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Apt. locator shut by state in Queens Village bust

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A Queens Village man, who allegedly cheated apartment hunters out of thousands of dollars through his unlicensed apartment locator companies, was charged with fraud and deceptive practices, the state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced last week.

Civil charges were brought Aug. 8 against Richard Wilson of 105th Avenue, who owns nine different unlicensed companies, including Queens Rental Locators in Queens Village, Spitzer said. He was accused of cheating his clients out of the $155 to $195 registration fee for membership in his apartment listing service, according to the state attorney general.

Since February 1999, Spitzer said, the clients of Wilson’s apartment locator service had not received any listings of available apartments but were given listings of apartments that were no longer available or the apartments were unsuitable for the potential renters.

“We believe thousands of consumers have been victimized by these bogus apartment services,” Spitzer said. “Consumers should always check to see whether these business are licensed by the state before turning over any money. With these prosecutions, we want to put these type of scam artists on notice that we will be vigilant when it comes to protecting consumers.”

Spitzer said he obtained a temporary restraining order, which prevents Wilson from running any unlicensed apartment information services. The attorney general’s lawsuit seeks about $20,000 in restitution for the clients, civil penalties and costs to the state.

Charles Hochbaum, Wilson’s lawyer, did not return calls seeking comment.

According to Spitzer’s office, there were more than 100 consumer complaints filed against Wilson. Wilson’s current offices are Queens Rental Locators at 237-23 Jamaica Ave. in Queens Village, E-Z Apartment Locators Publishing Corp. in West Hempstead, L.I. and Bronx Rental Locators Publishing Corp. in the Bronx.

In a separate but related case, Spitzer announced that six other people have been charged in apartment scams.

Spitzer said that after a yearlong investigation five men were arrested for allegedly operating apartment listing services that falsely claimed to list low-rent and no-fee apartments. A sixth man was named in the civil suit.

He said the group, which ran advertisements in local papers, claimed it had cheap one- and two-bedroom apartments, but those apartments never existed. The group gave out numbers of supposed landlords, but in reality it was a number connected to answering machines the group had set up, Spitzer said.

The group, he said, would then call back posing as representatives of the landlord and ask a variety of questions. The customer would never hear from them again.

The five charged were Leroy Noel Cox of Brooklyn, Michael Adderly of Manhattan, Mekete Dawitt Melaku of Brooklyn, Morsell Allison of Manhattan and Moyston Allison of Brooklyn. The businesses they operated were: Broker’s Free, New York No Fee Apartments; Broker Bypass; NYC No Fee Apartments; A Fast Rent; Express Rents, Inc.; Smart Rent; and Plus Rentals.

The defendants were charged with a scheme to defraud, petty larceny and selling apartment information without a license. If convicted, they could receive up to four years in jail.

“These five defendants brazenly used the area’s hot real estate market to prey on those looking for an affordable place to live,” Spitzer said. “Instead, [all] that consumers received for their money were fake listings to non-existent or unavailable apartments.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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