison

Former “Hot Boys” Robbery Crew Member Sentenced To 279 Months In Prison In Connection With The Murder Of Kelly Diaz And Other Crimes

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ALVARADO DOMINGUEZ, a/k/a “Jochi,” 32, was sentenced today to 279 months in prison for his participation in the “Hot Boys” robbery crew, including an October 27, 2006, robbery that resulted in the murder of Kelly Diaz.  DOMINGUEZ pled guilty on August 13, 2018, before Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron to participating in a racketeering conspiracy and conspiring to distribute marijuana.  His plea was accepted today by U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who also imposed sentence.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said:  “Alvarado Dominguez and the members of his crew conducted terrifying, armed home invasions in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.  During one of those robberies, Kelly Diaz was murdered.  Today’s sentence protects the public from Dominguez for a long time to come.”
According to the Indictment, other filings in Manhattan federal court, and evidence presented in court in connection with the sentencing:
From at least 2006 through 2017, ALVARADO DOMINGUEZ, a/k/a “Jochi,” and other members and associates of a racketeering enterprise known as the “Hot Boys,” committed murder, assault, robbery and burglary, used firearms, and distributed controlled substances, including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and prescription opiates. 
On October 27, 2006, DOMINGUEZ and other members of the Hot Boys robbed Diaz and his wife in their home in Washington Heights.  In the course of that robbery, Diaz was shot and killed.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding work of the FBI and the NYPD’s Grand Larceny Division in this investigation. 

Bronx Progressives Meeting Friday 6 PM

Friday, February 22nd at 6:00pm (1891 McGraw Avenue Bronx NY 10462) a town hall on fair elections, voting reform and how these causes intersect with the local issues we are fighting for in the Bronx.

A message from our coalition partners:

"Income inequality in New York is at it's highest, and our communities are suffering because of it. We're losing access to affordable housing, good paying jobs, and our public transportation is falling apart.

If we want to improve our community, we have to start in Albany. To tackle the crises we face in housing, living wage jobs, criminal justice, affordable health care, transportation, climate, fair taxes, and more, we must transform a campaign finance system that advantages the interests of the few over those of the many. We must make fixing our democracy the first priority in Albany.

Join us on February 22nd at 6:00pm as we have a community conversation around the issues plaguing our communities, and how campaign finance reform can help us balance the scales of power, and take back the Bronx." 

We will meet at St.Paul's Church at 1891 McGraw Avenue Bronx NY 10462 at 6:00pm.


Stickers & scanable license plates will eventually replace often abused parking placards; City will roll out new technology, stiff penalties & dedicated enforcement that will help to eliminate fake placards, and a strict three-strike revocation policy for placard misuse

  Mayor de Blasio today announced the next steps in his plan to tackle fake placards and the first steps towards a digital parking management system to replace physical placards by 2021. This new plan builds on the Mayor’s 2017 placard crackdown, which led to a 93% increase in summonses for illegal parking in 2018 from the 2016 baseline. The Mayor aims to phase out the use of physical city-issued placards throughout the city in 2021 and eliminate the use of fraudulent placards. This will be accomplished with an increase in penalties, a strict three-strike policy for misusing a placard, culminating in revocation, and dedicated DOT placard enforcement unit. At the same time, a new census of placard misuse will provide groundbreaking data to measure our progress and inform the public. The Mayor is also committed to working with the Council on placard abuse.

“Placard abuse erodes faith in government and has no place in our city – it’s simply a question of fairness,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Misused and fraudulent placards increase congestion and pose a public safety risk. These initiatives give us the tools we need to start making a real dent in this pervasive issue, to help build a fairer city for all.”

“DOT looks forward to playing a key role in helping combat placard abuse, including moving towards a digital placard system and strengthening targeted enforcement,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “These initiatives are important steps towards a better regulated placard system and better curb management citywide.”

“This new initiative will help ensure our City streets are kept clear and that privileges are not abused,” saidNYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan. “While NYPD enforcement of placard abuse has increased 93% from 2016 to 2018, this problem persists and we will continue working closely with our partners at the Department of Transportation on this critical effort.”

Moving Towards Digital Parking Management System
Pending the results of DOT’s Placard Sticker pilot, stickers will be used to replace DOT-issued placards by the end of 2019 as a bridge towards the Pay by Plate System. The Pay by Plate system will fully phase out all city-issued physical placards by 2021.

Pilot Program for Placard Stickers: DOT is currently conducting a pilot program that replaces paper placards with window stickers on 300 DOT owned vehicles. By making it impossible to move an official placard to a different vehicle, the sticker program will eliminate a significant aspect of placard misuse. Replacing placards with stickers is also a key stepping stone towards a fully virtual permit system, and this sticker system will provide a bridge until the pay-by-plate system is fully implemented. Results from the pilot expected summer 2019.

Pay by Plate: DOT and NYPD will roll out a state-of-the-art parking management system. An integrated parking management system will eventually link parking meters, hand held enforcement devices and license plates. This parking management system will ultimately say if a car is in violation of parking and placard rules, further automating parking enforcement. Government employees that have authorization to park at certain places and times, which are currently identified with a parking placard, will have those stipulations attached to a license plate that will automatically register as legally or illegally parked—eliminating discretion and confusion in placard enforcement. It will cost $52 million for installation and new equipment, and the first edition of this modernized system, focused on pay-by-plate meters, will be fully operational by 2021.

Stiff Penalties & Dedicated Enforcement

Strict Three Strikes Policy: Through DOT and DOF rulemaking, the city will create a strict three-strike policy that will lead to permanent revocation for misusing an official placard three times. This rule would make misuse or fraudulent use an additional, separate violation on top of a parking violation. This rule will be in place by spring of 2019. In addition, the Mayor will advocate for changes to State law to raise the penalty for a placard violation from $50 to $250.

Dedicated Enforcement: DOT will create a new team of 10 Traffic Enforcement Agents dedicated to targeted enforcement of placard rules.  This dedicated team will focus on particular hot spots in Lower Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn, the two areas most plagued by placard abuse.  Working with NYPD, DOT will hire, train and acquire the equipment for this team within one year.  They will be empowered to ticket vehicles abusing their placard privileges or using fake placards. As DOT undertakes this initiative, we will also evaluate its effectiveness and potential next steps, including focusing on other hot spots for placard abuse.  

Tracking Illegal Placards: The Mayor’s SCOUT team will conduct an annual survey on the rate of illegal placard use in key hotspots throughout the City, to create a baseline of data to track the progress of the placard plan.

In 2018, there were roughly 125,500 city-issued placards. DOT issued 50,000, NYPD issued 44,000 and DOE issued 31,500. This total number does not include state or federal placards. Since the 2017 announcement, there has been a 93% increase in NYPD summons for illegal parking while displaying a placard from the 2016 baseline. There were 28,269 summons in 2016, 41,931 in 2017 and 54,608 in 2018.

“Placard abuse and associated corruptive practices, such as blocking sidewalks and bus and bike lanes, are inexcusable. It’s the City of New York’s responsibility to hold whomever is at fault, accountable. I’ve worked on this issue for many years and I hope this bill package recently introduced by the Council along with the Mayor’s initiative introduced today will stop the illegal use of placards,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair of the Transportation Committee.

Wave Hill events March 7‒14

Sat, March 9
Be inspired by nature’s ability to heal. To spark your creative juices, look to the forest that heals itself, starfish that regenerate limbs and trees that pump sugar to their sick tree-neighbors. Create patches by making stamps from upcycled styrofoam, then pin them on your favorite jacket or iron them onto clothes that need some love. Free, and admission to the grounds is free until noon.
Wave Hill House, 10AM–1PM

Sun, March 10
Welcome migratory birds back to Wave Hill this spring. Explore the gardens and woodlands with naturalist Gabriel Willow on a quest to spot both resident and rare birds as they pass through on their northern journey or settle down for the season. Severe weather cancels. Ages 10 and older welcome with an adult. Free with admission to the grounds. NYC Audubon Members enjoy two-for-one admission.
Meet at Perkins Visitor Center, 9:30AM

Sun, March 10
Be inspired by nature’s ability to heal. To spark your creative juices, look to the forest that heals itself, starfish that regenerate limbs and trees that pump sugar to their sick tree-neighbors. Create patches by making stamps from upcycled styrofoam, then pin them on your favorite jacket or iron them onto clothes that need some love. Free with admission to the grounds.
Wave Hill House, 10AM–1PM

Sun, March 10
Take a tour of Liene Bosquê’s Winter Workspace studio and view the work she has created onsite. Learn about the dyeing and printing techniques she uses and explore working with eco dyes and cyanotype. Materials included. All levels welcome. Ages 12 and up welcome with an adult. $55; Wave Hill Members save 10%. Registration required, online at or at the Perkins Visitor Center.
Meet at Glyndor Gallery, 10AM–1PM

Sun, March 10
Join naturalist and educator Gabriel Willow on a family-friendly walk through the gardens or woodlands. Ages five and older welcome with an adult. Severe weather cancels. Free with admission to the grounds.
Meet at Wave Hill House, 1PM

Sun, March 10
Artists in the Winter Workspace program share their studio practice with visitors on this Drop-In Sunday. Free with admission to the grounds.
Glyndor Gallery, 1–3PM

Sun, March 10
Join a Wave Hill Garden Guide for an hour-long tour of seasonal garden highlights. Free with admission to the grounds.
Meet at Perkins Visitor Center, 2PM

Mon, March 11
Closed to the public.

A 28-acre public garden and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River  and Palisades, Wave Hill’s mission is to celebrate the artistry and legacy of its gardens and landscape, to preserve its magnificent views, and to explore human connections to the natural world through programs in horticulture, education and the arts.

HOURS  Open all year, Tuesday through Sunday and many major holidays: 9AM–4:30PM,  November 1–March 14. Closes 5:30PM, starting March 15.

ADMISSION – $10 adults, $6 students and seniors 65+, $4 children 6–18. Free Saturday and Tuesday mornings until noon. Free to Wave Hill Members and children under 6.

PROGRAM FEES – Programs are free with admission to the grounds unless otherwise noted.

Visitors to Wave Hill can take advantage of Metro-North’s one-day getaway offer. Purchase a discount round-trip rail far and discount admission to the gardens. More at
DIRECTIONS – Getting here is easy! Located only 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan, Wave Hill’s free shuttle van transports you to and from our front gate and Metro-North’s Riverdale station, as well as the W. 242nd Street stop on the #1 subway line. Limited onsite parking is available for $8 per vehicle. Free offsite parking is available nearby with continuous, complimentary shuttle service to and from the offsite lot and our front gate. Complete directions and shuttle bus schedule at

Information at 718.549.3200. On the web at

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces $5.3 Million Proposed Settlement Of Lawsuit Against New York City For Fraudulently Obtaining FEMA Funds Following Superstorm Sandy

 Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mark Tasky, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Regional Office of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (“DHS-OIG”), and Margaret Garnett, Commissioner, New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”), announced today that the United States filed a civil fraud lawsuit today against the CITY OF NEW YORK (the “City”) alleging that the NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (“NYCDOT”) fraudulently obtained millions of dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) by falsely claiming that numerous NYCDOT vehicles were damaged during Superstorm Sandy (“Sandy”).  The United States also submitted a proposed settlement of the lawsuit to the U.S. District Court for review and approval.  Under the proposed settlement, the City agreed to pay and revert to the United States a total of $5,303,624 and admitted to conduct alleged in the Government’s complaint, including seeking reimbursement from FEMA for vehicles that were not damaged by Sandy.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “FEMA serves a critical role in providing emergency relief to those who are tragically struck by disaster.  When people lie to FEMA about the cause of property damage in order to reap a windfall, it compromises FEMA’s ability to provide financial assistance to legitimate disaster victims in desperate need.  This Office will take decisive enforcement action to protect FEMA and its vital programs from fraud, waste, and abuse.”
DHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Mark Tasky said:  “Taking advantage of Federal funds intended for disaster relief misappropriates taxpayer dollars, reduces funds available to true victims, and erodes public confidence in relief efforts. Through DHS OIG’s criminal and civil investigative oversight function of DHS programs, and working closely with our partners in the New York City’s Department of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, we ensured that over $5.3 million in disaster relief funds were repaid to the United States, and ultimately the U.S. taxpayer. With so many New York residents impacted by Superstorm Sandy, it is critical to ensure every dollar of appropriated relief funds are properly used and accounted for.”
DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett said:  “Today’s settlement is the successful outcome of a joint investigation with our federal partners, which uncovered falsified submissions by the City to the federal government that allowed the City to wrongly obtain millions of dollars in federal emergency funds.  Our investigation found that a lack of vigilant management and inadequate training of City personnel at the City Department of Transportation led to this wrongdoing in connection with a federal public assistance program.  As New York City’s independent watchdog, DOI is grateful for our effective partnership with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the New York Regional Office of the United States Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General on this investigation.”
According to the Government’s Complaint, the City participated in FEMA’s Public Assistance program, which allows municipalities to obtain indemnification funds from FEMA to repair or replace property damaged by natural disasters, such as Sandy.  As part of the program, the City was required to certify that the property damage was incurred as a direct result of the disaster.  The City was also required to provide training to employees on program rules and requirements, including the importance of ensuring that costs for which indemnification is sought are directly attributable to a disaster.
Following Sandy, the NYCDOT created a list of vehicles within the agency’s fleet that had been damaged by the storm and submitted it to FEMA for indemnification pursuant to the Public Assistance program.  The NYCDOT personnel responsible for generating the list of damaged vehicles, to whom the City provided no training on the Public Assistance program, made no effort to inspect the vehicles or otherwise determine whether any reported damage was attributable to Sandy.  In fact, a number of the vehicles included on this list were inoperable long before Sandy.
In 2014, based on this faulty list, the City submitted a request for indemnification to FEMA seeking to recover the full cost of replacing 132 NYCDOT vehicles.  The City submitted a certification to FEMA as part of the program and a request for indemnification that falsely attested that all costs were incurred as a direct result of Sandy.  Many of the vehicles for which the City sought full replacement costs had been nonoperational or not in use prior to the storm.  As a result of these false certifications, FEMA paid the City millions of dollars to which it was not entitled.
As part of the proposed settlement, the City will pay the United States a total of $5,303,624.  Specifically, the City will make a cash payment of $4,126,227.34 and relinquish rights to an additional $1,177,396.66 that FEMA had previously approved for disbursement.  During this Office’s investigation, the City withdrew another $3,196,376 in indemnity requests, acknowledging that the costs were ineligible for reimbursement.
In connection with the proposed settlement, the City also admitted conduct alleged in the Complaint, including:
  • The Deputy Commissioner from NYCDOT who signed the certification lacked personal knowledge about the vehicles sufficient to make a certification about how and when they were damaged and did not personally undertake or direct others to undertake any investigation of the vehicles prior to signing the certification.
  • The list of vehicles for which the City was seeking reimbursement included a number of vehicles that were not damaged as a direct result of Sandy to a state beyond repair.  A number of the vehicles that the City included had not been operational prior to Sandy.
  • Prior to making the submission and certification to FEMA, neither the City nor NYCDOT undertook a sufficient review to ascertain whether all of the vehicles listed had been operational and in use prior to Sandy; or whether the amounts presented to FEMA for reimbursement accurately represented the losses the City incurred from Sandy.
  • In June 2014, a NYCDOT employee notified the Deputy Commissioner that certain of the vehicles for which the City had sought reimbursement from FEMA were not eligible. Yet, it was not until after it became aware of this Office’s investigation that the City took steps to notify FEMA.
The proposed settlement must be approved by the District Court.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of DHS-OIG and DOI.  

Attorney General James Announces Settlement With Star Exemption Advisor For Scamming Thousands Of Homeowners Seeking Property Tax Rebates

STAR Exemption Advisor and Owner Arie Gal Charged Homeowners for Simply Forwarding Basic STAR Exemption Applications To Nassau County Assessor’s Office 

 Attorney General Letitia James announced a settlement with STAR Exemption Advisor, YCA Corp. and its business owner Arie Gal for scamming thousands of new homeowners by charging them excessive fees to enroll in the Basic STAR Exemption Program, which is otherwise free.   

“Taking advantage of New Yorkers by manipulating a tax exemption program created to help homeowners is illegal and immoral,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “We should be doing all we can to support homeowners, not prey upon them and steal their hard-earned savings. This settlement is a continued reminder that my office will pursue any individual who tries to deceive New Yorkers.”  
Terms of the settlement include $920,000 in damages, the dissolution of STAR Exemption and YCA Corp, the recision of all consumer contracts with STAR Exemption, the cancelation of all outstanding billed/unbilled accounts, the permanent barring from offering any property tax rebate services in the State of New York, and the vacating of all small claims court judgments. 
The New York State School Tax Relief (“STAR”) Program provides a partial exemption from school property taxes for primary residences that are owner-occupied with a total household income of $500,000 or less. To receive the exemption, new homeowners must file an application with their local assessor’s office by January 2 each year in order for the exemption to be applied to the upcoming and subsequent years’ tax bills.  
The Attorney General’s office sued following its investigation of Mr. Gal and his business after receiving numerous complaints from homeowners who alleged that his company had substantially overcharged them for filing an otherwise free application that the homeowners had completed themselves. The Supreme Court of Nassau County found Gal and his business liable for fraudulent and deceptive business practices and false advertising, as homeowners were unaware that they were doing business with a private company, since they believed they were sending their Nassau County application forms to the County, not an intermediary.  
Mr. Gal used an official-sounding name like “Star Exemption Advisor” to scam thousands of homeowners out of tax savings that rightfully belonged to them. His company sent misleading mailers that looked like official government agency documents, tricking homeowners into signing up with them to apply for the Basic STAR exemption for a fee. The respondents used official-looking envelopes to make homeowners think that the mailers were coming from a government agency. Moreover, the company charged homeowners an exorbitant fee that was 100 percent of the total tax savings for the first year, even though applying for the Basic STAR exemption costs nothing and can be accomplished without professional help.  
Once homeowners were approved for the exemption, the company sent them invoices. If payment was not remitted immediately or homeowners disputed the charges, Mr. Gal sued them in Small Claims Court. Mr. Gal even sued homeowners for applications the homeowners had personally filed with the Department of Assessment. Upon receiving a Small Claims Court notice from Mr. Gal, most homeowners settled to avoid litigation. Homeowners who went to their scheduled court date were shocked to see so many other homeowners in the same predicament.