06/15/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/16/2021 09:31
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, John B. DeVito, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ('ATF'), Dermot Shea, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department ('NYPD'), and Daniel A. Nigro, Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department ('FDNY'), announced that DANIEL MELAMED, a/k/a 'Danny,' a real estate developer in New York City, was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison for participating in a conspiracy to commit arson in which he directed that multiple fires be set at residential buildings whose occupants he wished to vacate in order to develop the premises. MELAMED previously pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit arson, before United States District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan who imposed today's sentence.
U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: 'Almost a decade ago, Daniel Melamed decided that he could use his power and influence as a real estate developer to burn families out of their homes, homes that he wanted to develop and flip at a profit. As he learned when he was first arrested almost two years ago and was reminded again today, we will fight fire with fire and together with our partners in the ATF, the NYPD, and the FDNY bring to justice anyone who seeks to terrorize the members of this community through arson. And if you are a real estate developer in this city and think that you are above the law, then think again, unless you want to see your own plans go up in smoke.'
ATF Special Agent in Charge John B. DeVito said: 'Arson is inherently dangerous, and we simply cannot allow it. I hope this sentencing acts as a significant deterrent for others who may consider committing this heinous crime. We are thankful that Melamed's criminal actions did not cost anyone their life and that justice can be served in this case. ATF will continue to work with our law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local levels to investigate and prosecute individuals who show a callous disregard for the safety of our community.'
FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said: 'Setting fires in residential buildings while occupants are sleeping is a truly despicable crime. These fires endangered the lives of the innocent residents and the Firefighters who bravely responded to save them. I applaud our Fire Marshals, members of the NYPD and ATF, and the U.S. Attorney's office for their efforts to bring this individual to justice.'
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, publicly-available information, and statements made in public court proceedings:
Between 2011 and 2013, MELAMED directed his co-defendant and co-conspirator, Curtis Williams, to set multiple fires at residential buildings that MELAMED wished to develop and was planning to acquire or had recently acquired. The purpose of the fires was to terrorize and thereby drive out the occupants of these residential buildings, whose lawful removal achieved through eviction or voluntary buyout payments proved too burdensome for MELAMED, either because of the time or cost involved to achieve a vacant premises otherwise deemed ripe for development. MELAMED paid Williams to set the fires, and in turn, Williams retained another individual to set the fires, which were uniformly set at night when the occupants of the targeted properties were asleep. Ultimately, the investigation into these fires determined that MELAMED had directed Williams to use fire to vacate at least three occupied residential buildings at which a total of five separate fires were set. Although no person was physically harmed as a result of these fires, certain of the fires resulted in substantial damage, particularly in the case of a single-family home in Albertson, New York, which was largely incinerated and from which the members of the family who lived there escaped with their lives but not any of their multiple pets, who were burned alive, or their belongings, which were largely destroyed. As late as 2019, in video-recorded meetings between MELAMED and Williams, MELAMED discussed with Williams vacating another occupied residential building, which MELAMED owned, by either illegally cutting its utility lines or setting fire to it, the latter option being discussed using the term 'milk' or the phrase 'pour milk,' which was MELAMED's coded terminology for using fire to vacate the occupants of a building. Following these meetings, MELAMED was arrested and ordered detained in November 2019.
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In addition to his prison term, MELAMED, 43, of Great Neck, New York, was sentenced to 3 years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit $500,000 and pay a further fine of $50,000.
Curtis Williams, 52, pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit arson, and multiple counts of arson, on April 14, 2021. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Ms. Strauss praised the dogged and outstanding investigative work of the New York City Arson Explosives Task Force. The New York City Arson Explosives Task Force comprises Special Agents and Task Force Officers from multiple federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies, including the ATF, NYPD, and FDNY. Ms. Strauss also thanked the Kings County District Attorney's Office for its substantial contributions and ongoing assistance to the investigation culminating in MELAMED's conviction and sentence.
This case is being handled by the Office's General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Kyle Wirshba and Thomas John Wright are in charge of the prosecution.