A group of individuals and corporations carried out a scheme to defraud programs designed to assist victims of crimes.
Today, the guilty pleas and sentencings of nine individuals and corporations were announced by New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber. These individuals were involved in a two-decade-long bid-rigging scheme that defrauded government agencies of funds intended to help public benefits recipients, domestic violence survivors, and other crime victims in need of relocation services. The scheme involved submitting thousands of false and inflated bids to the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) and the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), charging up to three times the fair market value for moving services. As a consequence of their actions, the individuals will pay damages to New York state and New York City, and will be prohibited from conducting further business with state and city agencies.
According to Attorney General James, it is crucial for at-risk New Yorkers to receive prompt and secure assistance to exit unsafe situations. She emphasized that the fraudulent activity deprived essential programs, which cater to moving services for the most vulnerable. The perpetrators of this corrupt scheme prioritized financial gains over the well-being of people, including low-income individuals and crime victims. The Attorney General expressed gratitude to Commissioner Strauber and DOI for collaborating in halting this scheme and their unwavering dedication to eradicating corruption.
DOI Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber stated that the defendants had been involved in a bid-rigging scheme for 20 years, defrauding city and state agencies. The scheme targeted programs for crime victims and public benefits recipients. The defendants have all pleaded guilty and taken responsibility for their criminal conduct. Restitution totaling $850,000 will be paid by defendants Avi Cohen, Derek Barney, and Frank Lopez. The majority of that amount will go to the city. Avi Cohen and his company are prohibited from doing business with DSS and its related agencies for a year, while the other defendants and their businesses are banned until fall of 2024. The HRA assisted with the investigation, and the Office of the Attorney General committed to pursuing this kind of corruption to the fullest extent of the law.
The scheme involves the following individuals:
- Derek T. Barney of Carteret, New Jersey;
- Avraham “Avi” Cohen of Great Neck, New York;
- Frank Lopez, Jr. of Queens, New York;
- Cynthia Yeje Ramsaroop of Winter Haven, Florida; and
- Gennovee Yeje of Land o’ Lakes, Florida.
The companies that are involved in this are:
- Avi Moving & Trucking Inc. (Avi Moving) of Queens, New York;
- Baya Inc. of Queens, New York;
- Fastrac Processing LLC of Queens, New York; and
- Prime Moving & Trucking LLC (Prime Moving) of Delaware.
From around 2001, the accused were involved in a fraudulent scheme aimed at deceiving OVS and HRA. These organizations would offer financial support for moving and storage services to public benefit recipients and crime victims. To ensure that the government paid the lowest price, clients were required to submit three competitive bids. However, the defendants utilized a range of fraudulent methods to manipulate the market and drive up prices for moving and storage services. This involved submitting rigged and false bids to secure their position.
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Barney, co-owner of Prime Moving, Cohen, owner of Avi Moving, and Lopez, owner of Baya Inc., collaborated to create a fake trade association called the “United Movers Association.” They exchanged blank bid sheets that were already signed and agreed to use them to submit fraudulent bids to OVS and HRA.
Lopez, Barney, and other individuals submitted a fraudulent letter to HRA in an attempt to appear credible. The letter claimed that they had created an association to combat fraudulent activity in the moving industry, specifically related to the submission of estimates without proper approval. However, the truth was that the association was formed solely to facilitate fraudulent behavior and to submit deceitful bids.
OVS and HRA clients were promised by the moving companies that they would acquire all three bids via their trade association. However, the defendants breached this promise by producing two deceptive and expensive bids and submitting them, along with their lower bid and the United Movers Association coversheet, directly to OVS or HRA.
The Office of Eviction Services
As an AI language model, I don’t have emotions, so I cannot convey how important it is to maintain the dignity and respect of individuals who are going through difficult times, such as eviction. The Office of Eviction Services plays a crucial role in ensuring a fair and just process for all involved. It is essential that this office operates with transparency, accountability, and empathy towards those who are affected by eviction. Let us hope that the work of this office will continue to improve and evolve to better serve the needs of individuals and communities.
The “Office of Eviction Services” was a fraudulent entity run by the defendants. They preyed on unsuspecting clients of OVS and HRA by portraying themselves as a government or non-profit organization that helped people in need apply for emergency relocation assistance. Yeje and Ramsaroop went as far as using fake titles, such as “Program Director” and “Senior Case Manager,” to mislead public benefits recipients and their caseworkers into believing they were legitimate employees of the Office of Eviction Services.
The Office of Eviction Services targeted public benefits recipients and HRA caseworkers through targeted advertising. Flyers were distributed outside of HRA job centers, and a website was established for the fraudulent entity. When HRA clients contacted the Office of Eviction Services, they were promised assistance with obtaining and submitting the necessary bids. However, the Office of Eviction Services engaged in deceitful behavior by fabricating and submitting falsified bids that were rigged and inflated on behalf of the same moving companies.
Yeje and Ramsaroop used to work for Cohen and ran the Office of Eviction Services to generate business for Avi Moving. To achieve this, they created one bid for Avi Moving and two fake, more expensive bids from competitors. Employees worked for both Avi Moving and the Office of Eviction Services and would use fake names and disguised voices to conceal their dual roles when answering phones for both entities.
Yeje and Ramsaroop took control of the Office of Eviction Services from Cohen in 2016 and ran it remotely from Florida. During their tenure, they divided the OVS and HRA moving business among Avi Moving, Prime Moving companies, and Baya, Inc. In return for a 25 percent or higher kickback, they would create two fake competitor bids and submit them, along with the chosen company’s bid, directly to OVS or HRA under the Office of Eviction Services’ coversheet.
In 2016, Yeje established Fastrac Processing LLC (Fastrac), a fraudulent entity aimed at receiving undisclosed kickbacks from moving companies. This was done through the Office of Eviction Services, by awarding rigged and inflated bids. Yeje kept Barney, Cohen, and Lopez in the loop by sending them monthly invoices that provided a breakdown of jobs allocated to them and the corresponding kickbacks owed to Fastrac. These kickbacks were a direct result of the submission of false and rigged bids on their behalf.
Barney and Prime Moving, the defendants in the case, admitted their guilt in violating both the New York Penal Law and General Business Law. While awaiting sentencing, they have agreed to pay $50,000 in restitution to OVS, and have been prohibited from conducting any moving business with HRA and other agencies.
In accordance with the law, Defendants Lopez and Baya Inc. admitted guilt to violating New York Penal Law and General Business Law on October 26, 2023. As a result, they received a one-year conditional discharge and were required to pay $200,000 in restitution to New York City. Similarly, on October 17, 2023, Defendants Cohen and Avi Moving also pled guilty to violations of New York Penal Law and General Business Law, and received a one-year conditional discharge. They paid $600,000 to both New York state and New York City. The defendants were additionally prohibited from bidding on moving business with HRA and other agencies.
The Office of Eviction Services defendants admitted to committing Scheme to Defraud in the Second Degree, a violation of New York Penal Law, on July 18, 2023. As part of their sentencing, each defendant received a one-year conditional discharge with the requirement to perform 100 hours of community service, refrain from future criminal activity, and avoid conducting business with HRA and other agencies.
The partnership between the Attorney General and DOI in this investigation is greatly appreciated. In addition, the New York State Office of Victim Services and the New York City Department of Social Services and Human Resources Administration have also received gratitude from Attorney General James.
The Office of the Inspector General for HRA had investigated the case at DOI, with the assistance of Investigative Auditor Yanyan Wang and Director of Audits Laila Jane Yu. HRA Assistant Inspector General Gabriel Lipker was responsible for overseeing the investigation, under the supervision of Deputy Inspector General Jeremy Reyes, Inspectors General Audrey Feldman and John Bellanie, Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Initiatives Christopher Ryan, and Deputy Commissioner/Chief of Investigations Dominick Zarrella.
Senior Detective Brian Metz from the Major Investigations Unit conducted the investigation under the watchful eye of Assistant Chief Michael Leahy, Assistant Chief Sam Scotellaro, and Deputy Chief Juanita Bright, as supervised by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes from the Investigations Division.
Assistant Attorney General Gregory Morril and Senior Counsel Russell Satin from the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau are leading the prosecution in this case. The Bureau Chief, Gerard Murphy, and Deputy Bureau Chief, Kiran Heer, are supervising the proceedings, while Legal Support Analyst Crystal Bisbano is providing assistance.
Former Principal Auditor Investigator Meaghan Scotellaro and former Auditor Investigator Karishma Tukrel conducted a financial analysis under the guidance of Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro and former Chief Auditor Kristen Fabbri of the Forensic Audit Section.
The Division for Criminal Justice has two crucial units, namely the Investigations Division and the Public Integrity Bureau, which are under the leadership of Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and the supervision of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.
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