East Elmhurst man admits he scammed the city out of $12M for homeless shelter work that was never done

east elmhurst
The president of a Corona construction company pled guilty in Brooklyn federal court to scamming New York City out of $12 million in homeless shelter contracts for work that was never done.
Photo via Getty Images

An East Elmhurst man pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday, Mar. 5 for running a scheme to defraud New York City out of $12 million with public contracts to perform general contracting work at homeless shelters across the five boroughs.

Liaquat Cheema, 64, admitted that he ran a construction company out of Corona that submitted fraudulent invoices between 2014 and 2018 for maintenance work that his firm did not complete.

Cheema faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and was ordered to pay restitution and forfeiture of $3,267,811 as part of the plea deal.

“Liaquat Cheems has admitted to leading the scheme to steal millions of dollars in public funds intended to pay for vital maintenance at homeless shelters in New York City,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

According to the indictment, plea agreement and statements made in court, Cheema was president of AFL Construction Co. located at 106-11 Northern Blvd. in Corona, that entered into contracts with the city worth approximately $12 million to perform general maintenance, landscaping, roofing and snow removal at homeless shelter sites. Cheema and his co-defendants used the contracts to fraudulently enrich themselves and steal from the city by submitting bogus invoices and other documentation in support of requests for payment on the contracts which falsely claimed that workers had performed on certain projects and inflated amounts paid by the defendants for materials purportedly used on such projects.

The fraudulent invoices and supporting documentation contained, without authorization, the identities of other persons, including the names, and in at least one case, the social security number, of purported workers who had not worked on projects specified in the requests for payments submitted by Cheema and his co-conspirators.

Cheema also obtained tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Medicaid benefits by repeatedly submitting fraudulent certifications, which underreported their actual incomes and accordingly enabled them to obtain Medicaid benefits for which they were not eligible.

In support of requests for Medicaid benefits, Cheema and others repeatedly submitted nearly identical employment letters, which, among other misrepresentations, contained the name and purported signature of a “Project Manager” who, in fact, was deceased.

“This office has no tolerance for those who use public contracts intended to aid underserved members of our society to fraudulently enrich themselves,” Williams said. “We will continue to aggressively detect and dismantle schemes such as this one.”

As part of his plea deal, Cheema agreed to pay back the money misappropriated from Medicaid.