A cunning man lived for five years for free in a hotel in New York: how he did it

By SSPDailyMar 20, 2024 19:52 PMSociety
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A cunning man lived for five years for free in a hotel in New York
A cunning man lived for five years for free in a hotel in New York. Source: pexels.com

For five years, a New Yorker managed to live in a famous Manhattan hotel for free, using a little-known local housing law. SSPDaily learned how he managed to do this. 

AP writes about it.

But prosecutors said that Mickey Barreto went too far when he submitted documents confirming his ownership of the entire New Yorker Hotel building and tried to collect rent from another tenant.

He was arrested and charged with filing false property records. But Barreto, 48, says he was surprised when police showed up at his boyfriend's apartment with guns and bulletproof shields. In his opinion, it should have been a civil case, not a criminal one.

"I said: "Oh, I thought you were doing something for Valentine's Day to spice things up, until I saw the female officers," Barreto recalled.

Mickey's charges of fraud and criminal contempt of court are just the latest chapter in a years-long legal saga that began when he and his boyfriend paid about $200 to rent one of the more than 1,000 rooms in the tall Art Deco building, built in 1930.

Barreto says he had just moved to New York from Los Angeles when his boyfriend told him about a loophole that allows residents of single rooms in buildings built before 1969 to claim six-month leases.

Barreto argued that since he had paid for a night at the hotel, he was considered a tenant. He asked for the lease and the hotel immediately kicked him out.

"The next day I went to court. The judge refused. I appealed to the state Supreme Court and won the appeal," Barreto said, adding that at a crucial point in the case, the building owners' lawyers did not show up, allowing him to win by default.

The judge ordered the hotel to give Barreto the key. He said that he lived there until July 2023 without paying rent because the building owners never wanted to negotiate a lease with him, but they could not kick him out.Manhattan prosecutors admit that the housing court gave Barreto "possession" of his room. But, they say, he did not stop there: In 2019, the man uploaded a fake document to the city's website that allegedly transferred ownership of the entire building to the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which bought the property in 1976. The church was founded in South Korea by the self-proclaimed messiah, the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

"Barreto then attempted to charge various organizations as the owner of the building, including demanding rent from one of the hotel's tenants, registering the hotel in his name with the New York Department of Environmental Protection to pay for water and sewer services, and demanding that the hotel's bank turn over its accounts to him," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

"Mickey Barreto is alleged to have repeatedly and fraudulently claimed his right to one of the city's most iconic landmarks, the New Yorker Hotel," said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Located a block away from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, the New Yorker Hotel has never been one of the city's most glamorous hotels, but it has long been one of its biggest. The New Yorker's huge red sign makes it a landmark that is often photographed. Inventor Nikola Tesla lived in the hotel for ten years. NBC broadcast from the hotel's terrace. Boxers, including Muhammad Ali, stayed here when they fought in the Garden. It closed as a hotel in 1972 and was used for church purposes for many years before reopening as a hotel in 1994.

In 2019, the Unification Church sued Barreto over a claim including his statements to LinkedIn as the building's owner. The case is ongoing, but the judge ruled that Barreto cannot portray himself as the owner for now.

A Unification Church spokesperson declined to comment on his arrest, citing the civil case.

In this case, Barreto claimed that the judge who gave him "possession" of his room indirectly gave him the entire building, as it had never been divided into parts.

"I never intended to commit any fraud. I don't believe I ever committed any fraud," Barreto said. "And I never made a single penny from it."

Barreto said his lawsuits are activism aimed at depriving the Unification Church of its profits. The church, known for holding mass weddings, has been sued for its recruitment practices and criticized by some for its friendly relations with North Korea, where Moon was born.

He said he has never hired a lawyer in civil cases and has always represented himself. On February 14, he hired a criminal lawyer.

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