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State Attorney General Investigating Nonprofit Accused of Ripping Off Vets

By James Fanelli | February 15, 2017 4:55pm
 Michael Erber, a convicted robber, started MAG-V, a nonprofit purporting to help homeless veterans. He's been accused of illegally evicting veterans and taking a lottery winner's money.
Michael Erber, a convicted robber, started MAG-V, a nonprofit purporting to help homeless veterans. He's been accused of illegally evicting veterans and taking a lottery winner's money.
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Linkedin/Michael Erber

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office has opened an investigation into a nonprofit and its ex-convict founder who has been accused of illegally evicting homeless veterans, sources said.

The probe comes after DNAinfo New York exclusively reported last month that convicted armed robber Michael Erber and his nonprofit, MAG-V, were accused of pocketing rent it collected from veterans and bilking ex-U.S. Army soldier John Pickett out of $300,000 he won from a scratch-off lotto jackpot.

DNAinfo also reported on Wednesday that Erber and MAG-V posted bogus fliers that falsely claimed a tenant was a sex offender.

Brooklyn Legal Services told DNAinfo that it has represented at least a half-dozen veterans who have been illegally evicted by MAG-V. In at least one case, MAG-V has repeatedly defied a judge's order to stop locking a veteran out of his Brownsville apartment.

 Ellison McKnight III, a U.S. Army veteran, said he was illegally evicted by the nonprofit MAG-V. He also said that after his eviction, MAG-V put up phony fliers saying he was a sex offender.
Ellison McKnight III, a U.S. Army veteran, said he was illegally evicted by the nonprofit MAG-V. He also said that after his eviction, MAG-V put up phony fliers saying he was a sex offender.
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DNAinfo New York/ James Fanelli

In other cases, MAG-V has left vulnerable veterans scrambling to find housing after they learned they were being evicted because the rent they had been paying Erber was not passed onto their landlord, according to court records.

"I’m glad that somebody is starting to believe us," Pickett said of the probe.

Pickett and three other veterans live in a home in West Farms, but are set to be evicted on Feb. 28. He, like the others at his residence, was in need of housing when he enrolled in MAG-V's program.

The nonprofit says it provides rooms and job training to homeless veterans. Erber leases apartment buildings from landlords and then provides veterans with rooms in the buildings in exchange for rent.

However, court records show that Erber and MAG-V has been collecting rent but not paying landlords.

Farm Development LLC, the real estate firm that owns the West Farm residence where Pickett lives, filed a lawsuit against MAG-V in 2015, accusing the nonprofit of owing more than $55,000 in rent that hadn't been paid since 2015.

Another landlord in Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against Erber and MAG-V last year, saying they owe $53,415 in rent dating back to 2014 on Brownsville apartments they lease.

DNAinfo reported on Tuesday that veteran Ellison McKnight III had been paying $600 a month to live in one of the Brownsville apartments, but was illegally evicted. Despite obtaining three orders from a judge, McKnight has not been let back into his apartment.

McKnight said that during one of his attempts to get back into his apartment he found phony fliers posted on the building claiming that he was a sex offender.

After DNAinfo's Jan. 5 story ran, the city's Department of Veterans' Services reached out to Brooklyn Legal Services to see if it could be of assistance.

A spokeswoman for Veterans' Services said that her agency would help in making appropriate referrals for housing if any of the veterans were at risk of homelessness again.

The attorney general's office declined to comment for the story.

Erber did not respond to a request for comment.

"We are glad to know that the attorney general is investigating MAG-V and Michael Erber and we sincerely hope that the investigation will lead to the end of MAG-V's illegal evictions and harassment of veterans," said Shannon Karam, a staff attorney for Brooklyn Legal Services.