Category Archives: News Brew

New York Legislation Would Make It a Felony to Film Patients Without Prior Consent


Newly proposed legislation would make it a felony in New York to film patients receiving medical treatment without prior consent.

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, a Queens Democrat, filed the bill last month in response to a ProPublica article, published in January with the New York Times. The story detailed how the TV show "NY Med" aired the final moments of Mark Chanko's life while he was being treated at NewYork-Presybterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Neither Chanko nor his family had given the show permission to film him. Although Chanko's face was blurred on the broadcast and his voice altered, his widow immediately recognized him when the episode aired in August 2012.

"You can imagine what the family went through when they witnessed their loved one dying on TV," Braunstein said in an interview. "After watching the story and finding out that they were really without any recourse, we decided we should introduce something to fix the problem. In the future, if someone is going to be filming medical treatment, you have to get a signoff from the patient or the patient's power of attorney or health care proxy."

Chanko's family filed suit against the hospital, ABC News (which aired the show) and the doctor who treated him, but an appellate panel dismissed the case last year. The family has asked for that decision to be reviewed.

ABC declined to comment for this story. The hospital did not respond to requests for comment. The parties do not dispute that they lacked consent from Chanko or his family. In court filings, they say he was not identifiable to the public. The network also has asserted that "NY Med" is protected by the First Amendment. Lawyers for New York-Presbyterian have argued that the state does not recognize a common law right to privacy and that any privacy right Chanko had ended upon his death.

Braunstein's bill has 10 co-sponsors and has been referred to the Assembly Health Committee. He plans to amend the bill to allow filming for legitimate purposes, such as education or security. He also plans to propose a private right of action allowing patients and their families to sue for damages. Existing federal patient privacy law does not permit patients to sue for violations and neither does New York State's Patients' Bill of Rights.

Kenneth Chanko, Mark Chanko's son, said his family is glad to hear about the legislation. "Any law that would prevent what happened to my father and to our family is something that we would support and that we think is necessary," he said. "Although we're still hoping for some justice for ourselves through our lawsuit, it's just as important, if not more important, that no one else has to experience what we experienced over this."

Joel Geiderman, co-chair of the emergency medicine department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and chairman of the ethics committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians, opposes filming of patients without prior permission.

"It's sad that someone would have to pass a law to prevent hospitals from allowing something that is so clearly morally wrong," he wrote in an email. "But at this point, that may be one of the only choices left."

Interested in patient privacy? Read our story about how rarely federal health watchdogs fine organizations that don't protect the privacy and security of patient records. And share your story if your privacy was violated.

Republished through CC license via ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

What’s Brewing? This Week’s Must Read Link Roundup

what's brewing
New York's tipped workers got news they'll be receiving a minimum wage increase by the end of 2015. The city made the announcement his week, with restaurant and bar workers scheduled for an increase in minimum wage from the current $5.65/hr to $7.50/hr in 2015. BKMag has details, and you can also read the Wage Board Order here (via in PDF format.
A study shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has had a positive affect on the number of babies born with low birth rates. City Limits has more on that story. You can also read the study done by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts (PDF).
On Feb 25th, CUNY-TV's Independent Sources focused in on the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, examining the terrible human impact of developers bullying the neighborhood for a fast-buck via gentrification (a process whereby poor communities are displaced for and by wealthier and more privileged ones). Read a brief synopsis or check out the full episode here at Voices of NY: "Independent Sources: Bedford-Stuyvesant : The Gentrification Frontier."
(Bonus link! Not necessarily New York City specific but still very relevant, please read 20 Ways Not to Be a Gentrifier from Alternet)
Once again, NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo is proving he can't practice what he preaches. While on one hand he advocates for more transparency regarding legislators disclosing outside incomes, he doesn't seem to think he should be held to the same standard.
"Cuomo has so far raked in more than $188,000 from HarperCollins, a News Corporation subsidiary. That is part of a book deal that could ultimately net him more than $700,000. With Albany’s transactional politics now the subject of a federal probe, the context of that April 2013 book deal is particularly significant: An International Business Times review of New York state documents reveals that News Corporation gave Cuomo a book contract after Cuomo’s administration backed a series of state initiatives that benefited the media giant." Read more of International Business Times' review of state documents here.
The New York Observer noted this week that the Department of Buildings has been "bombarded" by new building applications, which has slowed the progress of new permit application reviews.
Results from the Census Bureau's Housing and Vacancy Survey show the painfully obvious need for more, real, affordable housing in New York City. The New York Times has more details.
While New Yorkers are clamoring for affordable housing, a 36 story building in Midtown that has been operating as a hotel was shut down this week. Why? Because the building was supposed to be affordable housing. Head over to Gothamist for more.

NYC To Reform Rules for Restraining, Suspending Students

NYC To Reform School Discipline Rules (art by Andre Minduka)
The following republished from Pro-Publica via CC license

New York City Lays Out Limits on Restraints And Suspensions

by Annie Waldman ProPublica, Feb. 25, 2015, 8 a.m.

New York City educators will face new restrictions on handcuffing students or suspending them from school, as part of regulations proposed earlier this month by the city's education department. If the proposals are adopted as expected, schools will also have to begin tracking the number of times students are tied down or otherwise restrained.

Last year, an investigation by ProPublica and NPR showed that restraints are frequently used in schools across the country. Hundreds of students are injured each year. Our reporting also found that many of the nation's largest school districts, including New York City, do not report the number of restraints to authorities despite being required to do so by the federal government. Los Angeles and Chicago, the country's second and third largest school districts, also reported zero restraints.

New York City's new regulations would require school safety agents to file monthly reports with the mayor's office on the use of restraints. It would also aim to reduce schools' reliance on 911 calls to manage disruptive students. The city's education department plans to give de-escalation training to more than 1,500 educators across the city.

"We need to try to establish a system that both improves safety for teachers and kids in schools, and increases decency and learning," Vincent Schiraldi, senior advisor to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, told ProPublica.

Restraint practices would change, as well. The city's specialized school safety agents and police officers would no longer be able to restrain students under 12 in handcuffs, except as a last resort. For children of all ages, school security agents will not use any restraining device when alternatives are sufficient.

New York's reforms are part of a wider nationwide move to decrease the use of restraint in public schools. Over the past several months, a number of states have proposed changes to their schools' discipline policies.

In late 2014, Massachusetts set new limits on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. By the end of this year, state educators will be prohibited from holding students facedown on the ground in all but the rarest instances and they will need permission from principals to give students "time-outs" that are longer than 30 minutes.

Virginia legislators also approved a bill earlier this year that will require state leaders to set limits on the use of restraint and isolation in public schools. If approved by Virginia's governor, the state education board will be required to enact new regulations that align with the federal guidelines on these behavioral interventions.

Aside from restraints, New York City's proposed code would also reform suspension policies, requiring schools to get permission from a central office before suspending a kid for "defying authority." During the 2013 school year, more than 8,800 kids were reportedly suspended for defying authority, which can include talking back to a teacher or missing several days of class.

The city has committed over $5 million dollars to support the reforms. The Department of Education expects the changes to go into effect soon after a public hearing in early March.

Education attorney Nelson Mar of Legal Services NYC2013Bronx told ProPublica that while he applauded the reforms, their value will depend on how they are implemented.

"You can put a lot of good things on paper but at the end of the day, if there are no structures put in place to ensure compliance or enforcement, it could be meaningless," said Mar.

Related stories: For more, read our investigation into the widespread use of restraints at public schools across the country. And meet the players fighting to keep the tactics legal.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

(Featured art via Andre Minduka)

What’s Brewing? This Week’s Must Read Link Roundup

what's brewing

In Borough Park and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, watch out for a bacterial infection. Read about it here at Gothamist.


Over at Labor Notes, read about how workers at Cablevision in Brooklyn finally got the union contract they've fought for for 3 years. Also learn about how the 262 tech workers' triumph has improved things for Cablevision techs throughout the tri-state area.


Comptroller Scott Stringer took steps to make NYC one of the most transparent cities in the country. From City Limits: "On Tuesday afternoon, Comptroller Scott Stringer announced that Checkbook NYC, which tracks how  the city spends its money and who it gives it to, now includes some data on subcontracts, with more to come."


Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is pushing for higher levels of accessibility in public buildings citywide. "The goal is to push buildings to go beyond simply meeting the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act." Read more here.


New York City and State are cracking down on landlords who harass tenants in rent-stabilized apartments. From DNAinfo "The Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force will investigate complaints that landlords are using tactics like disruptive and dangerous renovations and construction projects to force tenants to move out of rent-stabilized apartments, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday."


Are you the parent of a child currently attending public school in New York City? Are you interested in being more involved in the decision making process for your community's schools? Consider joining a Community or Citywide Education Council (CECs). To apply, go to For more on the responsibilities of CEC members, click here.


A comprehensive and definitive update by Amanda Ocasio at the Queens Free Press on the CUNY student struggle for justice and education. "CUNY administrators might be making every effort to suppress dissent, but students have refused to be silenced."



What’s Brewing? This Week’s Must Read Link Roundup

what's brewing

Evidence has come to light of a decades long coverup of sexual abuse, harassment, and corruption at St. Frances Preparatory School. Allegations run the gamut from hiring a convicted thief as its financial controller, to physical and sexual harassment, to the horrific allegations of sexual and physical abuse.


For a segment of New York City's homeless population, the traditional shelter system is not an option. The city is devoting resources toward exploring new outreach alternatives.


Another casualty of New York City's gentrification epidemic: the affordable studio apartment.


A breakdown of workplace fatalities in NYC shows the importance of safer union jobs.


An investigation has led to the arrest of 50 in a bribery scheme involving officials in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings. Charges include bribery, bribe receiving, falsifying business records, tampering with public records, and official misconduct.


State documents show a connection between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the real estate mogul at the center of the latest corruption probe.

In a related story, Gov. Cuomo has recently avoided answering questions regarding the ongoing corruption investigations by claiming the U.S. attorney has "made it clear that ongoing public dialogue is not helpful to his investigation." New York's top federal prosecutor Preet Bharara says that that is simply not true.




Building Inspection Bribery Bust Nets Dozens

Numerous NYC officials busted in massive bribery scheme that expedited the construction of buildings in exchange for cash and gifts. Photo via v1ctor/Flickr/CC

Earlier today Manhattan DA Cy Vance announced a massive bust in a bribery scheme that moved money to dirty city officials in exchange for a whole slew of services that included schemes to illegally dismiss stop-work orders.

Some of the building sites across New York City connected in the recently revealed bribery-for-whitewashing scheme. Image source: Manhattan DA.

Some of the building sites across New York City connected in the recently revealed bribery-for-whitewashing scheme. Image source: Manhattan DA.

The investigation began two years ago when officials looked into the bribery of a single official. Out of 49 named so far, five are employees from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, while another eleven are employees at the Department of Buildings.

From to the Manhattan DA Press Release, some of the charges include:

According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, over the course of several years, 11 DOB employees, ranging in roles from clerks to chiefs, allegedly accepted bribes in Manhattan and Brooklyn in excess of $400,000. These DOB employees are charged with accepting monetary payments ranging from $200 to $3,000, and other benefits from property managers and expeditors (filing representatives registered by the DOB to act as middlemen between the Department and contractors, homeowners, and managing agents). In exchange, the DOB employees allegedly cleared complaints, Stop Work Orders, and violations, and expedited DOB inspections, enabling expeditors to bypass proper channels and deal directly with high-level DOB employees.


You can read the original press release here. (Further Details Below) Featured Photo for this Article via v1ctor/flickr/cc.

Defendants Include 11 DOB Employees, 5 HPD Employees, and 28 Property Managers, Contractors, and Expeditors

Approximately $450,000 in Bribes Made in Connection with More Than 100 Residential and Commercial Properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens


Additional Coverage via WABC


Full Press Release via Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr.


Defendants Include 11 DOB Employees, 5 HPD Employees, and 28 Property Managers, Contractors, and Expeditors

Approximately $450,000 in Bribes Made in Connection with More Than 100 Residential and Commercial Properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens


Defendant Information

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”) Commissioner Mark G. Peters, and New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton today announced the indictment of 50 defendants involved in widespread housing fraud and bribery schemes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The defendants include 11 New York City Department of Buildings (“DOB”) employees and five New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) employees. The defendants are charged in 26 New York State Supreme Court indictments filed in New York and Kings Counties with crimes including Bribery, Bribe Receiving, Falsifying Business Records, Tampering with Public Records, and Official Misconduct.[1] The nearly two-year-long investigation, initiated by DOI and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Rackets Bureau in 2013, began as an inquiry into the bribery of a single DOB inspector. DOI, the District Attorney’s Office, and the NYPD utilized court-authorized wiretapping; analysis of DOB, HPD, financial, and phone records; and surveillance over the course of the investigation. The investigation revealed evidence of approximately $450,000 worth of alleged bribes in numerous, distinct schemes between 16 DOB and HPD employees and 22 property managers and owners, six expeditors, two contractors, and one engineer. Indictments filed in Kings County Supreme Court will be handled by Manhattan prosecutors, pursuant to a cross-designation authorized by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
“Bribery schemes compromised two important City agencies and fair competition in our robust housing and real estate development markets,” said District Attorney Vance. “Today’s cases demonstrate that the same surging demand that drives the pace of development can inspire the taking of shortcuts, and the taking of bribes. Working proactively with our partners at DOI and the NYPD, we are rooting out corruption at all levels, and bringing those who abuse their positions of power to justice.”
“Our investigation revealed a widespread network of corruption in the construction industry and among the City workers charged with keeping that industry safe,” said DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters. “We found that these 16 City employees, including several senior supervisory staff, took bribes to clear code violations including some that presented real safety threats. Today’s arrests shows that the City and law enforcement have zero tolerance for criminal conduct that undermines the City’s mandate to protect its citizens.”
“Today’s arrests and indictments show that we have zero tolerance for corruption and fraud within our city agencies,” said Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. “These building employees held important and trusted positions, but they chose to allegedly circumvent the system and violate the public's trust to gain a profit. I want to sincerely thank the NYPD’s Organized Crime Investigation Division, the NYC Department of Investigation and the prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for aggressively pursuing this case and holding these individuals responsible for their criminal actions.”
“I would like to commend DA Vance and his staff for conducting an investigation to expose this extensive and unacceptable betrayal of the public trust by city government employees,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. “My office will continue to work closely with the Manhattan DA’s Office to ensure that justice is done in this case, and I pledge to continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to root out public corruption, including corruption caused by those who try to use their money to gain an unfair advantage.”


According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, over the course of several years, 11 DOB employees, ranging in roles from clerks to chiefs, allegedly accepted bribes in Manhattan and Brooklyn in excess of $400,000. These DOB employees are charged with accepting monetary payments ranging from $200 to $3,000, and other benefits from property managers and expeditors (filing representatives registered by the DOB to act as middlemen between the Department and contractors, homeowners, and managing agents). In exchange, the DOB employees allegedly cleared complaints, Stop Work Orders, and violations, and expedited DOB inspections, enabling expeditors to bypass proper channels and deal directly with high-level DOB employees.
In one alleged scheme, DAVID WEISZER, acting as an unregistered expeditor, is charged with bribing multiple DOB employees including a Chief of Development, an Inspector, and three clerks. Beginning in September 2011, WEISZER allegedly sent a list of addresses of locations owned by his clients to the then-DOB Chief of Development for Brooklyn Construction, bypassing proper DOB channels, on a near daily basis. ARTAN MUJKO, then employed as a DOB Inspector, would inspect these addresses at the Chief of Development’s request, and invariably the buildings would pass inspection. The Chief of Development allegedly signed-off on MUJKO’s inspections within the same day, using his supervisory position to carry out the scheme without detection.
In exchange, WEISZER is alleged to have paid the Chief of Development and his wife, JANELLE DALY, bribes in the form of approximately $200,000 for home mortgage payments, a Nissan Rogue SUV, a GMC Terrain SUV, and a Royal Caribbean cruise, as well as cash for airline tickets, home renovations, and other personal expenses. WEISZER is similarly alleged to have paid Inspector MUJKO more than $70,000 in cash bribes for signing-off on WEISZER’s necessary inspections, in addition to allegedly paying $2,000 to $3,000 at a time in cash to clerks ELAINE CUTCHIN and TAMARAH ALLEN, who allowed him to cut past people waiting in line at DOB’s Brooklyn office without showing the required credentials.
After he stopped working with the Chief of Development, WEISZER is alleged to have developed a new scheme in June 2014 involving VERONICA VELEZ, a client manager at the New York City Department of Small Business Services (“SBS”). WEISZER is charged with bribing VELEZ to route MUJKO to his properties, including those that fell outside of SBS’s mission, like residential buildings and synagogues, by promising to pay rent on her apartment. In turn, WEISZER then allegedly bribed MUJKO to perform favorable inspections on his properties.
Additional Alleged Schemes Involving DOB Employees

  • DONALD O’CONNOR, the DOB Chief of Development for Manhattan Construction, is charged with accepting bribes from various individuals, including defendants ISSAM ABOURAFEH, a licensed engineer; FRANK DWYER, owner of several Manhattan bars including McHale’s Pub, Jack Dempsey’s Bar and Grill, Bourbon Street Bar & Grille, and McGee’s Pub, among others; and MAURICE KOHAN, a real estate developer. O’CONNOR is alleged to have expedited appointments for the defendants, as well as dismissed complaints associated with their properties, many of which he never personally inspected. O’CONNOR is also charged with alerting the defendants to undercover site safety visits, and advising them how to avoid penalties. CHERYL LIES, a DOB office manager, is charged with helping O’CONNOR expedite his requests in exchange for a free night in French Quarters Guest Apartments, a midtown hotel owned by defendant DWYER.
  • DEREK ST. ROSE, a DOB Supervisory Inspector, is charged with routinely expediting DOB matters, lifting Stop Work Orders, and expunging complaints for JACOB FEKETE, an unregistered expeditor. In exchange, FEKETE allegedly provided ST. ROSE with multiple loans, and used his connections to help ST. ROSE book a party venue at a discounted rate and hire a prominent immigration attorney for his friend.
  • WILSON GARCIA, then employed as a DOB Supervisory Inspector, allegedly schemed with GINO VITALE, a real estate developer, to expunge VITALE’s complaints and alert him to impending audits in exchange for a Puerto Rican vacation package. GARCIA also conspired with JIAXI LIU, a construction contractor, and STEPHEN PEREZ, a DOB Inspector, to place a false Stop Work Order on a building for which LIU served as a contractor. As part of their conspiracy, LIU solicited and received cash from the building’s owners, by representing to the owners that he needed funds to have the false Stop Work Order lifted. GARCIA is additionally charged in an indictment filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, a class B felony, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree, a class D felony, among other charges, pertaining to two weapons and cocaine recovered by DOI and the NYPD while executing a search warrant on his home and car.
  • Defendants SANDRO CABRERA, HERMAN EPSTEIN, EBRAHIM GABBAY, MICHEL PHILIPPE, ASSAF SANILOVICH, SHIMON SABAH, SHIA WALDMAN, and DAVID WEISS are additionally charged with offering bribes ranging from $200 to $2,800 during controlled calls and meetings in exchange for various DOB favors involving the removal of complaints.

Alleged Bribery Schemes Involving HPD Employees
Further, according to court documents and statements made on the record in court, between May and August 2014, defendants LUIS SOTO, a Brooklyn HPD Housing Inspector, and OLIVER ORTIZ, a Manhattan HPD Associate Inspector in a supervisory role, dismissed HPD violations and falsified HPD records in exchange for bribes from nine property owners, managers, and an expeditor. In total, SOTO and ORTIZ are alleged to have fraudulently dismissed 778 HPD violations from 24 properties in Brooklyn in exchange for more than $41,000 in bribes.
SOTO is alleged to have negotiated and accepted cash bribes ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 per property in exchange for removing violations on the interested parties’ properties. As part of their alleged scheme, ORTIZ is charged with creating false entries in HPD’s internal computer system, the Borough Office Support System (“BOSS”), in order to fraudulently document inspections that never occurred, and approve the final dismissal of violations, even though none of the related properties were actually inspected by SOTO during the course of this scheme.
In one such scheme, between June 2014 and August 2014, defendant ABRAHAM MERTZ, a Brooklyn property manager, is charged with paying SOTO more than $20,000 in bribes to remove 476 violations at 13 separate properties in the Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of Brooklyn. SOTO then allegedly paid ORTIZ to falsify records in HPD’s BOSS system. The dismissed violations include:

  • The presence of mice and roaches;
  • Missing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors;
  • Inadequate lighting at a building’s entrance; and,
  • A defective hallway ceiling.

In a similar scheme, between July 18, 2014, and August 8, 2014, ROBERT CADOCH, another Brooklyn property manager, is charged with paying SOTO $6,000 in bribes to remove 96 violations at three separate properties in Bedford-Stuyvesant. ORTIZ was in turn paid by SOTO to falsify records in HPD’s BOSS system. The dismissed violations include:

  • A rotted door frame;
  • The lack of electric supply to hallway ceiling light fixtures;
  • Unlawful bars or gates obstructing a fire escape; and,
  • The presence of mice, flies, and roaches.

ORTIZ and SOTO are charged with accepting more than $41,000 in bribes to remove hundreds of other similar violations at dozens of properties owned or managed by SHULEM SCHWARTZ, JOEL WALDMAN, MORDECHAI KATZ, ISSAC ROSENBERG, ROBERT CADOCH, MOSES LEFKOWITZ, SANTOS MUNIZ, and ALEKSANDER ZIVKOVIC. At least one of these properties received a violation for lead-based paint.
Additional Alleged Schemes Involving HPD Employees

  • Additionally, SOTO is charged with working with BARRY RICE, JR., another HPD Inspector, to vacate tenants under false pretenses from a Bushwick building managed by MERTZ in exchange for a cash bribe. Acting without a valid vacate order, RICE, conspiring with SOTO, allegedly ordered tenants to leave the building, falsely claiming to be acting under the authority of HPD. FRANK CAMPASANO, owner of an apartment building in Bushwick, is similarly charged with bribing RICE and SOTO to evict tenants in his building under the guise of an HPD vacate order.
  • RICE is also alleged to have instructed property owners and managers to request housing inspections on dates and times he was scheduled to be working, ensuring he could conduct the inspections personally. In violation of HPD policy and procedure, RICE is charged with arranging “pre-inspections” of certain properties to ensure that violations would be resolved before he conducted the “official” inspections, after which the violations would be dismissed. RICE is also charged with accepting bribes in excess of $600 from JOEL RUBIN, a property manager, to “pre-inspect” a property, eventually dismissing 18 violations from that property.  RICE is also charged with working with STEVEN CRAWFORD, an HPD Inspector, to negotiate bribes from RUBIN to “pre-inspect” and dismiss violations from two additional properties. RICE similarly is alleged to have accepted $300 in bribes from ARON STUHL, also a property manager, for “pre-inspection” of violations at STUHL’s property, with the understanding that violations would be removed at a subsequent HPD inspection. Furthermore, together with STANLEY HALL, an Associate Housing Inspector with supervisory authority, RICE allegedly promised to dismiss all violations associated with a Bushwick property owned by SHEA SIGAL in exchange for more than $3,000 in bribes.
  • In a separate scheme stemming from the same investigation, DILBER KUKIC, a Manhattan building owner, and CHRISTOPHER LUKACS, a Manhattan building manager, are charged with bribing an undercover investigator posing as an HPD inspector. In October 2014, KUKIC is charged with paying the undercover $600 in cash to dismiss the HPD violations at two properties he owned on West 173rd Street in Manhattan. In December 2014, LUKACS, having previously spoken with the undercover investigator about the West 173rd Street properties, is alleged to have given the undercover investigator $2,500 in cash to remove HPD violations from additional properties.
  • In an additional scheme uncovered by the investigation, AGOSTINO ACCARDO, an alleged Bonanno crime family associate, and his brother, MICHELANGELO ACCARDO, are charged with running an unlicensed check bundling and money transmission service in violation of New York State Banking Law. The ACCARDOS allegedly collected checks from customers, cashed the checks at commercial check cashers in New York City and New Jersey; and withheld both the commercial check casher’s fee and an additional fee they imposed before returning cash to their customers. VINCENT DIGREGORIO is alleged to have been a customer of the ACCARDOS, conspiring to falsify business records related to the cash received from the ACCARDOS’s check cashing service.

Assistant District Attorney Rachana Pathak is handling the prosecution of the DOB-related indictments, and Assistant District Attorney Kathryn M. Spota is handling the prosecution of the HPD-related indictments. These cases are being prosecuted under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Michael Ohm, Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau; Judy Salwen, Principal Deputy Chief of the Rackets Bureau; Amyjane Rettew, Counsel to the Investigation Division; and Jodie Kane, Chief of the Rackets Bureau, as well as Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division.
Principal Financial Investigators William Tamparo and Michael Kelly assisted with the investigation under the supervision of Financial Intelligence Director David Rosenzweig, as did Cell Site Analyst Nathan Weber under the supervision of Steven Moran, Director of the High Technology Analysis Unit. Assistant District Attorney Noah Genel provided assistance with the investigation, as well as Rackets Paralegals Conor Gallagher, Luc Mitchell, Michael Segnan, Stephanie Alvarez, and William Arsenault.
District Attorney Vance thanked the New York City Department of Investigation, including Financial Investigators Helen Gromadsky and Laila Yu; Special Investigators Michael Antolini, Noah Mohney, and Dan Taylor; Chief Investigator James McElligott; Deputy Inspector General Edward Zinser; Inspector General Gregory Cho; and Associate Commissioner Michael Carroll.
District Attorney Vance also thanked the New York City Police Department, including Lieutenant Christopher Fasano, Sergeant Raymond Almdovar, and Detectives Lynn McCarthy, Scott Signorelli, and Patrick Fogarty. 
District Attorney Vance also thanked the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, as well as the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Police, for their assistance.
[1] The charges contained in the indictments are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.

A Sheldon Silver Mystery: Did He Betray New York Renters?

Art via  Net Alloy - CC Open Clip Art

When New York enacted a major rent regulation law in 2011, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver celebrated the passage of the legislation as a victory over real estate interests.

"Despite fierce and well-financed opposition to working families in New York City, we were able to secure important victories for tenants," he said at the time.

But the bribery case against Silver unveiled by prosecutors last week raises questions about whether Silver pulled his punches in negotiations on that 2011 bill, potentially at the expense of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who live in rent stabilized apartments.

A little-scrutinized section of the criminal complaint alleges a luxury developer implicated in the Silver bribery scheme requested changes to the law. The changes were ultimately adopted.

The complaint has tenant advocates who lobbied on the bill, known as the Rent Act of 2011, wondering what really happened. For now, it's a mystery: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara hasn't specified what change Silver made on behalf of a developer who was part of the alleged bribery scheme.

"It's hugely important," says Benjamin Dulchin of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. "I hope Preet Bharara tells us someday."

The complaint itself provides only a bit of detail.

With the legislation pending, it says, "the Lobbyists met, on behalf of Developer 1, with Silver in his State office to advocate for certain proposed terms for the new Real Estate Legislation. The legislation that was enacted included Developer 1's recommendations in substantial part."

"Developer 1" is widely reported to be Glenwood Management, the politically influential firm of centenarian developer Leonard Litwin

So what might Glenwood have wanted out of the legislation?

The heart of the fight that year centered on rent regulation, which limits rent increases on about a million units in New York City, including some of Glenwood's. The state law governing rent regulation comes up for renewal periodically.

Landlords can deregulate apartments and begin charging market-rate rents under certain circumstances, such as when an apartment becomes vacant and its rent passes a threshold, at the time $2,000. As a result, over 200,000 units have become deregulated over the past 30 years. In the 2011 negotiations, tenant advocates wanted to stem the flow of units out of the program by tightening the rules. Another focal point was the formula that governs how much landlords can raise rent on regulated apartments when they invest money in improvements.

There were other matters the legislation dealt with that could have been of interest to Glenwood Management, including tax exemptions for new development. The firm did not respond to a request for comment.

Silver has said he will be vindicated when the case is aired in court. His lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. 

The ultimate rent deal struck in 2011 among Silver, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the state Senate did not please tenant advocates.

"Both Cuomo and Silver tried to spin the 2011 bill as a great victory for tenants when in fact there were very minor improvements," says Michael McKee, the treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, who lobbied on the bill.

He says even at the time – long before the alleged bribery scheme between Silver and the developer was known — it wasn't clear where exactly Silver stood.

"Silver was not forthcoming about what he was working to achieve," McKee says. "Silver always presented himself as pro-tenant, but who knows what happened behind closed doors?"

While Silver is seen as more pro-tenant than many others in Albany, including Republicans in the state Senate, tenant advocates have long viewed him as an unreliable ally.

The New York Times story reporting the eleventh hour deal on the 2011 law noted that it fell "well short of what many Democrats and tenant activists had hoped for." Silver was also quoted saying it was time to stop fighting for a stronger package. "I think the days of pushing are over," Silver said.

In last week's criminal complaint, prosecutors also quote an internal memo from an unnamed real estate developer association.  The memo concluded "in connection with the 2011 rent regulation reauthorization that Silver was considerably more favorable to the real estate industry than expected." The memo said that "though he may never be the owners advocate, given that the Governor wanted [certain proposals] off the table and wanted to restore his reputation with tenants, it would appear that he (Silver) could have successfully pushed for more."

If the Silver case goes to trial, prosecutors will likely have to flesh out the episode.

"Some more favorable treatment specifically by Mr. Silver towards the developers in question will have to be proven, something more concrete than speculation that he was less unfavorable towards the real estate industry in general than he could have been," says Robert Walker, a government ethics law specialist at Wiley Rein.

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This article was originally published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

For Nonprofit Hospitals Who Sue Patients, New Rules

Nonprofit hospitals get big tax breaks for providing care for patients who can’t afford it. Under new IRS rules these hospitals must take extra steps to inform poor patients they may qualify for financial assistance.

Hospitals that don't take these steps before suing patients could face the ultimate penalty of losing their tax-exempt status. That sounds clear enough. But the first catch is that the IRS does not have a history of aggressive enforcement.

Last month, ProPublica and NPR detailed how one nonprofit hospital in Missouri sued thousands of lower income workers who couldn't pay their bills, then seized their wages, all while enjoying a big break on its taxes.

Since then, the IRS has released long-awaited rules designed to address such aggressive debt collection against the poor. Largely because these new rules fill a void — there were hardly any rules at all — patient advocates agree they are a major step forward.

Even so, they have easily exploitable gaps. It remains up to each hospital, for example, to decide which patients the new rules should apply to. And because the rules only apply to hospitals that have been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, they don't apply to for-profit hospitals or most public hospitals. ProPublica reported last month that public hospitals can be even more aggressive in collecting debt than nonprofits.

Most hospitals in the U.S. are charitable organizations. They don't pay taxes because they are supposed to be a key part of the safety net for the nation's poor patients. In theory, patients who aren't covered by Medicaid and can't afford insurance — or who are underinsured and can't afford their out-of-pocket costs — can receive necessary care from a nonprofit hospital without facing financial ruin. Each hospital is required to offer services to lower-income patients at a reduced cost and to have a financial assistance policy that states who qualifies for aid, known as "charity care."

But while hospitals are required to have this policy, there have been very few rules on how they publicize it or how they treat patients who qualify. That's where the new rules, which go into effect in 2016, will make the biggest difference. The rules were required as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

At Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, the hospital featured in our story, many patients had been sued despite apparently qualifying for financial assistance. In interviews, patients either didn't know the hospital had charity care or wrongly believed they didn't qualify.

Under the new rules, all nonprofit hospitals will be required to post their financial assistance policies on their websites and offer a written, "plain language summary" of them to patients when they're in the hospital. If patients don't apply for assistance or pay their bills, then the hospitals are required to send at least one more summary of the policy, along with mentioning it on billing statements.

And if hospitals plan to sue patients over unpaid bills, they must attempt to verbally tell the patients about their policies, as well as send notices that they are planning to sue and that the patients may qualify for financial assistance.

Hospitals that don't take these steps before suing patients could face the ultimate penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.

That sounds clear enough. But the first catch is that the IRS does not have a history of aggressive enforcement.

"That's always been the problem with the charitable hospital rules," said Corey Davis, an attorney with the National Health Law Program, a nonprofit patient advocacy organization. "The IRS doesn't enforce them and nobody else can enforce them."

The second catch is that hospitals are still responsible for setting their own financial assistance policies, and these protections are only helpful to patients who qualify for help.

"There's all sorts of discretion because [hospitals] just have to have a policy," said Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center. The rules don't set a baseline for the type of assistance hospitals must provide, she said.

A hospital could limit aid to uninsured patients with income below the federal poverty line — $11,670 for a single person with no dependents.  A hospital could also restrict aid to uninsured patients, excluding patients with bare-bones insurance policies who might face huge out-of-pocket payments.

For patients excluded by the policy, all these protections would be effectively moot. Even those covered by the policy might receive some reduction on cost, but still find themselves pursued over the outstanding balance.

The hospital industry's reaction to the new rules has been muted. A spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association said it had no comment. But best practices for the industry, set by the Healthcare Financial Management Association, urge hospitals to take steps beyond the new rules to ensure patients eligible for financial assistance aren't the target of lawsuits. For example, as we noted in our story, some hospitals automatically identify some patients as eligible without them having to apply.

Jessica Curtis, an attorney with Community Catalyst, a national nonprofit consumer organization, joined other advocates in stressing that the new rules were welcome. But, as before, she said, there will be large variation among hospitals in how generously they treat lower-income patients. "It will come down to: How seriously does the hospital take this issue?" she said.


This article republished via ProPublica via CC license .ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


Feature photo via 401(K) 2012


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