BROWNSVILLE — A nonprofit that purports to help and house homeless veterans illegally evicted a former serviceman, put up bogus posters saying he's a sex offender and then defied a judge's order to stop locking him out of his Brooklyn apartment, court records and lawyers charge.
The nonprofit, MAG-V, which is run by an ex-convict, put up the phony fliers last month on the main door of a Brownsville apartment building, where Ellison McKnight III, a former U.S. Army specialist, had been illegally evicted in November, according to McKnight, his lawyers and court records.
The fliers show McKnight's Arizona driver's license and warn: "Community Alert Level 3 Sex Offender Guard Your Children."
The bogus poster goes on to say "Offender Has Deceived Military & Veterans Community Residence Program." It also falsely claims that McKnight is subject to two pending arrests for property damage and threatening and menacing an autistic child.
McKnight said he saw the posters Jan. 13 when he tried to gain access to his room in the building after obtaining a second order from a Brooklyn Housing Court judge commanding MAG-V and its founder, Michael Erber, to allow him to return to his apartment.
"This is some life and death s--t here," McKnight said, fearing that someone could see the fliers and attack him. "People get killed for this s--t. This is my reality."
DNAinfo New York reported Jan. 5 that Erber — who served 15 years in prison for robbing a check cashing store and currently faces misdemeanor charges for driving a car with a fake license plate — has been accused of illegally evicting several veterans and scammed one of them out of $300,000 in lottery winnings.
Erber's nonprofit leases buildings in Brooklyn and The Bronx, and then rents rooms to homeless veterans. But Erber has been accused of pocketing their rent money and not paying landlords.
A Bronx landlord who leased a West Farm residence to Erber is suing the nonprofit, saying it owes $55,000 in rent. Four veterans who had been paying rent to Erber to live in the West Farm building are now expected to be evicted this month because of MAG-V's arrears, court records show.
Meanwhile, the landlord who leases the Brownsville apartments to Erber is suing Erber and MAG-V for $53,415 in owed rent dating back to 2014, court records show.
McKnight said he first moved into the Brownsville building in November 2015, after the advocacy group Black Veterans for Social Justice referred him to MAG-V. Black Veterans for Social Justice paid his first six months of rent while he attended New York Film Academy and worked part-time at a polling company.
McKnight said he paid $600 a month in rent in May, June, July and August. But in September, Erber told McKnight he had to leave because he had not paid rent. MAG-V locked him out of the unit in November.
Shortly before Christmas, a housing court judge issued an order restoring McKnight to his apartment, but when he tried to enforce it, a house manager for MAG-V wouldn't let McKnight into the building.
McKnight and his attorneys at Brooklyn Legal Services went back to court Jan. 11 to obtain another order reinstating him to his apartment. During that hearing, Erber first accused McKnight of being a sex offender, claiming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had informed him of the status.
But when a judge told Erber to produce any sex offender documents, he didn't.
McKnight and his lawyers said that's because the documents don't exist.
They said McKnight is not a sex offender and has never been convicted of a sex crime. They said his father, Ellison McKnight Jr., pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charge of having sex with a ward while serving as a prison guard in Arizona, but even he isn't a registered sex offender.
After getting a second court order Jan. 12, Erber again failed to hand over the keys and instead put up the phony sex-offender fliers, according to McKnight and his lawyers.
On Jan. 30, McKnight and his attorneys got a locksmith to open the door to his unit, where McKnight saw the power was off and his personal belongings were missing. That night, Erber punched McKnight during a confrontation, McKnight and his lawyers said.
McKnight said he was injured and went to the hospital, and when he returned to his apartment two days later, the locks had again been changed.
Last week, McKnight, who has been couch-surfing and sleeping at McDonald's, got the judge to hold Erber in contempt, fining him $250. McKnight also got a third court order to let him back into his apartment — but it too did no good.
He and his lawyers went to Mag-V's office in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Friday to show Erber the order, but he wasn't there, they said. McKnight's lawyer Shannon Karam said they tried to get police officers to enforce the judge's order, but they got no help.
"It's disheartening to see someone repeatedly violating city and state anti-eviction laws so brazenly without consequence, especially when the target of the unlawful actions is an extremely vulnerable group, homeless veterans who are trying to get on their feet," McKnight's lawyer, Shannon Karam, said.
Erber did not respond to requests for comment.