Photo: April of 2015. AAFE, Manhattan Legal Services, tenants announce lawsuit against property owner.

Since 2015, Asian Americans for Equality has advocated for the residents of 43 Essex St., who faced harassment and were forced to endure intolerable conditions in their New York City apartment building. Now the State Attorney General has announced the indictment of their landlord for mortgage fraud.

AAFE and Manhattan Legal Services first alerted the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force about the alarming situation inside the Lower East Side building.

The property owner, Dean Galasso, was indicted on six felony charges stemming from an alleged scheme to fraudulently obtain a $5 million mortgage for 43 Essex St. Prosecutors accuse Galasso of submitting false mortgage documents to Investors Bank, including a falsified rent roll. The AG believes he forged residential leases to back up the false information contained in the rent roll. 

In a statement, Attorney General Scheniderman said, “Bad landlords are now on notice: if you attempt to break the law, we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law… Our task force will continue to identify, investigate, and prosecute those who try to game the system.”

Charges faced by Galasso include grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records. If convicted on all charges, he could be sentenced to as long as 25 years in prison.

In the spring of 2015, AAFE and Manhattan Legal Services helped the tenants of 43 Essex St. take Galasso to court. The landlord had conducted a series of dangerous construction projects, endangering the lives of tenants.  Illegal construction work compromised the integrity of the building, causing structural damage to the tenants’ apartments including gaping holes in ceiling walls and cracked floor tiles with sharp protruding edges. The lawsuit was eventually settled, with the tenants winning monetary damages.

In a statement following Galasso’s indictment, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We will use every tool at our disposal, including the criminal courts, to go after bad landlords who abuse their authority and hurt tenants. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman, DOB and HPD and our agency task force partners as we move to clean up the fraud and greed that hurts New York families.”

The joint city-state tenant protection task force looked into the problems at 43 Essex, conducting inspections at the building. Via its Tenant Protection Unit, the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal referred a criminal case to the attorney general’s office.

Here’s a statement from AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui:

As soon as Dean Galasso purchased 43 Essex he immediately began making life miserable for the building’s rent-regulated residents. With today’s indictment it is now clear that Galasso had targeted the residents for eviction before he even purchased the building. This case shows the lengths that predators are willing to go to cash in on a hot neighborhood, all while destroying the lives of the people in it. Residents in targeted neighborhoods are consistently on the front-lines of this real estate battle and are all too often the collateral damage. I thank AG Schneiderman for taking the case of 43 Essex seriously and pursuing it to this end. And I thank Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio for working together to create the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force and standing with the tenants of 43 Essex.