A 47-year-old Queens man faces wire and mail fraud charges as well as two theft of government funds counts for allegedly falsely claiming to own 20 run-down New York City rental properties, collecting federal subsidies and routinely evicting tenants over the course of an eight-year scheme, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Starting around 2013, Paul Fishbein, of Far Rockaway, allegedly lied about being the landlord of 20 properties in the Bronx and elsewhere in the city based on forged deeds that purported to transfer them from legitimate owners to Fishbein.
He rented those properties to homeless and low-to-moderate-income families through rental assistance programs operated by three city agencies -- NYCHA, the Human Resources Administration and Housing Preservation & Development -- and collected money, including federal funds, as the purported owner and landlord of the properties, according to a federal complaint unsealed in Manhattan.
That complaint estimates Fishbein defrauded the three city agencies out of about $1.5 million, including more than $270,000 in federal funds. In addition to taking payments, Fishbein allegedly faked using a broker to rent out the properties and kept certain broker's fees for himself that the HRA issued as payment. Most of the properties he claimed to own were uninhabitable, according to the complaint. And Fishbein often evicted families shortly after they moved in, it says.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
“This defendant’s alleged conduct wove a web of lies that allowed him to illegally profit from government programs meant to help those in desperate need of housing, and he further exploited them by providing squalid apartments in properties he did not rightly own, often evicting them shortly after they moved in, according to the charges," New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said in a statement Tuesday. "Homeless New Yorkers, and others in critical need of housing, not only have a need but a right to homes that are clean, safe, and secure, especially when they are offered through public assistance programs."
The defendant is also accused of faking financial eligibility for Medicaid since at least 2014, the complaint says. Fishbein allegedly told the HRA he worked at a company where his total income was about $150 a week -- or $600 a month -- when he in actuality made hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
Prosecutors allege Fishbein received nearly $50,000 in Medicaid benefits to which he was not entitled via that ruse.
"As alleged, Paul Fishbein not only took advantage of New Yorkers in need, he also defrauded city and federal government programs designed to help those very people," said Audrey Strauss, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. " Fishbein allegedly lied about ownership of residential properties, fraudulently took rent subsidies and other benefits from those government housing programs, and often evicted tenants without cause from housing that was substandard in any event. Now Paul Fishbein is in custody and facing serious federal charges for his alleged fraud and exploitation."
If convicted, the Queens man faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each of the two counts of theft of government funds and 20 years each for the mail and wire fraud counts. Attorney information for him wasn't immediately clear.