‘Wolf Of Airbnb’ Charged In Scheme To Defraud New York City Landlords And PPP Fraud | USAO-SDNY

Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Deputy Director of the New York Bureau of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the indictment of KONRAD BICHER for two counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated impersonation in connection with a scheme to defraud New York City landlords (the “Rental Property Scheme”) and a scheme to Fraudulently obtaining over $565,000 in government-backed loans intended to provide relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). BICHER was arrested under the Rental Property Scheme at the end of June 2022. The case was assigned to Judge Lorna G. Schofield.

US Attorney Damian Williams said: ‘We allege Bicher brazenly leased at least 18 apartments in Manhattan with intent to ignore his lease obligations, including operating the apartments as mini-hotels and skipping rent . When landlords sought to collect rent from Bicher, he lied and claimed he couldn’t make payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, Bicher obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in PPP money based on multiple fraudulent claims. Bicher abused government programs and tenant protections meant to benefit New Yorkers in crisis, and he will have to answer for his conduct.

FBI Deputy Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said, “As alleged, the defendant proudly executed several schemes to defraud both private entities and the United States government for his own benefit. The FBI remains committed not only to exterminating fraud in all its forms, but to ensuring that anyone who abused a program designed to help small businesses during an unprecedented global pandemic is held accountable.”

As alleged in the previously filed indictment and complaint:[1]

Since at least February 2019, KONRAD BICHER, and/or persons working in concert with BICHER, have begun renting apartments (the “Units”) in Manhattan. The Units were rented under rental agreements which required the tenant to pay monthly rents and also included clauses prohibiting the tenant from renting the Units to third parties on a short-term basis and/or clauses prohibiting the tenant from subletting the Units to third parties without the written consent of the owner. Despite the obligation to pay monthly rents, BICHER did not make the payments required by the rental contracts. For many units, BICHER also refused to vacate the units after the rental contracts expired. During the period that BICHER failed to make required rent payments, including the period that elapsed after a lease agreement expired and the premises were not vacated, BICHER drew revenue by renting the Units on a short-term basis, including by posting the Units for Rent on various online marketplaces, including Airbnb, Inc. (“Airbnb”).

Between or around July 2019 and or around April 2022, BICHER and its associates have not made more than $1,000,000 in payments under the lease agreements or, for the period following the expiration of the rental, based on the fair estimate of the market value of the units. During this period, BICHER caused the Units to be listed for short-term rentals on Airbnb and at least one other online marketplace for short-term rentals, which generated at least $1,170,000 in rental income for BICHER and its associates.

Throughout this plan, the lessors of the Units have made numerous efforts to recover the rents from BICHER and/or to prevent BICHER from continuing to rent the Units in the short term, including by initiating a civil action against BICHER. Despite these efforts, BICHER continued to rent certain Units on a short-term basis.

During the scheme, BICHER referred to himself as the “wolf of Airbnb” and explained to the media that this nickname referred to the fact that he was “hungry and ruthless enough to climb to the top of the financial ladder” and had the “ferocity…of a wolf, because wolves are territorial, vicious, and show no mercy when provoked.”

In addition, between at least April 2021 or around July 2021 or around July 2021, BICHER has engaged in a program to obtain government guaranteed loans through a United States Small Business Administration loan program designed to help small businesses during the COVID -19 pandemic, namely the PPP. Under this program, BICHER has submitted at least four PPP loan applications on behalf of at least three entities and obtained over US$565,000 in loan proceeds. These PPP applications contained fraudulent documents and false information. For example, as part of the PPP applications, BICHER submitted tax documents that would have been filed with the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). These documents were falsified, in that the entities seeking PPP loans had not actually filed the purported income tax returns with the IRS, and BICHER did not otherwise report the purported income to the IRS. As part of one of the PPP applications, submitted on behalf of NY Approved Rentals, BICHER submitted a copy of a 2019 tax return allegedly filed with the IRS and signed by a particular accountant (” Accountant-1″) located in the state of Florida. In truth and in fact, NY Approved Rentals did not file any tax returns of any kind in 2019, and BICHER only asked Accountant-1 to prepare a tax return for NY Approved Rentals after BICHER was asked to provide a copy of the tax return in relation to the PPP loan.

* * *

BICHER, 31, of Hialeah, Fla., is charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated impersonation. The two counts of wire fraud each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The charge of aggravated identity theft carries an additional two-year consecutive mandatory sentence.

The maximum potential penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.

This case is being handled by the Bureau’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Weinberg is in charge of the prosecution.

[1] As the introductory sentence indicates, the entire text of the Indictment and Complaint and the description of the Indictment and Complaint contained in this release constitute allegations only. , and each fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Comments are closed.