Two Bronxites charged in $1.3 million scam

Pelham Gardens resident Mario Tolisano, living at 1669 Astor Avenue, along with Celestino Orta, has been charged with allegedly scamming three people out of more than $1.3 million for the sale of property not owned by the defendants. Photo by Victor Chu

On Wednesday, August 26, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson announced that Pelham Gardens resident Mario Tolisano, along with Celestino Orta, had been charged for being involved in an alleged scam that allegedly conned three individuals out of more than $1.3 million.

Tolisano, 59, a resident of 1669 Astor Avenue, according to the complaint, impersonated an attorney representing Orta, 40, who resides at 588 Timpson Street, in the sale of city-owned property.

The scam was discovered after complaints poured in from three victims; Jacob Selenchnik, Robert Shimoff and Nir Cohen.

Tolisano and Orta allegedly collected $710,000 from Selechnik and Shimoff in May of 2008 for the sale of property, and again collected $502,000 from the victims in July of 2008 to purchase additional properties in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

“My client effectively entered into a series of contracts with Mr. Tolisano’s client Mr. Orta. He was supposed to be purchasing property from the City of New York, which would then be sold to my client. When the contracts were signed, large deposits were given to Mr. Tolisano in the capacity of what we thought of as an attorney, but as it turns out Mr. Tolisano was not an attorney and I was told he had distributed the funds amongst himself and Mr. Orta,” said Allan Merovitch, attorney for Selenchnik and Selenchnik’s daughter Robin Shimoff. “Simply put, they stole the money.”

Similarly, Nir Cohen was allegedly offered a vacant lot at 539 Union Avenue by the defendants, who had provided a down payment of $70,000 in May of 2008.

The pair are charged with one count of grand larceny in the first degree, three counts of grand larceny in the second degree, one count of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree and three counts of criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree. Tolisano is additionally charged with seven counts of practicing or appearing as attorney-at-law without being admitted and registered.

The duo faces a maximum sentence of up to 25 years imprisonment.

Tolisano was arraigned and had bail set for $250,000. Orta will be arraigned on Thursday, September 3, but remains in custody for an unrelated incident.

“Both the Bronx D.A. and defense counsel are seeking possible resolution to the charges,” said Howard Birnback, defense attorney for Tolisano. “The allegations are far more incriminating than the actual facts themselves.”

All charges are accusations and the defendants remain innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Senior Investigative Assistant District Attorney Richard Baker will be prosecuting the case.

“One thing we wanted to do was stop these guys from doing this to anyone else and continuing on this practice,” said Merovitch. “It will be difficult to get any money back but certainly we want to stop this type of behavior and action continuing in the future.”

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