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Tax Assessors Face Racketeering Indictment

Posted by consigliere on February 26, 2002 at 03:04:27:

Here's an interesting article, Tax Assessors Face Racketeering Indictment, written by Afiya Jordan, from the February 26, 2002 online edition of the New York Law Journal.

I wonder why more property owners weren't indicted and arrested. Could there be just two who bribed the assessors? The city must have lost millions and millions of dollars in real estate taxes over the past 35 years because of this scheme.

"Eighteen current and former New York City tax assessors were indicted yesterday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District on federal racketeering, bribery and mail fraud charges. The indictment describes a massive scheme that prosecutors claim has netted the defendants more than $10 million over the past three decades.

The assessors were employed in the Department of Finance in the property division's real property assessments unit. They are accused of having accepted more than $10 million in bribes to alter the assessed values of more than 500 properties during the past 35 years in a scheme estimated to have cost the city $40 million a year in lost tax revenues during at least the 1997-1998 tax year through the 2000-2001 tax year.

The indictment alleges that the assessment unit was a criminal enterprise where assessors accepted bribes, and that two of the defendants who paid bribes, were associates of the enterprise. According to the indictment, Albert Schussler, 85, a property manager and owner in New York City, has been paying bribes since 1967. In exchange for a series of cash bribes, ranging from $500 to several thousand dollars, and expensive meals, assessors illegally altered the assessed values of properties in which Mr. Schussler had an interest.

The assessors would then give Mr. Schussler worksheets, which were not supposed to be made public, to show the proposed assessed values on particular properties. Once a final assessment was agreed upon, the assessors submitted the numbers to the Department of Finance and the city would then mail the assessments to property owners. Alan G. Edelstein, 52, of Glen Ridge, N.J., is alleged to have begun this same type of fraudulent activity in July 2001.

Seventeen of the 18 defendants were arrested on a 572-count indictment stemming from a joint investigation of the Department of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The last defendant is expected to surrender today.

The government is seeking forfeiture of $170 million, for which the defendants each are joint and severally liable. The maximum sentences range from 5 to 20 years in prison. Each charge also carries a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense.

Mr. Schussler was released after a court appearance yesterday on $250,000 bail. His lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, declined to comment. The other defendants were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis to determine bail conditions.

Investigators estimated that approximately 20 percent of New York City's budget revenue is generated by taxes on real property."

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