A Troy, New York man will serve between 2 to 7 years in state prison for passing himself off as a licensed and registered architect, according to an announcement from the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Paul J. Newman, who has pleaded guilty to six felony counts, will also repay $115,000 to the commercial and residential customers he defrauded during his tenure as the president (and sole employee) of Cohesion Studios, Newman’s architectural design company based in Renssalear.
Fake Architect Defrauded New York Businesses
Newman’s scam was surprisingly simple. Uncovered during “Operation Vandelay Industries,” an Attorney General investigation discovered that Newman had illegally drafted architectural renderings for more than 100 properties, both private homes and commercial real estate.
The man was, as we now know, pretending. Newman was neither licensed to practice architecture nor properly registered with New York’s Office of the Professions, a wing of the State’s Department of Education.
Instead, he went online, found a real architect’s registration number and forged his own Registered Architect Stamp, a seal required on all drawings and specifications submitted to State officials. Newman did the same to create a fraudulent Registered Engineer Stamp. Then, he went on a stamping spree, affixing his fraudulent seals to more than 1,000 pages of building plans.
100 Building Projects, Residential & Commercial
Newman designed townhouse developments in Saratoga, apartment complexes in Malta, a senior living community in Ballston and renovated a jewelry store in Albany. Meanwhile, he was busy misrepresenting his qualifications and licensure on dozens of energy compliance documents and inspection reports. He even lied about being a member of the American Institute of Architects, the country’s oldest architectural professional organization. No reports have yet emerged of Newman being named as defendant in a construction lawsuit.
“Operation Vandelay Industries”
Newman’s scheme began to unravel in 2015 when, after misrepresenting himself as an architect to several municipalities, the New York State Education Department received an anonymous complaint about the grifter’s ploy. An investigation followed, soon tipping Newman off to the possibility that he’d come under scrutiny.
The man quickly removed all references to “architecture” from his social media advertising and replaced his job description with “design.” Operation Vandelay Industries was the next step, an initiative led by the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau.
While the operation’s full details have not been publicized, we can say that, at the least, the Attorney General is not lacking a sense of humor; Operation Vandelay Industries was an explicit reference to “Seinfeld.” In a February 12, 1992 episode of the classic sitcom, George Costanza lied to an unemployment officer, saying he had just been interviewed for a job at Vandelay Industries, a latex manufacturing company.
Prison Time & Victim Reimbursement
George Costanza was never punished for his deceit, but Paul Newman certainly will be. “For over seven years,” Attorney General Schneiderman said, Newman “has pretended to be a Registered Architect, deceiving hundreds of New Yorkers – including families and senior citizens – with the sole goal of enriching himself.”
Newman earned over $260,000 during his seven-year reign as New York State’s most prolific fake architect, according to a report from the New York Times. Now, the fraudster has been ordered to repay his victims. Newman was sentenced in Saratoga County Court on September 5, 2017, receiving between 2 1/3 and 7 years in a state prison on six felony convictions, including grand larceny, forgery and unauthorized practice of a profession. He will also have to pay $115,000 to reimburse the many businesses and towns he defrauded over the years.
Alongside architects, home improvement contractors (including businesses that construct new homes) must be licensed and registered to lawfully ply their trade in New York State. The situation is similar in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where State Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently cracked down on unregistered contractors, filing 31 legal actions against home improvement companies in violation of consumer protection laws.