‘Wolf of Airbnb’ sublet out 18 apartments but didn’t pay New York landlords, US feds say

Bicher, a 31-year-old from Florida, rented at least 18 apartments in Manhattan in late 2019, but failed to pay rent, according to a news release from the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. — Reuters

New York City has played host to its fair share of grifters over the years. The Brooklyn Bridge was famously “sold” by a con artist in the 1880s. Fake heiress Anna Delvey defrauded banks and hotels several years ago. Now a man who called himself the “wolf of Airbnb” is facing charges after reportedly running an illegal subletting operation in Manhattan, costing landlords over US$1mil (RM4.72mil), according to officials.

Konrad Bicher, a 31-year-old from Florida, rented at least 18 apartments in Manhattan in late 2019, but failed to pay rent, according to a news release from the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Instead, despite being prohibited in his lease agreements, he listed the units as short-term rentals on Airbnb and other online marketplaces, prosecutors say.

At least one of the apartments was a luxury condo in midtown Manhattan, according to the New York Post. He reportedly rented the space out for photo shoots and music video filming for an hourly fee.

Over a period of about three years, Bicher netted upwards of US$1,170,000 (RM5.53mil) in rental income, according to officials. Throughout that time, his social media portrayed him “enjoying private jets and exotic vacation spots”, according to the Real Deal.

The owners of the apartments made several attempts to recover lost income from Bicher, including through civil litigation, but he continued with his scheme despite those efforts, prosecutors said.

In March 2022, there were about 20 cases brought against Bicher stemming from his failure to pay rent or vacate the properties, according to court documents.

“When landlords sought to recover rental payments from Bicher, he lied and claimed that he could not make payments during the pendency of the Covid-19 pandemic,” stated US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams in the release.

Bicher did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.

In February 2022, Bicher reportedly told the Real Deal that the “wolf of Airbnb”, his self-styled moniker, “means someone who is hungry and ruthless enough to get on top of the financial ladder,” adding that “(t)hey compare the ferocity to that of a wolf, because wolves are territorial, vicious and show no mercy when provoked.” But the name also bears similarities to “The Wolf of Wall Street” nickname of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who lived a lavish lifestyle before eventually going to jail on securities fraud charges.

However, Bicher later mused to Vents Magazine that it’s important to maintain “old-fashioned values such as ethics...”

Bicher didn’t stop at defrauding landlords, according to the prosecutors. He also obtained over half a million dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans in 2021 using fraudulent documents.

He “abused (g)overnment programs and tenant protections intended to benefit New Yorkers in crisis, and he will have to answer for his conduct,” Williams said in the release.

On Oct. 27, Bicher was charged with two counts of wire fraud, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of aggravated identity theft, which has a minimum two-year sentence, according to the release. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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