A New York City real estate brokerage owner pleaded guilty in federal court last week to paying kickbacks and bribes to Victor Rivera, the former head of one of the largest homeless shelter operators in the city, the New York Times reported.
Sheina Levin, the owner of Urban Residences, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud on Thursday, the outlet said.
Prosecutors said Levin paid nearly $690,000 to Rivera from May 2019 to January 2021, to have the Bronx Parent Housing Network, helmed by Rivera, lease space from a building Urban Residences owned in the Bronx.
The arrangement gave Urban Residences a toehold in receiving at least some of the hundreds of millions of dollars designated each year to assist people experiencing homelessness.
The Bronx Parent Housing Network paid millions in rent to Urban Residences.
“This unscrupulous real estate company owner resorted to bribes and kickbacks to become the landlord of choice for a taxpayer-funded nonprofit that provides vital homeless shelter services,” Jocelyn E. Strauber, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Investigation, said in a statement.
Rivera last year was sentenced to two years and three months in prison for taking kickbacks and bribes from associates, including Levin, from 2013 to 2021, the Department of Investigation said. Levin, who is Rivera’s former business partner, allegedly paid the largest in a series of kickbacks to Rivera that netted him $1.2 million.
However, as the nonprofit grew — the Housing Network received $274 million from the city to run shelters since 2017 — Rivera began living large: He received a salary of more than $450,000, leased a luxury car through Housing Network and then began doling out contracts to close associates, including Levin, as well as commingling nonprofit work with for-profit companies.
Rivera’s legal troubles are a stunning fall from grace, who launched the Bronx Parent Housing Network in 2000 and overcame homelessness and addiction himself, according to the Times.
— Ted Glanzer