A Nassau County company found to have swindled new homeowners out of at least $1.5 million for help in completing a free form for a state tax exemption program must close operations, New York Attorney General Letitia James said.
James said terms of the settlement include $920,000 in damages, the dissolution of East Meadow-based YCA Corp., and the cancellation of all outstanding billed and unbilled accounts.
The company and its owner, Arie Gal, as part of the agreement, are also permanently barred from offering any property tax rebate services in New York and must vacate all small-claims court judgments.
“Taking advantage of New Yorkers by manipulating a tax exemption program created to help homeowners is illegal and immoral,” James said in a statement.
YCA Corp., a tax preparation company operating as a “Star exemption advisor,” helped residents through mailers complete forms to receive the property tax break.
The state School Tax Relief Program, or STAR Program, provides a partial exemption from school property taxes for primary residences that are owner-occupied with a total household income of $500,000 or less.
Officials said YCA Corp. submitted bills to residents that often equaled the entire first-year tax break due the taxpayer.
To receive the exemption, new homeowners must file an application with their local assessor’s office. Once homeowners were approved for the exemption, the company sent them invoices. Those who refused to pay a fee were threatened by the company with suits in small-claims court. That often prompted homeowners to pay a settlement to avoid court.
The company sent misleading mailers that looked like official government agency documents, tricking homeowners into signing up with them for a fee to apply for the Basic STAR exemption, state officials said.
Gal, through his company, scammed thousands of homeowners by charging them excessive fees to enroll in the program, state officials said.
Gal could not be reached for comment.
The attorney general’s office sued following its investigation of Gal after receiving numerous complaints from homeowners who alleged that his company had substantially overcharged them for filing an otherwise free application the homeowners had completed themselves.
Nassau County Supreme Court found Gal and his business liable for fraudulent and deceptive business practices and false advertising, as homeowners were unaware they were doing business with a private company, officials said.