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New York, NY - Manhattan DA Files Criminal Charges Against Brooklyn Landlord For Creating Life-threatening Conditions At East Harlem Building

Published on: July 26, 2016 11:41 AM
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Exterior of 21 East 115th Street on March 4, 2015.Exterior of 21 East 115th Street on March 4, 2015.

New York, NY - Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler, and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been today announced criminal charges against Brooklyn landlord and building owner Ephraim Vashovsky, 48, property manager and contractor Adam Cohen, 32, and contractor Shaoul Ohana, 56, for endangering the lives of tenants of 21 East 115th Street in Harlem by purposefully creating hazardous living conditions through ongoing illegal construction and renovation, and for coercing them to vacate their rent-stabilized apartment through a campaign of harassment and intimidation.

The New York State Supreme Court indictment against them charges 20 counts, including Reckless Endangerment in the First and Second Degrees, Endangering the Welfare of a Child, Coercion in the First Degree, Grand Larceny in the Third and Fourth Degrees, Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, and Unlawful Eviction, among other charges.

“These defendants are charged with turning an East Harlem apartment building into a deathtrap,” said District Attorney Vance. “They forced a family with five young children to endure life-threatening conditions on some of winter’s coldest nights. As demolition continued around apartment 5E, the entire building was at risk of a devastating fire, or worse, collapse.

As alleged, the defendants’ campaign of harassment and intimidation included repeated threats to report the family’s status as undocumented immigrants to authorities in order to command higher rents from this rent-regulated building. I would like to thank our partners for their work on this case.”

DOI Commissioner Peters said: “This indictment illustrates one of the central tenets of DOI’s independent investigations into the construction industry: a lack of integrity on construction sites leads to fraud and dangerous conditions.

Here, that includes the defendants’ falsification of the scope of work being done at the site and the unlawful eviction and harassment of tenants. As charged, the property owners forced a family with five young children to reside in precarious and unsafe conditions in the hopes of evicting them from a rent-stabilized apartment. DOI and its law enforcement partners will not allow contractors and property owners to intimidate tenants or flout the City’s building codes.”

NYC Public Advocate James said: “Today’s indictment should be a message that anyone who hurts tenants in our city will get more than a slap on the wrist. Ephraim Vashovsky, one of New York City’s worst landlords, forced tenants to live in inhumane and life-threatening conditions, prioritizing his bottom line before the lives of children and families. I’ve been proud to work with DA Vance on indicting this landlord and his colleagues, because tenant harassment of any kind will never be tolerated in New York City.”

Interior of Apartment Adjacent to 5E at 21 East 115th Street on March 4, 2015.Interior of Apartment Adjacent to 5E at 21 East 115th Street on March 4, 2015.

DOB Commissioner Chandler said: “Bad actors who put profits ahead of people’s lives need to take warning. You can’t tear apart an occupied building, especially when a family with young children is living there. This was a demolition disguised as a renovation job. The building owner and contractor showed utter disregard for their tenants’ safety and we are determined to hold them accountable.”

HPD Commissioner Been said: “HPD is committed to using all its enforcement tools to protect the health, safety, and well-being of all our city’s renters. This indictment sends a powerful message that flagrant mismanagement and irresponsibility will not be tolerated.  I would like to thank the District Attorney’s office for taking the necessary steps to bring this bad actor to justice, and to thank my team in Enforcement and Neighborhood Services team for all their efforts to protect this building’s tenants.”

Interior of Apartment Adjacent to 5E at 21 East 115th Street on March 4, 2015.
According to court documents and statements made on the record in court, VASHOVSKY, as owner of 21 East 115th Street Ventures, LLC, conspired with COHEN, his property manager and eventual contractor, to coerce a couple and their five young children, ranging in age from one-to-twelve years old, to vacate a rent-stabilized apartment at 21 East 115th Street in Harlem.

With OHANA, their initial contractor, the defendants endangered the lives of their tenants – as well as the construction workers the defendants employed – by performing ongoing construction and major demolitions in violation of DOB and HPD regulations.

The defendants are charged with submitting falsified documents to DOB when applying for work permits, as well as stealing from the tenants and the City of New York by cashing the tenants’ rent checks while violating the terms of their lease, and continuing to cash rent subsidy checks from the New York City Department of Social Services for weeks after the tenants vacated the apartment.
As alleged in court documents, shortly after VASHOVSKY acquired the building at 21 East 115th Street in May 2014, the defendants and their associates began a campaign to drive the family out of its apartment in order to make renovations to the building that would allow the units to command higher rents.

In particular, VASHOVSKY and COHEN’s associates threatened to report the tenants’ status as undocumented immigrants to legal authorities. Throughout, and during ongoing eviction proceedings and litigation in New York City Housing Court, the defendants moved to begin construction while the family still inhabited the apartment.

As charged in the indictment, in an effort to expedite the DOB work permit applications submitted by OHANA, COHEN submitted falsified documents purporting that the building was unoccupied, while the defendants simultaneously moved for the family’s eviction in Housing Court on the grounds that the apartment was overcrowded. Based on the falsified filings, DOB approved a work permit in December 2014.
                     
From the start of construction soon thereafter, until March 5, 2015, when the DOB ordered the building vacated, the defendants are charged with recklessly endangering the lives of the tenants and their children through ongoing construction and demolition.

As alleged, the defendants knowingly created gravely dangerous living conditions, including the risk of an entire building collapse, by removing structural and load-bearing elements. During demolition, the defendants allegedly removed critical fire retardant materials, fire escapes, and internal walls and floors – creating the risk of an inhabitant falling multiple stories. Furthermore, the defendants purposefully failed to address or only partially addressed critical violations, including the lack of electricity, heat, hot water, and running water.

Throughout the course of the alleged conduct, VASHOVSKY and COHEN collected and deposited the family’s rent checks, while failing to meet the terms of their lease. Furthermore, VASHOVSKY is charged with continuing to deposit more than $1,000 in checks issued in the family’s name by the New York City Department of Social Services (“DSS”) to subsidize the family’s rent payments. VASHOVSKY cashed the last check from the DSS on May 8, 2015, two months after the family vacated the apartment.

VASHOVSKY and COHEN are further charged with recklessly endangering the lives of the site’s construction workers from February 2, 2016, until the DOB issued a full Stop Work Order on March 3, 2016.

The Stop Work Order followed an inspection which uncovered, among other violations, the absence of key structural elements, including load-bearing walls and floor joists, as well as the building’s central staircase. As alleged, the site lacked proper ladders between floors, as well as safety nets or other measures to prevent workers from falling.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit has also filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit against the indicted defendants and their companies, seeking the forfeiture of more than $3 million in connection with the criminal case.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court, including the indictments, and statements made on the record in court.                             


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Read Comments (23)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jul 26, 2016 at 11:50 AM Normal Says:

So much money. So much corruption.

2

 Jul 26, 2016 at 12:10 PM yonasonw Says:

This is no big deal, compared to yarmulke color, skirt length, skin color and fidelity to an authentic reading of the Mesorah...I mean, a tenant here is merely a chamor...right?

You guys should be as outraged by this chillul Hashem as you are about anyone's emails...but I doubt you will be.

3

 Jul 26, 2016 at 12:18 PM judith Says:

Reply to #1  
Normal Says:

So much money. So much corruption.

Good job, DA's.It's about time some people learn to treat human beings as such and not like vermin. Some landlords need to go to college, learn a profession and earn an honest living , instead of trying to get rich on the backs of innocent victims, while creating a massive chilul Hashem. Anti-semitism is not always created in a vaccum, or as a result of Esav hating Yacov.

4

 Jul 26, 2016 at 12:40 PM Anonymous Says:

This is what happens when you don't get a proper education and get a decent career, and have to resort to all types of SHTICK to make a living.

6

 Jul 26, 2016 at 01:30 PM bennyt Says:

Reply to #3  
judith Says:

Good job, DA's.It's about time some people learn to treat human beings as such and not like vermin. Some landlords need to go to college, learn a profession and earn an honest living , instead of trying to get rich on the backs of innocent victims, while creating a massive chilul Hashem. Anti-semitism is not always created in a vaccum, or as a result of Esav hating Yacov.

So you can only earn an honest living if you go to college?

7

 Jul 26, 2016 at 01:49 PM Anonymous Says:

If convicted, throw the book at them.

8

 Jul 26, 2016 at 02:16 PM kenyaninwhitehouse Says:

I recall Mr. Vashovsky being honored at some dinner recently.

9

 Jul 26, 2016 at 02:29 PM Erlich Says:

Does he wear a shtreimel on Shabbos?

10

 Jul 26, 2016 at 02:01 PM Anonymous Says:

So if I understand this story, he owns the building, he wants the illegal/undocumented tenants out of there so he can do construction on HIS building, but is not allowed?
As quoted In particular, "...associates threatened to report the tenants’ status as undocumented immigrants to legal authorities." Why shouldn't they?

I don't know the details other than what is reported here, but have personally worked in the past with him and he is an honest and ehrlich individual. I wouldn't be so quick to repeat the motzi shem ra.

11

 Jul 26, 2016 at 02:34 PM judith Says:

Reply to #6  
bennyt Says:

So you can only earn an honest living if you go to college?

You will be stuck in thievery if you don't learn a skill to make a living .

12

 Jul 26, 2016 at 03:25 PM Anonymous Says:

Everyone on this thread sounds completely ignorant and uneducated. Why do you think the LAW has the glaring provision of "guilty until proven innocent"? You should all be ashamed of yourselves, convicting the people in this story and assuming the worst before they even have the opportunity to defend themselves. That is a hillul Hashem -- to stand in judgment of others with such obvious "holier than thou" postures as seen in the above comments. And what is even more disturbing (and this is coming from a frequent follower of Vosizneias) is that the headline of this story, and structure of the information provided above, pushes readers to jump to judgment and assume these people have done everything they are accused of. Maybe they did - but no ones yet, and to act as if these individuals have already been PROVEN guilty under the LAW is shameful. Voisizneias writers and editors - instead of including the disclaimer that the charges in the above story are "merely allegations" at the very bottom, you should show more dan l'kaf zechut and write that at the very top, before people read the story and make harsh, perhaps improper, conclusions on the character of these individuals.

13

 Jul 26, 2016 at 03:31 PM ellas Says:

From what I understand from the article, he bought the building, he owns the building, he paid for the building, and wants to do construction to make improvements to his building. It is inhabited by illegal/undocumented tenants for whom the government is paying to live in his building and he wants them to move out so he can do construction work.
They are complaining in the lawsuit that he threatened to report them as undocumented immigrants? Of course they should be!

This article is based on what the lawsuit is alleging. I wouldn't be so quick to be motzei shem ra as many of the comments are.

I don't know the details of this story other than what is written here, but I've met the defendent in the past and he is an honest, ehrliche man.

14

 Jul 26, 2016 at 04:24 PM kenyaninwhitehouse Says:

Reply to #12  
Anonymous Says:

Everyone on this thread sounds completely ignorant and uneducated. Why do you think the LAW has the glaring provision of "guilty until proven innocent"? You should all be ashamed of yourselves, convicting the people in this story and assuming the worst before they even have the opportunity to defend themselves. That is a hillul Hashem -- to stand in judgment of others with such obvious "holier than thou" postures as seen in the above comments. And what is even more disturbing (and this is coming from a frequent follower of Vosizneias) is that the headline of this story, and structure of the information provided above, pushes readers to jump to judgment and assume these people have done everything they are accused of. Maybe they did - but no ones yet, and to act as if these individuals have already been PROVEN guilty under the LAW is shameful. Voisizneias writers and editors - instead of including the disclaimer that the charges in the above story are "merely allegations" at the very bottom, you should show more dan l'kaf zechut and write that at the very top, before people read the story and make harsh, perhaps improper, conclusions on the character of these individuals.

just like we want African americans to "snitch" on gang members and Muslims to do the same with terrorists, we frum Yidden should support illegal actions getting punished done by frum Yidden.

15

 Jul 26, 2016 at 04:37 PM clear-thinker Says:

Reply to #12  
Anonymous Says:

Everyone on this thread sounds completely ignorant and uneducated. Why do you think the LAW has the glaring provision of "guilty until proven innocent"? You should all be ashamed of yourselves, convicting the people in this story and assuming the worst before they even have the opportunity to defend themselves. That is a hillul Hashem -- to stand in judgment of others with such obvious "holier than thou" postures as seen in the above comments. And what is even more disturbing (and this is coming from a frequent follower of Vosizneias) is that the headline of this story, and structure of the information provided above, pushes readers to jump to judgment and assume these people have done everything they are accused of. Maybe they did - but no ones yet, and to act as if these individuals have already been PROVEN guilty under the LAW is shameful. Voisizneias writers and editors - instead of including the disclaimer that the charges in the above story are "merely allegations" at the very bottom, you should show more dan l'kaf zechut and write that at the very top, before people read the story and make harsh, perhaps improper, conclusions on the character of these individuals.

I make no comment about these particular defendants however I do wish to write about innocent until proven guilty. American, not Halacha, law defines this as a rebuttable presumption in court. There is no need to presume anything out of court. There is talk about the defendants being given the opportunity to prove innocence. This is just plain silly. A defendant need not prove anything because of the presumption. The state has to prove guilt. This, of course, does not count in the "court of public opinion" where people can presume anything they wish. Don't lecture me on Halacha which is not the crux of your argument. Believe whatever you wish but don't base it on innocent until proven guilty.

16

 Jul 26, 2016 at 06:13 PM bennyt Says:

Reply to #11  
judith Says:

You will be stuck in thievery if you don't learn a skill to make a living .

I asked if going to college was the only way to earn a living, not learning a skill.

17

 Jul 26, 2016 at 07:02 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
Anonymous Says:

So if I understand this story, he owns the building, he wants the illegal/undocumented tenants out of there so he can do construction on HIS building, but is not allowed?
As quoted In particular, "...associates threatened to report the tenants’ status as undocumented immigrants to legal authorities." Why shouldn't they?

I don't know the details other than what is reported here, but have personally worked in the past with him and he is an honest and ehrlich individual. I wouldn't be so quick to repeat the motzi shem ra.

This is completely the reason why all bad things are happening to the yidden. Anyone who believes this is a complete moron, am ha'aretz and utter hater. I personally know all parties involved, and there is a lot more to it than what some self hating unaffiliated jew reports. They are all upstanding people, while the tenants are illegal immigrants who can never be trusted. Anyhow I don't understand how such a news site could publish such garbage and lashon hara.

18

 Jul 26, 2016 at 08:22 PM StevenWright Says:

Reply to #2  
yonasonw Says:

This is no big deal, compared to yarmulke color, skirt length, skin color and fidelity to an authentic reading of the Mesorah...I mean, a tenant here is merely a chamor...right?

You guys should be as outraged by this chillul Hashem as you are about anyone's emails...but I doubt you will be.

You exude so much love of your fellow Jews.....

19

 Jul 26, 2016 at 09:50 PM yonasonw Says:

Reply to #12  
Anonymous Says:

Everyone on this thread sounds completely ignorant and uneducated. Why do you think the LAW has the glaring provision of "guilty until proven innocent"? You should all be ashamed of yourselves, convicting the people in this story and assuming the worst before they even have the opportunity to defend themselves. That is a hillul Hashem -- to stand in judgment of others with such obvious "holier than thou" postures as seen in the above comments. And what is even more disturbing (and this is coming from a frequent follower of Vosizneias) is that the headline of this story, and structure of the information provided above, pushes readers to jump to judgment and assume these people have done everything they are accused of. Maybe they did - but no ones yet, and to act as if these individuals have already been PROVEN guilty under the LAW is shameful. Voisizneias writers and editors - instead of including the disclaimer that the charges in the above story are "merely allegations" at the very bottom, you should show more dan l'kaf zechut and write that at the very top, before people read the story and make harsh, perhaps improper, conclusions on the character of these individuals.

Thou doth protest too much.

This is not a court of law. It is, rather, the same court of popular perception and opinion most here, and in Cleveland last week, routinely use to "convict" and even urge a firing squad for Hillary Clinton.

20

 Jul 26, 2016 at 09:57 PM judith Says:

Reply to #10  
Anonymous Says:

So if I understand this story, he owns the building, he wants the illegal/undocumented tenants out of there so he can do construction on HIS building, but is not allowed?
As quoted In particular, "...associates threatened to report the tenants’ status as undocumented immigrants to legal authorities." Why shouldn't they?

I don't know the details other than what is reported here, but have personally worked in the past with him and he is an honest and ehrlich individual. I wouldn't be so quick to repeat the motzi shem ra.

Many people lead double lives: erlich in one arena and a rasha in another.

21

 Jul 27, 2016 at 12:08 AM know_who_trust Says:

Reply to #17  
Anonymous Says:

This is completely the reason why all bad things are happening to the yidden. Anyone who believes this is a complete moron, am ha'aretz and utter hater. I personally know all parties involved, and there is a lot more to it than what some self hating unaffiliated jew reports. They are all upstanding people, while the tenants are illegal immigrants who can never be trusted. Anyhow I don't understand how such a news site could publish such garbage and lashon hara.

Unlike you I don’t know any of these people involved. Just because these tenants maybe illegal and or undocumented doesn’t mean they “can never be trusted.” If you rent or ever had rented a rent controlled or rent stabilized apartment you know you can’t trust your landlord – especially a “frum” landlord.

22

 Jul 27, 2016 at 12:14 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #20  
judith Says:

Many people lead double lives: erlich in one arena and a rasha in another.

Why are you so intent on thinking the worst of people?
I'd sooner believe his side (which non of us has heard!) over an illegal immigrant family who refused to move out of their free apartment paid for by our taxes.
Public records show that the building purchased was represented to be vacant and there was also a permit for construction (must have been a permit if they had to issue a stop work order)
There's a lot more to the story than what we know from reading one article. I'll be Dan lkaf zchus a good yid.

23

 Jul 27, 2016 at 11:12 AM yonasonw Says:

Reply to #22  
Anonymous Says:

Why are you so intent on thinking the worst of people?
I'd sooner believe his side (which non of us has heard!) over an illegal immigrant family who refused to move out of their free apartment paid for by our taxes.
Public records show that the building purchased was represented to be vacant and there was also a permit for construction (must have been a permit if they had to issue a stop work order)
There's a lot more to the story than what we know from reading one article. I'll be Dan lkaf zchus a good yid.

...in support of Judith...In general I trust that a DA is not going to move forward on a case like this without substantial cause to

24

 Jul 28, 2016 at 10:04 AM heyward Says:

Reply to #22  
Anonymous Says:

Why are you so intent on thinking the worst of people?
I'd sooner believe his side (which non of us has heard!) over an illegal immigrant family who refused to move out of their free apartment paid for by our taxes.
Public records show that the building purchased was represented to be vacant and there was also a permit for construction (must have been a permit if they had to issue a stop work order)
There's a lot more to the story than what we know from reading one article. I'll be Dan lkaf zchus a good yid.

That was total bogies. The building was never empty. they told the building department that the building was empty. Otherwise they would never get a permit. "How Shameful"

25

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