Attorney General James Announces Sentencing Of Man Who Stole Money Intended For Veterans
Attorney General James Announces Sentencing of Man
Who Stole Money Intended for Veterans
Michael Erber was also Convicted of Stealing Approximately $200,000 in Lottery Winnings
From a Veteran Who Sought Housing Assistance
BROOKLYN – Attorney General Letitia James announced the sentencing of Michael Erber (“Erber”), 62, of Brooklyn for stealing money intended to pay the rent of homeless New York City veterans from four Community Based Organizations. Erber was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 10 ½-21 years. On January 21, 2020, Erber was convicted after a jury trial of four counts of Grand Larceny in the third Degree and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. Erber was also convicted of one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree for stealing lottery winnings from a disabled veteran.
“Stealing money that is earmarked for our homeless veterans is truly an immoral and reprehensible act,” said Attorney General James. “This individual stole money directly from the hands of non-profits, and denied homeless veterans access to desperately-needed shelters and a safe place to call home. We will never tolerate such actions, and I will continue to do everything within my power to hold those who take advantage of vulnerable communities accountable."
According to evidence produced during trial in Supreme Court, Kings County, Erber operated an organization known as MAG-V, a New York not-for-profit. MAG-V recruited homeless veterans with promises of housing and job training, posting fliers with numerous homeless shelters and community based organizations. Erber also personally recruited veterans and case managers from these organizations.
As the evidence proved, after selecting veterans in need of housing, MAG-V entered into master lease agreements with landlords in Brooklyn and The Bronx, and then Mag-V subleased with the veterans. MAG-V then obtained federal funding intended for homeless veterans or veterans at risk of becoming homeless, for their rental payments from Community Based Organizations (“CBOs”) in New York City. Unbeknownst to the CBOs or the veterans, Erber did not pay the landlords any of the funds provided by the CBOs to pay the rent where the veterans were housed. As a result of this scheme Erber stole more than $3,000 each from four separate CBOs, more than $67,000 in total.
In addition to stealing money from the CBO’s, the Attorney General’s Office presented evidence that the defendant stole money directly from the individual veterans who were being housed by Mag-V. The federal funding from the CBO’s was meant as start-up money to help get the veterans out from the streets and shelters and into stable housing, enabling them to eventually start paying rent on their own. After the CBO’s ended their funding assistance, the veterans paid rent money directly to Erber, but again, Erber pocketed the rent money and did not pay the landlords. As a result, all of the veterans were evicted for non-payment of rent.
The jury also convicted Erber of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, for stealing $200,000 from John Pickett, a disabled veteran, who won a lottery jackpot in 2015. According to Mr. Pickett’s testimony and evidence, after he won the lottery, Mr. Pickett was constantly pressured by Erber to invest the lottery winnings with MAG-V. In exchange, Erber promised the veteran a paid position on MAG-V’s board of directors and offered to help him find permanent housing, as well as a paid job with Mag-V, none of which Erber ever did. Based on these false pretenses, Erber stole approximately $200,000 from the veteran.
Based on bank records produced at trial, the Attorney General’s Office demonstrated Erber spent more than $110,000 on rental cars and more than $41,000 to buy a car.
The defendant was sentenced by Judge Donald Leo in Kings County Supreme Court Part 16. The defendant has two prior felony convictions.
The Attorney General’s Office thanks the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (VA OIG) for their assistance on this case.
“This sentencing sends a clear message that VA OIG and our law enforcement partners will vigorously pursue anyone who seeks to victimize vulnerable veterans and their families who are deserving of VA benefits,” said VA OIG Acting Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Stachowiak. “We appreciate the efforts of the VA’s Management Review Service for referring this matter to us and the New York State Office of Attorney General for successfully prosecuting this case to achieve this important outcome.”
The investigation was conducted by Investigator Walter Lynch, under the supervision of Deputy Chief John McManus, and with the assistance of Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator John Reidy.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney Generals Nazy Modiri from the Real Estate Enforcement Unit and Russell Satin from the Public Integrity Bureau, under the supervision of Public Integrity Chief Travis Hill. Assisting on the case was Legal Support Analyst Jack Jones and Senior Legal Support Analyst Rachel Demma. The Criminal Justice Division is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice José Maldonado.