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Flushing, Jamaica Cos. Got Busted for Illegal Signwork

Used Unlicensed Workers To Do Job

A recent Department of Investigation (DOI) probe found that seven individuals fraudulently used city licenses to profit from the unlawful installation of approximately 60 signs in the five boroughs by unlicensed workers at prices exceeding $1,000 per sign, it was announced.

DOI Commissioner Rose Gill- Hearn stated the seven individuals and four companies they operated or worked with have pleaded guilty to various offenses and violations and have been ordered to pay restitution, forfeiture, and fines totaling nearly $200,000.

Three of the seven defendants were licensed sign hangers who collected between $100 and $300 in each instance to enable false permit applications to be filed with the city Department of Buildings (DOB) while unlicensed companies and individuals completed the work.

The office of New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., prosecuted the cases. The DOB has inspected the affected signs and found no safety issues.

“Licensees and others who cut corners for easy money erode the city’s ability to protect the public from unsafe construction practices. This investigation uncovered and stopped a scheme that created potentially hazardous conditions,” Hearn said. “[The] DOI will continue to work with the Manhattan District Attorney and the city Buildings Department to safeguard New Yorkers from these kinds of abuses.”

The investigation involved numerous field operations, including five search warrants, and the analysis of thousands of documents.

Among the defendants charged and convicted in Manhattan Supreme Court include the following:

– Eric Berger, 72, of Seaford, L.I.; Patricia Ballato, 47, of Valley Stream, L.I.; and Berger Signs Inc., located at 90-12 144th Pl. in Jamaica, pleaded guilty in February. Berger pleaded to scheme to defraud in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor, and Ballato and Berger Signs each pleaded to scheme to defraud in the first degree, a class E felony, involving criminal conduct that occurred between January 2008 and March 2011 in which Berger signed numerous work permit application forms submitted by Ballato to the DOB and which falsely stated Berger, a licensed sign hanger, would install signs when, in fact, unlicensed sign companies conducted the installations.

Berger and Ballato were each paid between $100 and $300 for each signature. Business owners paid more than $1,000 for each sign installation, believing they were procuring licensed work. As part of the agreement, Ballato agreed to pay forfeiture of $16,716.

– Fenghaixu Zhang, 44, of Flushing, and the company he co-owns, New York Sign Contractors, Inc., located at 5215 New Utrecht Ave. in Brooklyn, each pleaded guilty in December 2012 to scheme to defraud in the first degree. The criminal conduct occurred between January 2008 and January 2011 in which Zhang, a licensed sign hanger, signed numerous work permit applications later filed with DOB saying he planned to install signs, when, in fact, unlicensed sign companies conducted the installations.

Zhang was paid between $100 and $300 for each signature, and business owners who engaged Zhang and his company believed they were getting legally installed signs and paid more than $1,000 to have each sign installed. As part of the plea agreement, Zhang agreed to forfeit $119,000.

Hearn thanked District Attorney Vance and DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri and their staffs for their assistance and cooperation in this investigation.

The probe was conducted by DOI’s Office of the Inspector General for DOB.

Assistant District Attorney Anne Ternes, under the direction of Daniel Brownell, rackets bureau chief and deputy chief of investigations for the New York County District Attorney’s office, prosecuted these cases.

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