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BOGUS APARTMENT LISTING FIRMS

Posted by SamE on September 04, 2001 at 22:35:22:

SPITZER-DANIELS ANNOUNCE SIX CHARGED IN CITY-WIDE SWEEP OF
BOGUS APARTMENT LISTING FIRMS

Estimate That Thousands Paid For Non-existent Apartment Listings
August 8, 2001

Attorney General Spitzer and Secretary of State Randy Daniels announced
today that six people have been charged in a city-wide sweep of fake
apartment listing businesses. It's estimated that the businesses scammed
consumers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Following a referral from the Secretary of State and information from the
department's investigators, a nearly year-long investigation by Spitzer's
office resulted today in the arrests of five people, for operating a total
of 12 businesses that falsely claimed to have listings of low rent
apartments. A sixth person was named in a civil lawsuit for failing to
provide adequate apartment listings.

In the criminal case, Spitzer's office has alleged that the Cox-Adderly
Group, operating a number of businesses including "Plus Rental," "NYC No
Fee Apts" and "World of Apartments" would sign up consumers for a fee of
$150-$180 each. Customers were lured into paying the defendants' fee
through newspaper ads for low rent apartments throughout the area. In
fact, none of the apartments advertised ever existed.

When consumers would call the phone number they were given for an
apartment's 'landlord,'they were actually calling a phone answering machine
set up by the group. A 'call backer' employed by the group would return
the call posing as a representative of the landlord and ask for income,
employment history and other information. The consumer would then hear
nothing further from the 'landlord.'

"These five defendants brazenly used the area's hot real estate market to
prey on those looking for an affordable place to live," said
Spitzer. "Instead, the only thing that consumers received for their money
were fake listings leading to non-existent or unavailable apartments."

Daniels thanked Spitzer for acting aggressively and vowed that the
Department of State would continue its vigorous enforcement of licensing
and consumer protection laws. "What makes this scheme particularly
reprehensible is that the fabricated advertisements were specifically
designed by these predators to attract and appeal to low income people in
minority neighborhoods," said Daniels. "The victims, hardworking citizens
seeking an affordable home for their families, had their money stolen from
them just as surely as if they had been held up at gun point. We will use
all means at our disposal to identify and prosecute those who choose to
prey on the public."

The group advertised in area newspapers by claiming it had listings for one
bedroom apartments from $450 per month and 2-4 bedroom apartments from $600
per month. For example, one consumer was told that a two bedroom apartment
was available in Park Slope, Brooklyn for $900 per month, and another was
told that a two bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens was available for
$915.

During busy weeks, the group would sign up as many as 800 customers, taking
in $140,000. As a way to dodge consumer complaints, the group operated
under at least 12 different names, as well as a number of different
addresses, over the past three years. Spitzer and Daniels' offices have
received over 400 complaints about the businesses.

The defendants are charged with numerous counts of Scheme to Defraud,
Petit Larceny, and Selling Apartment Information Without A License. If
convicted, they face up to four years in prison.

The defendants were arrested this morning and are due to be arraigned this
afternoon in Criminal Court in Manhattan.

Spitzer noted that in 1999, one of the defendants, Leroy Noel Cox, had
agreed never again to act as an apartment information vendor in settlement
of a civil case brought by his office.

The businesses operated by the defendants since 1998 are BROKER'S FREE, at
545 8th Avenue, NEW YORK NO FEE APARTMENTS, 129 West 27th Street, THE
APARTMENT FINDERS, 224 West 35th Street, WORLD OF APARTMENTS, 171 West 29th
Street, BROKER BYPASS, 1001 Avenue of the Americas, NYC NO FEE APTS, and
COMPATIBLE ROOMMATES, 66 West 39th Street, R&R RENTALS, 171 West 29th
Street, A FAST RENT, at 112 West 27th Street, EXPRESS RENTS INC., 112 West
27th Street, and SMART RENT and PLUS RENTALS, at 143 West 22nd Street.

DEFENDANTS:

Leroy Noel Cox : DOB 12-30-64
1123 E.73rd Street
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Michael Adderly: DOB 11-18-75
869 Riverside Drive
N.Y. N.Y. 10032

Mekete Dawitt Melaku: DOB 5-18-77
2101 Bedford Ave.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11216

Morsell Allison: DOB 1-29-77
869 Riverside Drive
N.Y. N.Y. 10032

Moyston Allison: DOB 5-31-78
264 Avenue O
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230

In the separate, but similar civil case, Spitzer announced a lawsuit
against Richard Wilson and nine of his companies, charging fraud and
deceptive practices for an unlicenced apartment finder business that he runs.

Since at least February of 1999, Wilson, of 105th Avenue in Queens, charged
consumers between $155-$195 for a membership in his apartment listing
service. But once consumers paid Wilson, they either never received
listings, received listings for apartments that were no longer available
or listings for apartments that did not meet their requirements.

Spitzer this week obtained a temporary restraining order, signed by
Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Phyllis Gangel-Jacobs, preventing
Wilson from operating any unlicenced apartment information vending
business. The lawsuit seeks approximately $20,000 in restitution for
victims, as well as civil penalties and costs to the state.

Wilson and his companies were the subject of over 100 consumer
complaints. He targeted consumers in Queens, the Bronx and Long Island
through newspaper ads.

"We believe that thousands of consumers have been victimized by these bogus
apartment services," said Spitzer. "Consumers should always check to see
whether these businesses 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."

Current Wilson offices (note--all businesses are unlicenced)

E-Z Apartment Locators Publishing Corp.
376 Woodfield Road
West Hempstead, New York

Bronx Rental Locators Publishing Corp.
613 E. Fordham Road
Bronx, New York

Queens Rental Locators
237-33 Jamaica Avenue
Queens, New York
(QRL is an unincorporated company)

Taking part in the news conference were consumers Alicia Sheppard of the
Bronx, and Angel Alicea, Jr. of Brooklyn. The criminal cases are being
prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Ronda Lustman of the Criminal
Prosecutions Bureau and Jose Perez of the Consumer Frauds Bureau. Assistant
Attorney General Roberto Lebron of the Harlem Regional Office is
responsible for the civil litigation. The investigation was conducted for
the New York Department of State by Litigation Counsel Laurence Soronen.

Anyone wishing to file a complaint against any of the listed companies,
should call the Attorney General's Consumer Frauds hotline at
800-771-7755; for hearing impaired, call TDD (800) 788-9898, or visit
http://www.oag.state.ny.us.

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