Matthew Wada, 36, New York, New York, and Jennifer York, 27, Suffern, New York, have been indicted for engaging in an apartment rental scam that defrauded more than 20 victims – many of whom were moving to New York City for the first time – out of approximately $60,000 dollars.
Following an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD’s 6th and 9th Precincts, the indictments charge the defendants with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree and multiple counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree. Wada is also charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree.1
According to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, from late October 2013 to early March 2014, Wada and York gained temporary access to various apartments by renting the apartment through websites including Craigslist and NYHabitat.com for vacation or a short-term stay. The apartments were located throughout Manhattan, including in Midtown, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the East Village. Once the defendants gained access to an apartment, they would then advertise it for rent on different websites, including Craigslist and Bazarynka.com, the latter a website serving the Polish community in New York. Victims who responded to the defendants’ rental advertisements were shown an apartment Wada or York had access to for only a short period of time. The victims, who were falsely told that Wada was the apartment’s landlord, signed long-term lease agreements with future start dates and gave the defendants varying amounts of rent and security deposits up front. Victims lost anywhere from $150 to $4,500, with average losses around $2,200. In many cases, multiple victims signed leases for the same apartment.
When a victim attempted to move into an apartment, he or she would find that the apartment was occupied by the real tenant, or that the apartment was a short-stay vacation rental that neither Wada nor York had authority to lease. By the time the victims learned they had been scammed, Wada and York, both of whom used various aliases throughout the scheme, had disappeared.
In an unrelated case last year, Michael Tammaro was sentenced to 3-to-9 years in state prison for stealing nearly $200,000 from at least 40 victims by means of a similar apartment rental scam. As admitted in his guilty plea, Tammaro posting photos of his primary residence, a rental apartment on West 20th Street, Chelsea, on Craiglist, advertising its availability. Individuals interested in the renting the apartment sent money to Tammaro for a security deposit or for the first rent payment, even though the apartment had been promised to at least one prospective tenant already. The scheme eventually unraveled after multiple victims tried to move into the apartment on the same day.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the indictment.
Assistant District Attorney Maurice Mathis is handling the prosecution of the case, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Kim Han, Deputy Chief of the Tax Crimes Unit; Peirce R. Moser, Chief of the Tax Crimes Unit; and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division. Special Investigator Michael Lentini and Senior Investigator Jose Vasquez also assisted with the investigation, under the supervision of Supervisory Investigator Jonathan Reid, Deputy Chief Investigator Santiago Batista, and Assistant Chief Investigator Michael Wigdor.
District Attorney Vance also thanked the NYPD for its assistance in the investigation, especially Detective Keith Devine and Captain Mike Kletzel of the NYPD Warrant Squad, Detective Joseph Lombardi and Lieutenant James Molloy from the 9th Precinct Detective Squad, and Officer Robert Turbiak and Sergeant Robert Li from the Grand Larceny Division.
“Prospective renters lost thousands of dollars in this alleged scheme, which left several of them temporarily homeless,” said District Attorney Vance. “Many of the victims were young, first-time New Yorkers who believed they had signed a legitimate lease only to find out when attempting to move in that their new apartment was already occupied. Renters seeking apartments through unlicensed brokers and real estate agents should be on alert for unscrupulous individuals seeking to take advantage in this crowded real estate market.”