Saturday, June 1, 2019

Comptroller Stringer, State Senator Krueger and Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal Introduce Legislation to Raise Awareness of Rent Freeze Program for Seniors and People With Disabilities

State legislation would require that a tenant be given formal notice on potential eligibility for SCRIE and DRIE rental assistance program
Bill would assist many seniors and people with disabilities living on limited incomes and facing high rent burden
New bill could help up to 26,000 seniors and people with disabilities access rental assistance
  New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal announced the introduction of new legislation (A.7730) to raise awareness of the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs that assist seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities who are living on limited incomes in making rent payments. The legislation would require that seniors and tenants with disabilities be given formal notice of potential eligibility for the program at the same time as they receive routine communications from landlords or government agencies regarding such issues as an application for a rent adjustment due to a major capital improvement, a rent increase, or notice of a new lease or renewal of a lease. The programs enable income eligible tenants to have their rents frozen at one-third of their incomes, or the rent paid on the lease before they applied, whichever is greater. Both SCRIE and DRIE are under-enrolled, with less than half of all potential beneficiaries registered in the program. The legislation introduced today would help bolster enrollment in these critical programs and ensure more who qualify for assistance actually receive it.
“We need to help the New Yorkers who built up our communities and ensure they can afford to stay here, with access to affordable housing that will allow them to age in place and thrive in their golden years.” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “That’s why we must tackle our City’s affordability crisis head-on by providing direct support to New Yorkers with disabilities and our City’s seniors — those who are struggling the most to make their monthly rental payments. Increasing enrollment in the SCRIE and DRIE programs is a much-needed subsidy that must be extended to serve every New Yorker that needs it. As the original sponsor of DRIE legislation during my time in the New York State Assembly, I want to thank State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal for sponsoring this important legislation and for working to ensure that our most vulnerable tenants receive the rental assistance they need to make ends meet.”
”The SCRIE and DRIE programs have allowed thousands of older New Yorkers and people with disabilities to stay in their homes and age in place with dignity,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “But thousands more are struggling to pay the rent without even knowing these programs exist. This bill ensures that some of our most vulnerable neighbors will get the vital information they need to ease their rent burden. Thank you to Comptroller Stringer and Assemblymember Rosenthal for championing this important effort.”
“The Rent Freeze Program is a critical lifeline for this city’s senior and disabled tenants, but only if senior and disabled tenants know it exists,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “This bill will help promote awareness of the existence of the Rent Freeze program, and provide so many vulnerable tenants with desperately needed rent relief. I look forward to working with Comptroller Stringer and State Senator Krueger to see this bill become law.”
The new bill stems from a 2017 report by Comptroller Stringer, entitled “Aging with Dignity: A Blueprint for Serving NYC’s Growing Senior Population,” which outlined recommendations regarding the City’s plan to respond to changing demographics on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis to better serve New York City’s growing senior population. One of the proposals in the report was to help promote awareness of the City’s SCRIE and DRIE programs to freeze rent levels for eligible seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities struggling to pay their monthly rent.
S.6210/A.7730 also requires routine communication from landlords or government agencies such as an annual certification required by Section 31 of the Private Housing Finance Law, a lease rider, a lease containing an escalator clause, a maximum base rent adjustment or heating fuel cost adjustment, or an annual or otherwise periodic 2.2 percent rent increase for buildings receiving benefits pursuant to Section 421a of the Real Property Tax Law, to include formal notices about potential eligibility for SCRIE or DRIE.
To qualify for the SCRIE program, individuals must be 62 years of age or older, earn $50,000 or less annually, pay more than a third of their monthly income in rent, and reside in an apartment that is hotel-stabilized, Mitchell-Lama, rent-controlled, or rent-stabilized. New Yorkers with disabilities can qualify for the DRIE program if they are not able-bodied and are 62 years of age or younger. Based on New York City Department of Finance (DOF) data, in FY16, 59,524 persons were enrolled in SCRIE and 10,743 in DRIE compared to the population of an estimated 121,729 potentially eligible SCRIE recipients and 33,637 potential recipients eligible for DRIE. A notification expansion of this scale could increase SCRIE enrollment from its current 49 percent participation rate to approximately 70 percent, benefiting 26,000 seniors.
“Aging with Dignity: A Blueprint for Serving NYC’s Growing Senior Population” Report
Comptroller Stringer’s report, “Aging with Dignity: A Blueprint for Serving NYC’s Growing Senior Population,” outlined three main recommendations to address the needs of the City’s growing senior population including creating safe, healthy, and affordable housing options in which seniors can grow old; developing livable communities for seniors, and supporting the wellbeing of older New Yorkers. It also found that:
  • Between 2005 and 2015, the City’s population of adults over 65 increased by about 182,000 – from approximately 947,000 to 1.13 million – a rise of more than 19 percent
  • In 2015, adults over 65 composed about 13.2 percent of the City’s population, up from about 11.9 percent in 2005 with the population being most significant in Brooklyn, followed by Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island
  • Between 2005 and 2015, the number of working seniors in New York City grew by 62 percent, and during that same time, the share of seniors in New York City’s labor force grew from 13 percent to 17 percent
  • Over 40 percent of New York City senior-headed households depend on government programs (including Social Security) for more than half of their income, while more than 30 percent depend on these programs for three-quarters of their income
  • A higher percentage of seniors receive government assistance than the general population:
    • Nutrition assistance (25.5 percent)
    • Supplemental Security Income (14.6 percent)
  • Seniors are more likely to pay in excess of 30 percent of their income on housing than the total population, regardless of whether they rent or own their homes

Luchese Soldier Convicted Of Racketeering And Illegal Gambling Offenses

 Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that EUGENE CASTELLE, a/k/a “Boobsie,” was found guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering and operation of an illegal gambling business following a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “For years, Eugene Castelle used intimidation and threats of violence to line his pockets as a member of the Luchese Family of La Cosa Nostra.  Castelle now stands convicted of serious federal crimes.  Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate and prosecute members of the Mafia.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment and the evidence presented in court during the trial:
Between 2012 and January 2018, CASTELLE acted as a soldier in the Luchese Family of La Cosa Nostra, often referred to as the Mafia.  CASTELLE used his position in the Luchese Family to receive thousands of dollars, over multiple years, from a large-scale illegal sports betting business operating through off-shore websites in Costa Rica.  CASTELLE protected the business from other members of the Mafia, used threats of violence to collect debts owed to the business, and extorted the bookmaker for annual payments of “tribute.”  CASTELLE also committed other racketeering acts, such as holding a “no show” job as a carpenter at a construction project where he was paid a carpenter’s wages for many months without ever settting foot on the jobsite. 
CASTELLE, 59, of Staten Island, New York, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of operation of an illegal gambling business, which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years.  The jury acquitted CASTELLE of one count of attempted extortion.  The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentence of the defendant will be determined by the judge.  CASTELLE is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Hellerstein on September 20, 2019. 
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Department of Homeland Security - Homeland Security Investigations, the Department of Labor, the Diplomatic Security Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York City Police Department, and the Special Agents of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  Mr. Berman also thanked the Kings County District Attorney’s Office for their assistance in the investigation.

Mt. Vernon Man Sentenced To 8 Years In Prison For Four Armed Carjackings Of Cabs

  Geoffrey S. Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that SAMIR SULLIVAN, a/k/a “S,” was sentenced today to 96 months in prison for four separate armed carjackings of cabs in Mt. Vernon and the Bronx in November 2018.  SULLIVAN pled guilty on January 28, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel, who imposed today’s sentence.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman stated:  “Four hardworking cab drivers were simply doing their jobs when Samir Sullivan terrified them by pointing a gun at their heads.  After threatening to shoot all four drivers and hitting one with his gun, Sullivan took their cabs, as well as their cash, wallets, and phones. Today’s lengthy sentence sends a message that this violent behavior will not be tolerated in this district.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint, the Information, and statements made during court proceedings:
In the middle of the night and early morning on November 25 and 29, 2018, Sullivan and his partner committed four armed carjackings of cabs in Mt. Vernon and the Bronx.  To complete the carjackings, Sullivan pointed and held a gun at the heads of four scared cab drivers, pushed the gun against the sides of some of the drivers’ faces (at least one of whom pleaded for his life), demanded that the drivers give him everything they had, threatened to shoot if the drivers did not comply, threatened that he would kill one of the drivers, directed his partner to ransack the drivers’ pockets for cash, and hit the shoulders of one of drivers with the gun.  In addition to the cabs, which he would drive away and abandon before finding his next victim, SULLIVAN took the drivers’ cash, wallets, phones, and a jacket.
In addition to the prison term, SULLIVAN, 33, of Mt. Vernon, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit the proceeds of the offenses and pay restitution to his victims.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI’s Westchester County Safe Streets Task Force and the Mount Vernon Police Department.


Defendant Pleaded Guilty to Attempted Murder

  Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark today announced that a Bronx man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing a 22-year-old man in 2018, leaving him with life altering injuries. 

 District Attorney Clark said, “The defendant entered the victim’s apartment through a window as he was sleeping in bed, and stabbed him multiple times over a previous fight. Thankfully the victim survived the vicious attack and has gone on with his life.” 

 District Attorney Clark said the defendant, Roberto Ortiz, 48, of 4627 Park Avenue, was sentenced today by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Hornstein to 10 years in prison and 5 years post-release supervision. The defendant pleaded guilty to Attempted Murder in the second degree on May 3, 2019. 

 According to the investigation, on the morning of July 26, 2018, the defendant climbed the fire escape of a building in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx, entered an apartment and stabbed Cory Smith, 22, multiple times in the neck, head, and torso with kitchen knives. Ortiz then dragged Smith out of the apartment and bashed his head against the walls as he forced him downstairs, leaving the hallway and stairway splattered with the victim’s blood.

 Smith, begging for help along the way, got outside and made his way into a neighboring building where someone called 911. First responding police officers applied pressure to the victim’s neck wound, saving his life. The defendant attempted to flee by re-entering the victim’s apartment and jumping off a fire escape. He landed on his head behind the building, where police found him.

 A month before the stabbing, the victim accused the defendant of stealing a friend’s wallet and they had physical altercation, which resulted in Smith’s mother ending her relationship with Ortiz.

 District Attorney Clark thanked NYPD Police Officers Ryan Duffany and Kyron de la Rosa, who first responded to the scene, and Detective Abraham Villavizar, all of the 47th Precinct.

Speaker Johnson and the City Council Launch Interactive Map of Parks in New York City

  Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council launched an interactive map of public parks in New York City Map. The new interactive map offers detailed information on all of the 1,700 parks in the city, including amenities, funding information, and programming at each spot.

Launching just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the map shows where New Yorkers can find playgrounds, basketball and handball courts, running tracks, pools, barbecue areas, food concessions and dog runs. Additionally, the data includes upcoming events taking place at each location within the next 14 days.
This interactive and visual tool details the 2,856 playgrounds, 557 basketball courts, 546 handball courts, 95 pools, 34 running tracks, 69 barbecue areas, 112 food concessions, and 136 dog runs and leash areas. And it also gives New Yorkers information on how much their neighborhood parks receive for maintenance, both in public and private funds.
“It’s the unofficial start of summer, and so we wanted to get this out there for all New Yorkers. Public parks are the lungs of our metropolis and a vital part of our city. We have hundreds of these jewels across our city, and this interactive map will let you explore each one of them individually,” said Speaker Johnson.     
Find additional information at


  A hand-painted piano will arrive at Joyce Kilmer Park Wednesday, June 5. The instrument is part of the citywide, Sing for Hope program, which places 50 pianos across the five boroughs in public spaces and parks. Visitors can play or listen to spontaneous concerts over the next three weeks.

  On June 21 st the 161 st Street BID will host a series of musical performances at the piano by artists affiliated with the Make Music New York program. The first day of summer will ring out with pop, R & B and standards from NYC musicians in front of the Lorelei Fountain.

  This is the seventh year that the 161 st Street BID has hosted a piano. The BID is one of 75 managed by the NYC Department of Small Business Services.


  Senate Majority Leader Andrea Steward-Cousins said that the Senate will move to pass bill S3817A, legislation sponsored by State Senator Alessandra Biaggi to eliminate the “severe and pervasive” standard applied to sexual harassment cases and harassment based on all protected categories.

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi issued the following statement:

"The Senate is not what it use to be – this body is ready to make changes that put survivors first and protect New Yorkers from future sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The first step is to eliminate the 'severe and pervasive' standard once and for all, and make sure that employers are held accountable for creating safe work environments for their employees. I thank Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for her fervent support on this issue.”

Friday, May 31, 2019


$2.5 Million Investment Will Allow Students to Utilize Digital Design Curriculum, Use Outdoor Space for Theatre Shows & Grow Produce for Local Food Pantry

Councilman Ritchie Torres presents a check for $2.5 Million Dollars to TAPCo Principal Ron Link.

  Council Member Ritchie Torres and students from the Theatre Arts Production Company School (TAPCo) held a ribbon-cutting and grand opening of the school’s innovative rooftop garden performance sound stage. This is the first school in the city with a rooftop garden and sound stage built into it that will allow students to hold performances outdoors, grow fruits and vegetables for the local food pantry POTS, and take drawing classes outside. The grand opening featured student performances on the sound stage. Council Member Torres invested $2.5 million in City Council funds towards this project. 

Above - Councilman Torres cuts the ribbon on the new outdoor roof space for TAPCo.
Below - TAPCO students perform on the special dance area of the roof.

Above - A dance presentation by one student on the new dance area.
Below - The band performs.

3rd Avenue BID Opens Business Work Area at 11 Bruckner Boulevard.

  In its quest to serve businesses better the 3rd Avenue Business Improvement District has reached out to businesses on and around Bruckner Boulevard by leasing the second floor of a building at 11 Bruckner Boulevard. The renovated mini business incubator allows owners of small stores such as Isabel Pradas owner of College Bridge Cafe, and Noelle Santos owner of the Lit Bar (above with 3rd Avenue BID Executive Director Michael Brady) to have a desk where to work on much of the needed paperwork they have no room for in their cramped businesses. There is a mini conference room where business owners can talk business to each other, come up with local events, and whatever else to make this area of the Bronx better.

Above - The cozy conference area complete with a large screen monitor and computer for power point presentations.
Below - How to find that office space your business may need.

Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Ending The Legal Ban On Gravity Knives

New Law Reflects Federal Court Ruling Finding Previous Ban to be Unconstitutional  

  Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed into law Assembly Bill 5944, which removes criminal sanctions associated with possessing gravity knives following a court ruling that state law was too vague and unconstitutional. Gravity knives are commonly sold at stores and used for work purposes. The judge stated people should be able to know with certainty whether carrying a gravity knife is lawful.

APPROVAL #May 30, 2019
MEMORANDUM filed with Assembly Bill 5944, entitled:
"AN ACT to amend the penal law, in relation to gravity knives"

This bill, unanimously passed by the Legislature, would legalize the possession of commonly sold and lawfully used folding knives by removing the term "gravity knife" from the Penal Law, while leaving intact law enforcement's ability to pursue those who otherwise use these knives unlawfully. 

This is not the first time the Legislature has sought to remove the criminal sanctions associated with possessing these knives, which are widely available in hardware and sporting goods stores. Indeed, in 2016 and 2017, I was constrained to veto similar bills (see Veto No. 299 of 2016 and Veto No. 171 of 2017).  As I explained in each of those instances, despite recognizing the absurdity of a criminal justice system which has regularly charged individuals for simply carrying folding knives designed, marketed and sold as work tools for construction workers, artisans, restaurant workers, and day laborers, the uniform opposition of the State's law enforcement entities and mayors could not be ignored.  Recognizing the concerns on both sides of this issue, the Executive strived to reach a compromise over the past three years, carefully constructing bills that would have legalized these knives in a limited fashion so that individuals using them for work could not be prosecuted.  None of those attempts to reach a resolution proved successful. 

As I review this bill for a third time, the legal landscape has changed.  In March of this year, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York declared the State's existing "gravity knife" ban unconstitutional.  As argued by many who have advocated for this change in law, the court reasoned that the existing law could result in arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

While I remain aware of the cautious community voices, I cannot veto a bill passed by the Legislature to address a decided constitutional infirmity in existing law, as recently affirmed by a federal court.  I remain confident that our law enforcement community will continue to keep our communities safe by pursuing anyone who uses, or attempts to use, one of these knives in an unlawful manner. 
On that basis, this bill is approved.

Bank CEO Arrested For Taking Bribes In Connection With Loans Guaranteed By The Small Business Administration

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the arrest of EDWARD SHIN, the CEO of a Pennsylvania-based bank (the “Bank”), for taking bribes in connection with the Bank’s issuance of loans that were guaranteed by the United States Small Business Administration (“SBA”).  SHIN was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint charging him with taking bribes by siphoning off a portion of commissions on SBA-guaranteed loans and causing the Bank to issue SBA-guaranteed loans to companies in which SHIN had a secret interest.  The charges are the culmination of a joint investigation by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General (“FDIC-OIG”), Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), the SBA Office of the Inspector General (“SBA-OIG”), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“SIGTARP”).  SHIN is expected for presentment this afternoon in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge James L. Cott.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Edward Shin, the CEO of a Pennsylvania bank, allegedly exploited his position as a bank officer to illegally issue Small Business Administration loans to entities in which he had a financial interest.  Furthermore, Shin allegedly took kickbacks on commissions for those loans from a third party who did no legitimate work in the loan process.  The Small Business Administration exists to provide funding to those pursuing the American dream through owning their own businesses.  Edward Shin is now charged with attempting to corrupt that process for his own personal gain.” 
According to the allegations in the Criminal Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court today[1]
The SBA helps Americans start, build, and grow businesses by guaranteeing certain loans made by banks to help those businesses succeed.  Between 2009 and 2012, EDWARD SHIN was the CEO of the Bank.  During that period, the Bank offered a range of financial products, including SBA-guaranteed loans to small businesses in the New York-New Jersey area, which the Bank could extend only on the condition that all aspects of those loans complied with SBA regulations and SBA’s standard operating procedures.  In particular, SBA regulations and procedures prohibited bank officers, including SHIN, from receiving any payments in connection with SBA-backed loans and prohibited banks from extending such loans to any institution in which a bank officer held an interest.
Notwithstanding these regulations, SHIN secretly solicited and received bribe payments in connection with SBA-guaranteed loans issued by the Bank and caused the Bank to extend SBA-guaranteed loans to companies in which SHIN had secret ownership interests.  Specifically, when the Bank issued a business loan involving a certain broker (the “Broker”), SHIN secretly arranged to receive a portion of the Broker’s fee.  On other occasions, when the Bank issued a business loan that did not involve the use of an actual broker, SHIN arranged to have the Broker inserted unnecessarily into the transaction solely to generate a broker fee that could be shared with SHIN; in fact, the Broker did no actual work to earn a commission on those transactions, but split the “broker’s fee” with SHIN as an illegal kickback.
SHIN also arranged for the Bank to issue SBA-guaranteed loans to businesses in which he secretly retained an ownership interest, in violation of SBA regulations and procedures.  For example, in or about December 2010, the Bank issued an SBA-guaranteed loan for approximately $950,000 to a business in New York, New York.  Although documents submitted to the Bank for purposes of securing the loan did not mention SHIN’s ownership interest, the business was secretly operated as a 50-50 partnership between SHIN and the Broker.  After the loan was issued in or about October 2014, this loan went into default status, ultimately resulting in a loss to the SBA of approximately $611,491. 
SHIN, 56, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank bribery, which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison, and one count each of bank bribery, theft of funds by a bank officer, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FDIC-OIG, HSI, FBI, SBA-OIG, and SIGTARP.
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

3 Members Of Trip-And-Fall Scheme Convicted Of Defrauding New York City-Area Businesses And Their Insurance Companies Of More Than $31.7 Million

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the conviction in Manhattan federal court of BRYAN DUNCAN, ROBERT LOCUST, and RYAN RAINFORD.  The jury convicted DUNCAN, LOCUST, and RAINFORD today for their participation in a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud following a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein.  The jury also convicted DUNCAN of a second count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, along with one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.  Co-conspirators Peter Kalkanis, a former chiropractor, and Kerry Gordon previously pled guilty before Judge Stein to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud.  Kalkanis also pled guilty to aggravated identity theft. 
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Bryan Duncan, Robert Locust, and Ryan Rainford carried out a blatantly corrupt scheme, recruiting ‘patients,’ coaching them on how to stage trip-and-fall ‘accidents’ that were not accidents at all, and steering them to complicit lawyers, chiropractors, and doctors.  They recruited indigent people, including from homeless shelters – people they thought would be most willing to undergo unneeded surgeries for the minimal cut of the proceeds the defendants would share.  Duncan, Locust, and Rainford were tripped up by the justice system and have met their downfall.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment and Superseding Indictment, and the evidence presented in Court during the trial:
Between in or about 2013 through 2018, DUNCAN, LOCUST, and RAINFORD, the defendants, engaged in a widespread fraud scheme through which the defendants defrauded businesses and insurance companies by staging trip-and-fall accidents and filing fraudulent lawsuits arising from those staged trip-and-fall accidents.  Fraud scheme participants, including the defendants, recruited hundreds of individuals to stage trip-and-fall accidents at particular locations throughout New York City and to claim that they injured themselves as a result of their accidents.  Common accident sites used during the fraud scheme included cellar doors, cracks in concrete sidewalks, and purported “potholes.”  The defendants instructed the recruited patients to claim that they sustained injuries to particular areas of their bodies, including the knees, shoulders, and/or back – body parts that, if injured, would reap high recoveries in personal injury lawsuits.
After the staged trip-and-fall accidents, recruited patients were referred to specific attorneys who would file lawsuits against the owners of the accident sites and/or insurance companies of the owners of the accident sites (the “Victims”).  The lawsuits did not disclose that the recruited patients had deliberately fallen at the accident sites or, in some cases, had not fallen at all.  During the course of the fraud scheme, the defendants, together with others known and unknown, attempted to defraud the Victims of at least $31,791,000.
The recruited patients were also instructed to receive ongoing medical treatment from certain chiropractors and doctors.  The fraud scheme participants advised the recruited patients that if they intended to continue with their lawsuits, they were required to undergo surgery to increase the value of their fraudulent lawsuits.  The medical procedures included discectomies, spinal fusions, non-surgical epidural injections, and knee and shoulder surgeries.  As an incentive to getting surgery, the recruited patients were offered a payment after they completed surgery as well as a percentage of any settlement payment from their lawsuit.  Patients generally had two surgeries and received between $1,000 and $1,500 after each surgery.
The defendants recruited low-income individuals as patients – individuals desperate enough to undergo surgeries in exchange for these small post-surgery payments.  In some instances, the defendants even recruited patients from homeless shelters in New York City.  Over the course of the trial, more than 20 witnesses testified, including 11 patients who admitted to staging trip-and-fall accidents at the direction of DUNCAN, LOCUST, RAINFORD, or other co-conspirators.     
DUNCAN was one of the organizers and leaders of the scheme.  DUNCAN recruited patients into the scheme, organized the recruited patients’ legal and medical appointments, and assisted in procuring the funding for the recruited patients’ medical treatment and lawsuits.  DUNCAN, and his partner Kerry Gordon, made over $1 million in profit from the fraud scheme. 
LOCUST and RAINFORD helped recruit patients into the fraud scheme, transported patients to medical and legal appointments, identified potential accident sites, made payments to recruited patients, and coached recruited patients on faking their injuries. 
Peter Kalkanis was another organizer and leader of the scheme.  Kalkanis paid his co-defendants to recruit patients into the scheme and transport the patients to medical and attorney appointments.
DUNCAN was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.  LOCUST and RAINFORD were each found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. 
The jury failed to reach a verdict as to DUNCAN, LOCUST, and RAINFORD on one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.  
Kalkanis pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.  Kalkanis also pled guilty to aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory term of imprisonment of two years. 
Gordon pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud, and two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. 
The maximum potential sentences and minimum sentence in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants will be determined by the judge.     
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department.  Mr. Berman also thanked the National Insurance Crime Bureau for their assistance in the investigation. 


South Brooklyn Motels and Public Housing Development Served as Trafficking Hubs; Brazen Assault at Staples Store Linked to Drug Dispute

  Guns and drugs seized 
Luxury goods bought with drug proceeds

   Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, Ray Donovan, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) New York Division, New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, Acting New York State Police Superintendent Keith M. Corlett and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced charges against 14 defendants following a long-term wiretap investigation into sales of heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in Brooklyn. The investigation began following a rash of overdoses in 2017.

The defendants are charged in connection with two drug distribution organizations that obtained narcotics from a common source of supply, BRANDICE WILLIAMS, aka “Bee,” aka “Sis.” The investigation, conducted by the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force (NYDETF) Group T-31 and the New York City Police Department (NYPD)’s Brooklyn South Gang Squad and Narcotics Borough Brooklyn South, revealed that members of the organizations were aware of the potentially lethal potency of the narcotics they sold and made substantial profits from these drug sales. Defendant WALDEMAR VALENTIN, aka “Wiz,” the alleged leader of one organization, faces the top narcotics charge of Operating as a Major Trafficker. VALENTIN is also charged with carrying out brazen acts of violence and threats against a witness to protect his lucrative drug business.
Indictments filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor contain charges of Conspiracy, Operating as a Major Trafficker, Criminal Sale of and Possession of a Controlled Substance, Assault and Attempted Assault, Intimidating a Witness, Criminal Possession of a Weapon and of a Firearm, Possession of a Forged Instrument and of a Forgery Device and Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez reviewed and submitted wiretap applications for court authorization.
WILLIAMS was arrested in Woodbridge, Va. on May 3, 2018 and removed to New York City for prosecution on charges in two indictments relating to the two organizations. She and four others are scheduled for arraignment today on a superseding indictment before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Abraham Clott, Part 61, 111 Centre Street.
NYDETF Group T-31 is comprised of agents with DEA New York Division, NYPD detectives and the New York State Police investigators.
Valentin Organization
The investigation began following a spike in overdose and deaths in South Brooklyn, including one fatal overdose and one non-fatal overdose linked to fentanyl analogs in Canarsie in June of 2017. Fentanyl analogs are variants of the potent opioid fentanyl, with slightly different chemical compositions, and can be significantly more lethal than fentanyl. While it is illegal to possess or sell fentanyl analogs under federal law, the majority of these substances are still legal under New York State law. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogs are responsible for more than half of all overdose deaths in New York City.
Agents and officers identified the trafficking organization allegedly headed by WALDEMAR VALENTIN, which operated out of rooms at two South Brooklyn motels: the Day’s Inn located on 49th Street and the Harbor Motor Inn located on Shore Parkway. It was part of the conspiracy for the defendants to store, package and sell heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, including fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl and despropionyl fluorofentanyl. The substances were sometimes mixed together and sometimes sold separately. It was also part of the conspiracy for the defendants to physically assault and threaten members and associates of the narcotics organization who undermined VALENTIN.
Members of the organization used coded language to discuss narcotics and set up purchases and sales. VALENTIN and others travelled to Staten Island where BRANDICE WILLIAMS resided in order to receive narcotics. Between October of 2017 and July of 2018, defendants PHILLIP PATSURIYA, aka “Phil,” MICHAEL BACA VELAZQUEZ, ANASTASIA SPIVAK and others allegedly sold narcotics at VALENTIN’s direction at the motels and elsewhere. More than 175 instances of narcotics sales and/or possession were identified during the wiretap investigation.
Conversations between VALENTIN and PATSURIYA indicated they sought out the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl and its variants to sell to their customers. As detailed in the indictment, VALENTIN and PATSURIYA discussed their customers being able to taste the difference between fentanyl and heroin. Once when narcotics they received from alleged supplier WILLIAMS tasted too much like “regular” heroin rather than “fetty,” VALENTIN told PATSURIYA that he was going to “have a talk with the connect.”
In May of 2018, the wiretap investigation revealed a series of mishaps that caused the organization’s narcotics supply to run short. On May 10, 2018, VALENTIN complained in a call to another individual that “wifey” threw out some narcotics “by the school in a black bag.” The following day, VALENTIN told defendant BACA VELAZQUEZ that narcotics had fallen in a sewer. BACA VELAZQUEZ said he would purchase a tool to help retrieve it. Later, BACA VELAZQUEZ informed VALENTIN he had heated and cooled the narcotics to dry it out after being in the sewer. “I did the oven then I did the freezer” and “they said it taste fine,” he said.
On May 13, 2018, PATSURIYA and VALENTIN exchanged a series of text messages about a member of the drug organization whom they suspected of stealing narcotics. PATSURIYA told VALENTIN that one individual they were seeking to assault was hiding inside a Staples store located at 2892 Ocean Avenue. A second individual they were seeking to assault was with PATSURIYA inside his car in the store parking lot. At approximately 3 p.m., VALENTIN approached PATSURIYA’s car with a baseball bat and struck the individual in the face with a baseball bat causing injury. PATSURIYA and VALENTIN then entered the Staples store together and VALENTIN allegedly struck the second individual in the head with the baseball bat causing injury.
After police responded to the Staples store, VALENTIN and PATSURIYA discussed the likelihood of the attack being captured on security footage. VALENTIN told PATSURIYA that if the individual they assaulted inside the store went to the police he would go after him and his family, stating, “I already put my people’s on so they know where he lives who his moms n all that.” On May 16, 2018, VALENTIN indicated he was looking for the individual he allegedly attacked in the store, stating, “I hit him in the head already” and “I’m not finish.”
VALENTIN and PATSURIYA were arrested in June of 2018. On May 6, 2019, VALENTIN was arraigned on a superseding indictment that charges him with Operating as a Major Trafficker, Attempted Assault in the First Degree, Assault in the Second Degree and Intimidating a Witness in the Third Degree, as well as three counts of conspiracy. PATSURIYA faces charges of Conspiracy, Attempted Assault in the First Degree and Assault in the Second Degree.
Marlboro Houses

Between June of 2018 and May of 2019, the focus of the investigation shifted to a narcotic trafficking organization operating in the Marlboro Houses, a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residential complex in Brooklyn, who conspired to sell cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, particularly fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl, para-fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl and despropionyl fluorofentanyl. Eight members of this organization have been arrested and indicted as part of the conspiracy, in addition to BRANDICE WILLIAMS. WILLIAMS travelled to the Marlboro Houses from her residence in Woodbridge, Va., where she moved in the Fall of 2018, in order to supply narcotics to defendant JAMES SEASE and others.

WILLIAMS, SEASE and three codefendants are scheduled to be arraigned on a superseding indictment today before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Abraham Clott, Part 61, 111 Centre Street. The arrests occurred on May 3, 2019 as a result of a long-term investigation. The indictment charges SEASE and alleged members of the organization in a total of 15 sales of narcotics to undercover NYPD officers and additional charges of drug possession.
The defendants regularly convened in a number of apartments located throughout the Marlboro Houses, where they allegedly packaged and sold narcotics, stored firearms and ammunition, possessed forged credit cards and forgery devices and discussed matters related to the operation. The defendants also allegedly used a nearby deli, Food Corp. on 86th Street, as a location to congregate and store narcotics.
Agents and officers learned that SEASE resided in East Orange, N.J. and regulary commuted to the Marlboro Houses in a Mercedes vehicle. During the investigation, SEASE allegedly spent some of his criminal profits during multiple shopping sprees at high end stores, including Chanel and Bergdorf Goodman. These shopping trips were captured on store security footage. At Chanel SEASE purchased a $5,000 bag with a stack of $20 bills, which he photographed with his phone. At Bergdorf Goodman, SEASE purchased clothing and footwear by the luxury brand Balenciaga.
At the time of his arrest on May 3, 2019, agents and officers conducted a court authorized search of SEASE’s residence, located at 120 Halsted Street, Apt. 301, East Orange, N.J. and recovered approximately $19,000 cash, large amounts of high end luxury goods and 12 counterfeit driver’s licenses. Agents and officers also conducted a series of court authorized searches of apartments within the Marlboro Houses and recovered two loaded guns, quantities of narcotics, drug packing equipment and paraphernalia, fraudulent credit cards and a credit card embossing machine.
Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan thanked her office’s Narcotics Gang Unit, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Division, the New York City Police Department and the New York State Police.
“This investigation was prompted by the urgent need to identify the source of highly potent drugs that were endangering lives in South Brooklyn. The case posed unique challenges as not all fentanyl analogs are illegal in New York State, despite their lethal nature. Fentanyl and its variations contributed to half of all overdose deaths in New York City last year, and removing these substances from the black market is a top priority for our office,” said Special Narcotics Prosecutor Brennan. “I thank all of our law enforcement partners for their commitment to this successful investigation.”
“The epidemic of opioid use continues to destroy the lives of too many members of our communities and their families. I commend the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and the New York City Police Department for uncovering these alleged criminal operations. I remain committed to working with my law enforcement partners in holding accountable those who endanger lives by selling these dangerous substances,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
“Fentanyl hasn’t changed how traffickers operate, but it has changed the rates of overdoses nationwide,” said Ray Donovan, DEA Special Agent in Charge. “Twenty years ago, less than 1,000 deaths a year were attributed to synthetic opioids; recent analysis noted nearly 30,000 Americans were killed in 2017. We have prioritized targeting opioid traffickers, like these two organizations, whose violence and drug dissemination have wreaked havoc throughout our city and taken lives prematurely.”
“The NYPD and its partners will be tireless in the pursuit of those involved in narcotics trafficking within our city. These arrests—and the indictments that followed—demonstrate New York City law enforcement’s steadfast resolve in ridding our neighborhoods of these dangerous drugs. I commend the NYPD investigators as well as our colleagues in the DEA, the New York State Police, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, for their work in building this case,” said Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill.

Acting New York State Police Superintendent Keith M. Corlett said, “Because of the critical partnerships and the collaborative efforts of our law enforcement partners, we were able to dismantle a dangerous heroin/fentanyl drug trafficking operation. The arrests of these criminals reinforces that we will continue to be vigilant in stopping the flow of these dangerous narcotics into our neighborhoods. The sale of such highly addictive drugs perpetuates a cycle of substance abuse which poses a significant threat to safety and quality of life within our communities, and it will not be tolerated. I commend our members and our law enforcement partners for their hard work in uncovering this illicit operation.”
Defendants: Valentin OrganizationCharges
Brandice Williams, aka “Bee,” aka “Sis”; Woodbridge, VA; 9/15/1983Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 1 ct; CSCS 2nd – 1 ct
Waldemar Valentin, aka “Wiz”; Brooklyn, NY; 5/23/1985Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 2 cts; Operating as a Major Trafficker – 1 ct; Attempted Assault 1st – 2 cts; Assault 2nd – 2 cts; Intimidating a Witness 3rd – 1 ct
Phillip Patsuriya, aka “Phil”; Brooklyn, NY; 9/5/1994Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 1 ct; Attempted Assault 1st – 2 cts; Assault 2nd – 2 cts
Michael Baca-Velazquez, aka “Mikey”; Old Bridge Township, NJ; 8/14/1988Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 1 ct
Anastasia Spivak; Brooklyn, NY; 8/12/1997
Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 1 ct

Defendants: Marlboro HousesCharges
Brandice Williams, aka “Bee,” aka “Sis”; Woodbridge, VA; 9/15/1983Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 1 ct; Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia – 1 ct
James Sease, aka “Chop Whop”; East Orange, NJ; 9/21/1987Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 2 cts; Conspiracy 5th – 1 ct; CSCS 3rd – 1 ct; Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument 2nd – 12 cts
Michael Dixon, aka “Heat Mulah,” aka “Snap”; Brooklyn, NY; 11/19/1982Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 2 cts; Conspiracy 5th – 1 ct; CPW 2nd – 2 cts; Criminal Possession of a Firearm – 2 cts; CSCS 3rd – 13 cts; CPCS 3rd – 1 ct; CPCS 4th – 1 ct; Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia – 3 cts
Braun Gordon, aka “Uncle,” aka “Unc”; Brooklyn, NY; 5/31/1965Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct; Conspiracy 4th – 2 cts; Conspiracy 5th – 1 ct; CPW 2nd – 2 cts; Criminal Possession of a Firearm – 2 cts; CSCS 3rd – 2 cts; CPCS 3rd – 1 ct; CPCS 4th – 1 ct; Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia – 3 cts
Jerome Pippens; Brooklyn, NY' 6/6/1986Conspiracy 2nd – 1 ct Conspiracy 4th – 2 cts Conspiracy 5th – 1 ct CPCS 3rd – 2 cts CPCS 5th – 1 ct Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia – 2 cts Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument 2nd – 2 cts Criminal Possession of a Forgery Device – 1 ct

The charges and allegations are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.