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Former Walnut Creek Resident Convicted Of Commercial Bribery In Housing Scam Targeting Russian Immigrants

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A former Walnut Creek resident has been convicted of commercial bribery after subletting affordable apartments at market prices and extracting payments from immigrants eager to find local housing.

Aziz Artykov, 50, a former resident of the Avalon Bay Walnut Creek Apartments, was found guilty of bribing a former Avalon Bay employee in charge of Avalon’s affordable housing program. Prosecutors argued that the bribes were paid to further Artykov’s practice of subletting affordable rate apartments at market prices and to extract graft payments from prospective tenants – mostly immigrants – looking for a place to live.

Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton announced the conviction by jury on Friday.

In 2011, as part of government approval to build housing, Avalon Bay agreed to rent 20 percent of its apartments at an “affordable housing” rate, set forth by County rules. At that time, this amounted to 85 apartments which could be rented for $820 for a studio to $1154 for a three-bedroom apartment. Qualified residents had to earn less than 50% of the County average mean income, which in 2011, was approximately $48,000 for a household of 4. In comparison, market rates were appx $1500 for a studio to $3,000 for a three bedroom.

Artykov, prosecutors said, obtained a 3-bedroom affordable apartment during the initial opening and began sub-letting rooms in his apartment for market rate prices. Many of the renters where Russian-speaking immigrants who refused to cooperate with law-enforcement, according to Becton. Artykov also conspired with other residents, who had also obtained affordable housing units at the complex, to live elsewhere while he sub-let their affordable rate units at market rate prices. In one example presented by the prosecution, Artykov conspired with his cousin, Davron Tirov, to sublet two rooms in Tirov’s 2-bedroom apartment for $1700 each while Tirov paid $1,045 under the affordable housing program. Profits went into Tirov’s bank accounts – which paid for Artykov’s cheap rent and Tirov’s cheap rent. Witnesses at trial testified that Tirov was living with his girlfriend in another apartment in the complex, and was never actually at the affordable rate apartment that he leased.

By the end of 2011, all the affordable rent apartments had been rented and Avalon compiled a waitlist, which grew to over 300 people, before the waitlist was closed. In order for Artykov to get his selected applicants affordable rate apartments, he befriended the Avalon community manager and from 2011-2015 began paying him cash bribes. The bribes bought access to the waitlist and as the payments increased, the former employee moved the names that Artykov gave him to the top of the waiting list, where those selected people obtained apartments far more quickly than people who had been on the list for many years. Artykov also gave the employee names of persons who weren’t on the waitlist, and they immediately got the next available affordable rate apartment.

Trial witnesses and former residents testified that Artykov approached them and offered to move them into larger apartments quickly if they paid him between $5,000-$15,000 upfront. Artykov knew from having access to the waitlist that these people were next in line to get an apartment. One witness who refused to pay the graft, testified that Artykov offered him an alternative deal, where the witness would let Artykov use his name and financial documents to rent an affordable apartment and Artykov would sub-let the affordable rate apartment at market rate for one year before agreeing to let the resident move into the apartment.

Another witness testified that Artykov put her on the waiting list, but she forgot about it until almost two years later, when Avalon called to offer her a 2-bedroom affordable rate apartment. After she moved in, Artykov kept contacting her about paying him $5,000 for getting her the apartment. When she refused, Artykov threatened to harm her children. She moved her children out of the apartment complex to live with other relatives. When she still refused to pay the $5,000, Artykov turned on her after one year of living there, informing Avalon that she had a job that made her ineligible for the apartment. Avalon followed up on Artykov’s tip and determined she would not be re-certified at the affordable rate. This witness complained to Avalon management, and was heard to say, “I should have just paid.” Avalon management interviewed this witness and another witness who revealed the scheme between Artykov and the employee. Avalon Management confronted the employee, who immediately confessed and was fired.

Avalon turned over their findings to the District Attorney’s Office and Inspector Rich Van Koll took over the investigation. Van Koll brought in a Russian speaking police officer to meet undercover with Artykov at a nearby Starbucks. Investigators said Artykov was too suspicious and paranoid to do business with a complete stranger but did make incriminating statements to the officer about what he could offer to do for the right price.

The District Attorney’s office charged the ex-employee, Matt McVicker, with commercial bribery and he took a plea deal to testify against Artykov both at a grand jury and the jury trial which started on January 4 and ended with a guilty verdict after 9 days of trial.

Artykov was allowed to continue to be out on bail with a restraining order to stay away from Avalon Bay and the witnesses who testified against him. His sentencing date is April 6, 2018 in Department 8 of the Contra Costa Superior Court.

Deputy District Attorney Dodie Katague, head of the County’s Consumer Protection Unit, prosecuted the case – the first commercial bribery trial in the county in the last 35 years.

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