DA Protecting Small Businesses

New York City small businesses are the backbone of our communities and local economy. But for decades, they’ve been struggling amid high commercial rents, with vacancies doubling, leaving an urban landscape dotted with empty storefronts and dominated by big retail chains. That, combined with the influence of Amazon and the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the industry. The New York Times recently reported that as many as one-third of New York’s 240,000 small businesses might never reopen their doors.

NYC small businesses are essential to public safety and the DA needs to secure their future. Here’s why:

Small, immigrant-owned businesses, in particular, retail and restaurants, not only contribute $195 billion to New York City’s GDP, but create the bustling sidewalk activity that keeps neighborhoods safe and vibrant. And for every $100 spent at a small business, $68 goes back into the community. That’s much more than chain stores, which only recirculate about 13 percent of their revenue. And they create jobs that keep families fed, housed, and off the streets.

That’s why Diana is proposing to create a Small Business Community (SBC) Task Force, which can use the prosecutorial powers of the office, its public platform, and resources to aid and protect small businesses as they come back from this pandemic. In addition, she plans to hire a Small Business Liaison, who will serve as a direct line for small businesses to contact the Manhattan DA’s Office.

The Small Business Community Task Force will focus on building relationships with small business stakeholders and ensure a direct line of communication between the District Attorney’s Office and the small business community. This Task Force will focus its efforts on five major areas of investigation that will enhance public safety and revitalize small businesses:

  • Commercial Tenant Harassment
  • Corruption in City Agency Enforcement
  • Safety Commercial Corridors
  • MWBE fraud
  • Cybercrimes

Commercial Tenant Harassment – Many small businesses have been deprived of normal revenues due to the effects of COVID. With income at low levels, these businesses have been unable to pay their full rent. While many landlords have worked out fair deals with businesses, others have resorted to illicit methods like systemically harassing their tenants to force them out of the property.
In May, due to COVID, the New York City Council passed legislation expanding the definition of commercial tenant harassment. The legislation ensured that landlords could not intimidate, harass, and threaten tenants in order to force them off their property and enact retribution for struggles to pay rent. An eviction moratorium granted by the Governor at the start of the pandemic protected tenants from evictions. However, landlords sought to find loopholes in this and still force tenants off their properties using methods of harassment. The new Council legislation offered protections against these further illicit harassment activities and closed the loopholes landlords might use to get rid of tenants. Despite the passage of the legislation, some landlords have continued to illegally harass their tenants, force them out of spaces, and destroy any chances they have of reopening.

Combating Corruption in Enforcement – One of the most difficult things for small businesses is navigating the many New York City agencies for permits and approvals. Small businesses must deal with the Department of Buildings, the Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, the Fire Marshall, and many more agencies just to get various operational approvals on a day-to-day basis. One major issue tied into this is corruption in enforcement. Diana has spent her career fighting corruption in City Agencies and would take that fight to the small business approvals process. Through the relationships established by the Small Business Liaison and through fraud prevention education of small business owners, the District Attorney’s office will be more aware of instances of bribery and corruption by City inspectors in these processes. No one should be allowed to manipulate this process and enforce it unevenly. With a strong stance by the District Attorney’s office, small business owners can undertake an honest, fair, and easier process to receive approvals.

Safe Commercial Corridors (SBC) – Small businesses have a vested interest in keeping our communities’ streets safe and will be part of our coalition in diversion from crimes of poverty. The SBC will work with local small businesses to involve them in programs that address the underlying economic inequities spurring crimes of poverty. Diana will use forfeiture funds to help expand job training programs for justice-impacted people.
As DA, Diana will be a part of a coalition that is addressing crimes of poverty by diverting people to real treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and helping to fund programs that have real pathways to empowerment and self-reliance. Community job training programs are a critical element and small businesses should play a role in this process. The DA’s Office can help make the streets safer in commercial corridors while building communities from the ground up.

MWBE Fraud – In her long career going after crimes of power, Diana has held accountable contractors that defrauded taxpayers through Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) schemes. While these fraud schemes hurt taxpayers, they also hurt genuine small businesses who play by the rules. The task force will work closely with the revamped Public Corruption Unit to investigate and prosecute these crimes. The District Attorney’s Office is often only made aware of these crimes through grassroots community relationships so the task force’s work in representing people on the ground and building community trust will be crucial in fulfilling its goals. MWBE fraud is a way for businesses to cheat the system and to dismantle the goals of an important program that elevates people who historically have been sidelined for an opportunity. Diana will protect the MWBE program with the power of the District Attorney’s Office.

Cybercrime – Diana is proposing the creation of a Cyber Community Program that will expand the role of the current Manhattan DA’s Cyber Crime Unit to provide direct services to individuals and small businesses that have been victims of cybercrimes. The Cyber Crime Community Program will focus on targeting the cybercriminals that utilize phishing attacks, malware spying, ransomware, identity theft, major breaches, and hackers who steal data and compromise the security of small businesses.

Small Business Liaison & DANY on Your Corner – As District Attorney, Diana will meet people wherever they are: at home, at work, and on the street. With stronger relationships on the ground, the District Attorney’s Office can build partnerships and better align its priorities with community safety priorities. That is why Diana is pioneering a new program to increase the DA’s ground presence in the community: DANY on Your Corner where she, along with staff, will meet regularly in person and virtually with the community across different locations, including cafés and restaurants across Manhattan.

Another key component of Diana’s small business community approach will be the hiring of a Small Business Liaison, who will serve as a direct line for small businesses to contact the Manhattan DA’s Office. The liaison will be a resource to small businesses across the City, providing them with assistance in how the District Attorney’s office can help them. Furthermore, the liaison can communicate with attorneys in the office to ensure that the Office is pursuing cases that keep small businesses safe. Furthermore, the Small Business Liaison will establish robust relationships to educate small business owners of their rights and crime prevention.

The Small Business Task Force will follow Diana’s collaborative model of prosecution that she created with the Construction Task Force. It will be staffed by personnel from the Financial Fraud Bureau and Community Partnership Unit. In addition, the Small Business Task Force will include the voices of the local business community and stakeholders throughout the city, such as small business owners, business associations, Manhattan BIDs, community organizations, individuals, elected officials, community boards. With a mix of perspectives and with ears to the ground, the Small Business Task Force will be able to draw from a vast array of perspectives and accurately understand the situation in the small business landscape across the City.