Far Rockaway man charged with defrauding government while renting apartments he did not own

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A Far Rockaway man was charged with defrauding government rental assistance programs by renting out dilapidated apartments he did not own to families in need, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Paul Fishbein, 47, faces wire and mail fraud charges for allegedly falsely claiming to be the owner and landlord of 20 rental properties, mostly in the Bronx, while collecting government subsidies and evicting tenants over the course of eight years, according to the Southern District of New York.

“As alleged, Paul Fishbein not only took advantage of New Yorkers in need, he also defrauded city and federal government programs designed to help these very people,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. “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.”

According to a complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, April 6, Fishbein allegedly lied about owning the properties beginning in 2013 based on forged deeds. He then allegedly rented the 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.

The 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.

Fishbein is also accused of faking financial eligibility for Medicaid since at least 2014, the complaint says. He 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 to as part of his scheme.

“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,” Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said. “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. DOI will continue to work in partnership with the U.S. Attorney Office for the Southern District of New York to root out and stop the corruption and fraud that undermines basic needs such as housing.”

If convicted, Fishbein 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.

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