Two Long Island men charged with running a $30 million mortgage scheme were nothing less than bank robbers, a prosecutor said Thursday as their trial drew to a close.
But the two “stole more money than a man with a mask and a gun ever could,” prosecutor Artie McConnell said in his closing argument to the jury in federal court in Central Islip.
The jury was to begin deliberations Friday morning after hearing final legal instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt.
The defendants are Aaron Wider, 51, of Copiague, head of mortgage bank HTFC Corp. in Garden City, and Joseph Ferrara Jr., 71, of Long Beach.
Ferrara and others bought homes, and along with Wider, sold them to a trust on the same day, then used an inflated assessment to resell them at much higher prices, sometimes double the original purchase price, prosecutors said.
The defendants resold the “toxic” mortgages in the secondary market, pocketing the difference between the real and inflated values, prosecutors said.
All of the homes, bought and resold between 2003 and 2008, wound up in foreclosure, leaving the mortgage holders on the hook, prosecutors said.
Wider’s attorney, Richard A. Miller of Commack, told jurors in his summation that several prosecution witnesses had pleaded guilty to white-collar crimes, and their testimony was not reliable.
Like many other investors, his client had made a lot money in the real estate market between 2002 and 2006, “but then the market crashed,” Miller said, wiping out Wider.
Ferrara’s attorney, Anthony La Pinta of Hauppauge, said his client was a high-school dropout with minimal reading and math skills who was duped into signing documents by Wider.
Although there was testimony that both men actively defrauded federally insured banks, they are actually each charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and, prosecutors said, face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Questions about the sales by HTFC Corp. arose in June 2007 when Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson’s office forwarded details of several of the deals to prosecutors.
Deputy assessor Eileen Ryan told the jury last week that she was the one who flagged transactions with HTFC holding the mortgage.
For example, Ferrara bought a Carman Mill Road property in Massapequa for $450,000 on Jan. 31, 2007, and immediately transferred it to a trust bearing the seller’s name, she said. The same day, the property was resold for $800,000, she said.
“On its face, unexplainable,” she said. “There was a whole pocket with that same pattern.”
McConnell told the jury the defendants repeated that sort of scheme “over and over and over again between 2003 and 2008.”
Most of the sales and subsequent foreclosures took place before 2007, when foreclosures were beginning to mount locally and nationally after a long real estate boom. As housing prices rose rapidly, lenders had loosened the rules that required buyers to document their income and make substantial down payments on houses.
Neither Wider nor Ferrara testified. Wider told Newsday in 2007 that he bought houses in poor repair, fixed them up and resold them.
“These are houses that were bought in distress,” Wider said at the time. “Since I lend my own money, I can sell the property at any price that I want.”
Prosecutors said it did not matter whether the properties were renovated because the crime was filing false documents.