A Nassau County man scammed more than 1,500 homeowners, charging them $1.5 million to obtain property tax exemptions they could have obtained for free, the state attorney general charged in a lawsuit filed this week.
Arie Gal, 64, of East Meadow, and his company, STAR Exemption Advisor, charged “excessive fees” for filing applications for the New York State School Tax Relief, or STAR, program, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday.
Gal was “manipulating . . . one of the few forms of financial relief available to homeowners,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Gal’s attorney, Shaun Hogan, said his client denies the allegations. Gal did not respond to a message left at a phone number listed for him.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Mineola seeks full restitution for homeowners who paid Gal. Prosecutors also aim to bar Gal and his company from marketing property tax reduction services in New York.
The alleged scam involved a property tax exemption for homeowners who earn up to $500,000, prosecutors wrote in court documents. Homeowners can apply for the exemption themselves at no cost, using a two-page form.
Gal used official-looking mailings and an official-sounding company name “to trick homeowners into believing that they were dealing with a government agency,” when in fact they were “unknowingly” authorizing Gal’s company to act on their behalf, prosecutors wrote.
Homeowners sent their applications to Gal, who allegedly submitted them and charged homeowners the value of one year of the exemption. In some cases, he demanded payment from homeowners who submitted their own applications, prosecutors charged. If they did not pay, he sued them in small claims court, prosecutors wrote.
Among the homeowners who settled small-claims suits with Gal were Philip Coiro, 35, a musician, and his wife, Lauryn Ciardullo, 30, a Broadway actress.
The pair bought their home in Valley Stream in 2014 and filed for the tax exemption in 2015. Soon after, they received an official-looking form in the mail, which Ciardullo filled out and mailed, Coiro said.
The next year, Gal’s company sued them for $1,180, the full value of the exemption for one year, Coiro said. A court mediator told them they could not win the case, so they paid the full amount, Coiro said. Afterward, they contacted elected officials and the attorney general.
Coiro said he does not know whether it will be possible to get their money back.
“For us, it’s more important that he’s stopped and punished,” Coiro said. “If we get the money back in addition, it’s just a bonus.”
Anyone who wishes to file a complaint with the attorney general’s office can call the Nassau County office at 516-248-3302 or the main number at 800-771-7755, or file an online complaint at https://ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/Filing-a-Consumer-Complaint.