DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A homeless Brooklyn mother whose family was torn apart by landlord harassment and unlawful eviction can begin to rebuild her life following a $68,000 criminal settlement.
Zaida Paris, 50, a former tenant of Brooklyn landlords Joel and Amrom Israel, who pleaded guilty to scheme to defraud and unlawful eviction charges in November, beamed as she read over the details of the court settlement, following a sentencing hearing Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
"I've never seen that much money before," she said, "Things like this don't happen."
Attorneys for the Israel brothers wrote out a series of checks Wednesday for a total of $350,000 — $250,000 of which will go directly to ten tenants and the rest to the state's Tenant Protection Unit that will set up a fund for further reimbursements, according to the terms of the November plea deal.
Paris received the heftiest payout of any of the ten tenants who faced harassment by pitbulls and men with baseball bats, according to prosecutors. Some of the building residents lived without kitchens and bathrooms for months on end, and some of whom were unlawfully evicted once their apartments had been demolished.
Members of the state's Tenant Protection Unit pledged to help Paris secure a new subsidized two-bedroom apartment, they told her following the hearing, and she planned to use some of the funds to help her daughter's fledging singing career and to take her on a cruise.
"When you live on faith anything is possible," she said. "Nothing is impossible for God."
Before the details of the settlement was announced the tearful mother of two told the court about the nightmare ordeal she had been through since losing her 15 Humboldt St. apartment where she'd lived for 19 years.
Her marriage fell apart. She lost her job.
"I now currently live in a shelter. My family has been ripped apart. My two children live in two different places," said Paris, a social worker who said one day she and her daughter came home to find the kitchen and bathroom destroyed, forcing the whole family onto the street.
Their eviction was followed by a months-long, unsuccessful fight in housing court to get back in, she said.
"Opening your door and finding your kitchen gutted and your bathroom and your sink on top of all the bricks is the last last memory I have of where I lived with my children," she said. "Because of what they did to us our lives will never be the same. There's no amount of money that can ever repay what they've done."
Michelle Crespo, 36, another Israel brother tenant, whose family lived in an apartment in one of their properties in Bushwick without a bathroom or a kitchen for a year and had gaping holes in their floor that allowed rats and stray cats inside, said she was happy that her landlords were held accountable for the trauma they caused her.
But she said she didn't think that a fine, even a hefty one, didn't quite feel like justice had been served.
"I think jail time would have been the best," Crespo said, following the hearing. "I don't even feel like it's enough. All the families [they] hurt. It's not enough."
The Israel brothers made a deal with prosecutors in November that would allow them to avoid jail in exchange for paying $350,000 within six months.
Their lawyer said that pair admitted their guilt and paid their debt.
“This is not the first time the interests of landlords and tenants have collided," said John Carmen, defense attorney for Amrom, speaking for both brothers, following the hearing Wednesday. "That said, by virtue of their plea agreement with the District Attorney, the Israels have acknowledged their responsibility and lived up to their obligation to make restitution to tenants who have suffered.”