The scam went on for years, authorities said.
Posing as a landlord with 20 properties around New York City, Paul Fishbein allegedly rented out apartments to homeless and low-income families, then collected the money through various government-run housing assistance programs. After the subsidy checks were received, he would evict the tenants and start over.
On Tuesday, federal authorities charged the Far Rockaway resident with defrauding the government. He allegedly pocketed more than $1.5 million in rental assistance funds over eight years, using dilapidated apartments that didn’t belong to him.
The 47-year-old allegedly forged deeds to prove he owned the properties, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which announced the arrest. The subsidy checks Fishbein allegedly cashed were from the city’s Human Resources Administration, Department of Housing Preservation & Development, and the Housing Authority.
The scheme included more than $270,000 in stolen federal funds, the government said.
Fishbein “not only took advantage of New Yorkers in need, he also defrauded city and federal government programs designed to help those very people,” Audrey Strauss, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
The apartments Fishbein used in his alleged scheme did not meet the housing assistance program’s quality requirements. After receiving a lump sum of payments from agencies, Fishbein would evict those tenants from the properties without cause, authorities allege.
“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,” city Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said in a statement.
Fishbein — also charged with separate Medicaid fraud exposed during the investigation — faces two counts of theft of government funds, along with mail and wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Attempts to reach Fishbein were unsuccessful and the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return a call for comment.