So-Called ‘Wolf of Airbnb’ Now Has the FBI Knocking at His Door

So-Called ‘Wolf of Airbnb’ Now Has the FBI Knocking at His Door
Photo: KENA BETANCUR/AFP, Getty Images

One accused New York City grifter — taking a page from the “quality” actors who came before — has officially hit the big time, at least as far as federal police are concerned. A man who has gone by the “Wolf of Airbnb” is now sitting squarely in the sights of federal law enforcement after the FBI unsealed an indictment Thursday against the man who’s real name is Konrad Bicher.

The FBI allege that from 2019 to at least April of this year Bicher signed lease agreements to rent Manhattan apartments. During that time, he allegedly refused to pay rent while handing over the properties to other people on — as the indictment states — “online marketplaces,” supposedly racking up $US1.17 ($2) million in the process while avoiding millions more in lease violations and fines. New York City law restricts people from renting out apartments for less than 30 days in the kinds of buildings Bicher was known to frequent.

The indictment further claims that the 30-year-old Bicher did this scheme with at least 18 units in Manhattan, each of which had clauses that restricted people living there from renting their apartment out to third parties without consent of the owner. Even still, Bicher allegedly put these properties up for stays online, and sometimes even got front desks to make copies of his keys for his sub-renters. The FBI said that when he asked about these stays, he would sometimes call them “business associates.”

“The Wolf” wouldn’t pay his rent, and owners would either try to remove him or get him to pay up, but Bicher found ways to hold them off, according to the indictment. On one occasion, Bicher allegedly sent emails to landlords saying he was advised by his attorney not to pay rent “until pandemic [sic] is over.” Apparently there were at least 30 online accounts that rented those units to people online. The FBI said Bicher would distribute those payments among at least 33 different accounts at eight different banks or payment processing companies. Eleven of those accounts were under the name Konrad Bicher, according to the indictment.

Court documents show Bicher was released from custody on $US200,000 ($277,640) bail July 20, and he’s restricted in travel to New York, his supposed employment in Florida, and to his home in Texas. His preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 19. Bicher’s lead attorney Howard Schumacher, a Florida based attorney, did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

As pointed out by the Daily Beast, Bicher has been at the centre of several other civil lawsuits for denying orders to vacate property or not paying any of the landlords the agreed rent. These lawsuits also claimed Bicher have even used these properties to rent out to film crews in the past. The New York Post recently said he’s been targeted in about 20 other cases, at least one of them seeking $US1.5 ($2) million in damages.

Bicher once had a Twitter account that posted pictures of him living large, such as walking up the steps into a luxury private plane or hanging with one foot out the door of a sports car. His Twitter page is now defunct, and “The Wolf” has so far remained out of the public spotlight since this spring when those civil suits started making headlines.

Though the indictment does not name the rental sites involved by name, one of them — as “The Wolf’s” name implies — is likely Airbnb. The second marketplace referenced in the indictment could refer to Vrbo, since it allows people to list and advertise their real estate properties for rent. On its site, Airbnb says that those hosts who accept the terms of service certify they will follow local laws and regulations. It also lays out the restrictions in NYC for hosting in some apartment buildings. Otherwise, some legal minds have said Airbnb essentially acts as a broker, immunizing itself from liability.

Gizmodo reached out to Airbnb regarding its policies for illegally-hosted rental properties but did not hear back in time before publication.

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Manhattan landlords knowing just how bad rental prices have gotten this summer. Still, anybody who publicly takes his name in reference to Jordan Belfort, who has gone from fraudster to crypto shill, probably doesn’t require much in the way of felicitations.