A New York developer who bought a landmark building in Burlington County to convert into luxury apartments has been charged with impersonation and forgery, authorities said.
It's alleged that the developer used credentials of a potential subcontractor to fraudulently gain approval for electrical permits from the Riverside Township construction office, according to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina and Riverside Police Chief William T. Eliason.
Raphael S. Weiss, 60, of East 18th St. in Brooklyn was charged with computer criminal activity, impersonation, 36 counts of forgery/making and 36 counts of forgery/uttering, Coffina and Eliason said.
Weiss was taken into custody on Thursday at the Riverside Township municipal building.
An investigation began after a contractor who was negotiating with Weiss to be the "electrician of record" on the Keystone Watch Case Co. redevelopment project noticed that electrical work had begun at the North Pavilion Avenue site, even though no formal agreement had been finalized and he had not applied for any permits, Coffina sad.
After being denied access to the construction site by Weiss, the electrician went to the township construction office and was told that 36 permits had already been issued in his name and in the name of his business for work to be done at the property, according to Coffina.
Further examination revealed that the electrician’s signature had been forged on the permits, which were applied for by Weiss, and a counterfeit version of the contractor’s state-issued embossing seal had been used to make an imprint, the prosecutor said.
Authorities allege that Weiss initiated the scheme as a way to reduce construction costs by fraudulently using the credentials of the licensed electrician to obtain permits, then hiring unlicensed, unqualified laborers to complete the work at a much cheaper rate.
Not only was the action illegal, but it also jeopardized the safety of the project, as demonstrated by the fact that the electrical work completed after the fraudulent permits were obtained failed to pass inspection, Coffina said.
The Keystone Watch Case Co. building was constructed in 1908 and manufactured gold cases for watches. The company employed more than 1,000 workers in 1918, making it the largest watch case manufacturer in the world, officials said.
The company closed in 1956 and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. It was purchased in 2016 by Brooklyn-based SimShabs Capital Partners LTD, of which Weiss is owner and president.
The plans submitted by Weiss to Riverside Township indicated that the iconic landmark, which has a prominent, highly visible clock tower rising above the roofline, would be converted into 64 luxury apartments.
“This is a heartbreaking setback for Riverside officials who for years have been working to jumpstart a renaissance in their township, with this property as the centerpiece,” Coffina said. “This defendant has dimmed the hopes of an entire town by his selfish actions for illegal, personal financial gain, and he will face strong penalties as a result.”
Weiss will be prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell, supervisor of the BCPO Financial Crimes Unit.
The investigation, which remains active, is being conducted by detectives from the BCPO Financial Crimes Unit and the Riverside Township Police Department. The lead investigators are BCPO Detective Nicholas Schieber and Riverside Lt. Louis Fisher.
Weiss is being held at the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly pending a hearing in Superior Court.
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