Prosecutors Say Criminal Gang Took Control of Emergency Mitigation Industry in NYC
Federal prosecutors have charged nine individuals in an alleged racketeering conspiracy that they say took control of a Brooklyn damage restoration company and used violence and threats to intimidate competitors and dominate the emergency mitigation industry in New York City.
According to a grand jury indictment unsealed in federal district court in Manhattan on June 29, members of the violent Bloods street gang and their associates took over operations of First Response Cleaning Corp. in Brooklyn in 2019. Prosecutors say the defendants used First Response as a vehicle to extort other emergency mitigation contractors and file false insurance claims.
“We allege gang members deployed mob-like tactics, using extortion and violence in their attempts to take over an entire industry designed to help victims after a fire,” FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said in a press release issued by the US Justice Department. “They employed violence to force other companies and vendors to do their bidding.”
The FBI worked with Homeland Security Investigations, New York City police and the New York City Department of Investigation to lay the groundwork for the arrests. Arrested were:
- Jatiek Smith, 37, also known as “Tiek.” He is the alleged ringleader.
- Sequan Jackson, 33, or “Supa.”
- Anthony McGee, 32, or “Touch.”
- Kaheen Small, 35, or “Biz.”
- Damon Dore, 36, or “Demo.”
- Hasim Smith, 29, or “Hoodie.”
- Rahmiek Lacewell, 37, or “Ready.”
- Manuel Pereira, 38, or “Manny.”
- Octavio Peralta, 42. He is a public adjuster who is accused of helping the enterprise gain control of the emergency mitigation industry.
Eight of the defendants were arrested on June 28 and appeared before a magistrate judge in federal court in Manhattan. Jatiek Smith was arrested in Puerto Rico and appeared before a US District Court judge there.
Prosecutors say after the defendants took control of First Response in 2019, they used force and threats of force against other restoration contractors and public adjusters to exert control over the city’s emergency mitigation industry. They threatened to kill or shoot their victims and members of the victims’ families, according to the indictment. They also distributed videos of their violent acts to intimidate victims.
The indictment says each member of the conspiracy was required to commit “at least two acts of racketeering activity.”
Prosecutors say that the enterprise extorted money from emergency mitigation companies and public adjusters, requiring them to pay if they wanted to continue to work without being attacked. The conspirators imposed a system in which they dictated which companies got which losses, the indictment says.
Online records maintained by the New York State Department say that Charlotte Walsh of Rockaway is the chief executive officer of First Response Cleaning Corp., which filed incorporation papers in 2008. She is not named in the indictment.
The Justice Department press release says that the criminal conspirators controlled the company, but did not give details on how they gained that control.
“This criminal organization took advantage of people in time of personal and professional turmoil to enrich themselves at others expense,” the press release says.
Federal court records show that in 2018 two former employees filed lawsuits that accused First Response and its operators, Carl and Charlotte Walsh, of violating overtime and other labor laws. One worker said he worked an average of 69 hours per week and was never paid overtime. Another said he worked six days a week and was paid $10 an hour. First Response agreed to pay $85,000 to settle one lawsuit in September 2018 and $27,600 to settle the other in June 2019.
First Response continues to maintain a website, which promises customers that it will “cover deductibles up to $500.” A woman who answered the phone at the business on Wednesday hung up when an editor identified himself as a journalist. A message left later on a voice recorder did not yield a return call.
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