Brooklyn man busted in affordable housing scam
The pursuit of a dream home became a nightmare for apartment hunters who were scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars by an agent pushing a phony affordable housing scheme in Brooklyn, N.Y., authorities said Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Akim Sokolovski took $74,000 in cash payments from three women who wanted to buy Mitchell-Lama apartments in Coney Island.
But Sokolovski had no ties to the federal affordable housing program, and the would-be homeowners dreams were dashed.
"This defendant allegedly exploited the frustrations shared by many Brooklyn residents hoping to find affordable housing, despite a booming real estate market," Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez said. "We will not allow opportunists and scammers to corrupt the process by which eligible prospective tenants gain access to reasonably priced housing."
The government's Mitchell-Lama program was designed in the 1950s to provide affordable rental and cooperative housing to moderate- and middle-income families throughout New York City and the nation.
Under the program, prospective tenants and members of cooperatives are eligible to rent or purchase a Mitchell-Lama apartment if their income falls within prescribed limits and the number of people in the household meets the occupancy standards for the unit.
But these victims instead gave their money to Sokolovski, who lives in the Amalgamated Warbasse Houses in Coney Island, a Mitchell-Lama property, after he presented himself as someone with access to management.
Sokolovski allegedly told each victim to pay him $15,000 in cash to help them avoid the waiting list. Prosecutors said he told the victims that the apartments would become available within six months to a year.
After receiving the initial $45,000, he allegedly requested additional cash payments from two of the victims for other apartments. One person gave him $25,000, while the other gave him $4,000.
Sokolovski never delivered on his promises and refused to give back the money, Gonzalez said.
Sokolovski was arraigned on charges including grand larceny and scheme to defraud. He was released without bail.
Two months ago, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development was sued in federal court by several Mitchell-Lama applicants who said they were bypassed on the waiting list in favor of well-connected apartment hunters.
The plaintiffs said city officials looked the other way.
In 2018, several Coney Island housing officials were arrested and charged with taking $874,000 in cash bribes to steer deep-pocketed applicants into coveted Mitchell-Lama apartments
Defendants Anna Treybich, Irina Zeltser and Karina Andriyan used the dirty money collected from their high-ranking positions at the Luna Park Housing Corp. to purchase pricey Florida real estate along with a high-end collection of fur coats, designer hand bags and jewelry.
The three were charged in a massive 78-count indictment with conspiracy, grand larceny, bribe-receiving and other crimes dating to 2013.