Judge Viscovich Style Divorce: Cash-Starved, Landlords Buildings Crumble

Photo Caption: Ester Heller stands at location where balcony of her apartment collapsed.

(This article, originally published on April 6, was deleted when Black Star News was subjected to cyberattack on May 16, 2023)

Esther Heller doesn’t know why her landlord Shlomo Ruben hasn’t fixed her apartment’s partially collapsed balcony in more than two weeks. “He’s a very good landlord. The best we’ve ever had. When we had a problem with the sink it was fixed the same day,” Heller told Black Star News in an interview.

Heller, whose lived on the second floor of the three-family building in Brooklyn owned by Ruben for three years, says she was shocked to find pieces of the balcony in front of their home on the morning of March 25, 2023, after she woke up. “It was crazy,” Heller recalled. “A few pieces of metal, debris; then when I look up at the porch, half of the bottom was gone.” Fortunately there’d been no one standing beneath the porch at the time. What remains of the balcony is slanted in a weird position and will also soon collapse, Heller fears.

The surrounding area where pieces of the balcony rained down has been cordoned off with yellow tape. Heller has two children; a one-year-old and an 11-year-old. She feared they’d wander on the balcony, and they’d come tumbling down. She locked the door and screwed it tight for extra safety. “It’s very dangerous. I hope this thing can be fixed as soon as possible,” she says.

Another one of Ruben’s tenants sent him an e-mail message seen by Black Star News, on April 5, that reads, “We urgently need the front door handle fixed, and lock replaced. An unknown man came inside the building again last night at 3:43 am. In addition, there are several dead light bulbs in our entryway. Please replace them with bright bulbs. The current situation is dark and dangerous.”

Why no repairs? The landlord, Ruben and his wife, are involved in a contentious divorce case that’s lasted years now since he filed to dissolve the marriage in March 2020.

The couple managed several properties they owned, together—Ruben ran the business while his wife ran the finances, he said. Now a court-appointed receiver, Joseph Trotti, controls all rent receipts. Ruben says he’s had no share of his distributions—which is supposed to be 50/50 with his wife—since January 2023. On the other hand, Judge William Viscovich who’s presiding over the case recently awarded Ruben’s wife $200,000 from an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) that the couple got for their business, but nothing for him. The SBA loan money, $399,300 has been in the escrow account of John A. Gemelli, Ruben’s wife’s attorney.

“I know the balcony is dangerous, but I have no money to fix it,” Ruben says. “I have no money for any repairs, or to run the business which included flipping buildings. I have no money for living expenses or child support ordered by the judge. Meanwhile the attorneys get paid, and I can’t imagine what the receiver’s bill will be in the end. I don’t understand why the judge is starving me of funds while my wife gets $200,000,” he says.

“Why should the balance of the SBA loan remain in Gemelli’s account when it’s meant for the business and my wife has been given half of the money for personal use,” Ruben adds.

Ruben claims when he objected to Judge Viscovich that the SBA EIDL loan was for business purposes as required by law, the judge told him to take up the matter with the IRS and that maybe he’d win a reward. Court papers show that during a hearing on January 23, 2023, one of Ruben’s attorneys at the time, Andrew Wigler told Judge Viscovich that his client should get “half of the proceeds,” which would be about $200,000.

“I’ve gotten zero of the SBA loan even though there’s need for urgent work on the buildings,” Ruben says. At one point, earlier, on July 15, 2021, his wife had transferred $200,000 of the SBA loan to a bank account belonging to her niece, Samantha Azizo, Ruben says.

Ruben claims that when the couple sold one of their properties located at 140A Hull Street for $600,000, he only got about $75,000 in distributions. He claims a condominium project at 1009 Hancock Street generated over

$567,984 in revenue, and a closing from the couple’s 221 Beach 29 Street property, brought in $198,068. Had he received 50/50 distribution from those deals he wouldn’t be cash strapped and unable to take care of the properties, he says. “I want a total accounting of all these transactions,” he says.

Ruben has instructed his new lawyer, Phillip Vessa, to ask Judge Viscovich for an emergency hearing so he can get funds for immediate repairs. He says he also wants to inspect the third-floor balcony on the property where the second-floor one collapsed; he also wants to inspect the entire building’s structure, and to make any necessary repairs that may be required.

Ruben says the long-drawn-out divorce case has alienated his children from him. The couple has four children, ages 12, 17, 19 and 21. He claims his wife has ignored Viscovich’s order mandating that he have regular visits, including alternating holidays, with the children. “I don’t see why this case has had to last three years,” Ruben says. A lawyer currently not involved in the case told him that some lawyers drag out cases in order to maximize their billable hours.

Judge Viscovich didn’t respond to several questions submitted by e-mail message from Black Star News, including about the emergency repairs Ruben says he needs; he also didn’t respond to a question about his alleged comment about a reward from the IRS. The judge referred Black Star News to a spokesperson for the New York Unified Courts System, Lucian Chalfen, who also didn’t respond to inquiries.

Separately, Gemelli, the attorney for Ruben’s wife, didn’t respond to an inquiry about the SBA EIDL loan. Samantha Azizo also didn’t respond to an e-mail message inquiry about the alleged transfer of money from the loan into her account.

Judge Viscovich has set the next court date on May 11. The couple is dividing their remaining 10 properties 50/50. “The repairs can’t wait until May. What if the rest of the balcony collapses? What if there are other structural issues on the building? What about the other balcony? What about intruders on my other properties?”

Contact Allimadi via [email protected] (mailto:[email protected]) if you’ve also been victimized by the courts system. We only respond to well-documented cases.

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