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NEW YORK—A Florida man who dubbed himself the “Wolf of Airbnb” pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge Monday, admitting gaining about $2 million illegally by defrauding landlords and cheating a government pandemic program.
Konrad Bicher, 31, of Hialeah, Florida, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court, agreeing not to appeal any prison sentence that is roughly four to five years long. The wire fraud charge otherwise carried a potential 20-year prison sentence.
Bicher also agreed to forfeit $1.7 million and make restitution of $1.9 million. A sentencing date was not immediately set.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that Bicher proudly referred to himself as the “Wolf of Airbnb” but admitted that his businesses were premised on fraud after he entered lease agreements based on false pretenses and made false statements to obtain U.S.-guaranteed loans.
“Bicher lined his own pockets by abusing government programs and tenant protections intended to benefit those in crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Williams said.
When Bicher was indicted in October, Williams said Bicher operated at least 18 apartments in Manhattan “as mini-hotels” while using the pandemic as an excuse not to pay landlords.
In a news release, prosecutors noted that Bicher told media outlets that he called himself the “Wolf of Airbnb” because he was “hungry and ruthless enough to get on top of the financial ladder” and had the ferocity … of a wolf, because wolves are territorial, vicious and show no mercy when provoked.”
The “Wolf of Airbnb” seemed to be a play on “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the title of a memoir by former stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune on penny stocks before blowing much of it on a wild and lavish lifestyle and going to prison for financial crimes.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Bicher began his fraud by February 2019, renting apartments in Manhattan before subletting the units to third parties on a short-term basis even though clauses in his lease agreements said he could not do so.
Prosecutors said he failed to make rent payments required by the lease agreements and refused to leave the apartments after the leases expired.
They said that he and his associates failed to make more than $1 million in lease payments from July 2019 to April 2022 and earned at least $1.17 million in rental income through his own short-term rentals.
From April 2021 to July 2021, he used fraudulent information to obtain over a half million dollars in government-guaranteed loans through a program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, prosecutors said.
Outside court on Monday, Bicher said he has a “fantastic story” to tell, though he quickly added: “My story will come out, just not today.”
By Larry Neumeister