A Copiague man was convicted Monday on federal charges that he masterminded a conspiracy to swindle banks out of $30 million by falsifying mortgage records during a boom in the real estate market more than a decade ago.
Aaron Wider, 51, former head of mortgage bank HTFC Corp. in Garden City, faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced May 20.
Co-defendant Joseph Ferrara Jr., 71, of Long Beach was acquitted of the same charge, conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
Wider showed no emotion as the jury in U.S. District Court delivered the verdict. Ferrara rose to his feet and hugged his defense attorney. Neither man testified at the two-week trial.
Both men were charged with a single count of conspiracy, but evidence at the trial in federal court in Central Islip showed that federally insured banks were actually defrauded. Jurors could not be reached for comment after the verdict.
There was witness testimony and documentary evidence during the trial that Ferrara and others bought homes, and along with Wider, sold them to a trust that they set up on the same day, then used an inflated assessment to resell them to a new owner at much higher prices, sometimes double the original purchase price.
Then they resold what prosecutors called “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 banks and investors on the hook for the inflated value after the real estate market crash of 2008.
Wider’s attorney Richard A. Miller of Commack had no immediate comment after the verdict.
Ferrara said outside court, “God bless Tony La Pinta,” referring to his lawyer, Anthony La Pinta of Hauppauge.
La Pinta had argued to the jury in his closing statement that evidence showed Ferrara was a high-school dropout with minimal reading and math skills and was duped into thinking he was investing in real estate by Wider, who used his ill-gotten gains to buy a Rolls-Royce and produce a music video in which he is the lead singer.
The defense attorney said the evidence failed to show that Ferrara “knowingly, intentionally and willingly” engaged in a conspiracy, which the statute requires for conviction.
Prosecutor Artie McConnell had argued that the paper trail left by Wider and his co-defendants was overwhelming. “The two defendants are guilty on the documents alone,” McConnell told the jury in his summation.
Four other men have pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing. They are attorneys Eric Finger of Miami and John Petiton of Garden City, appraiser Joseph Mirando of Centereach and buyer Manjeet Bawa of Dix Hills.
Deputy Nassau County assessor Eileen Ryan told the jury she 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. 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.”
Wider told Newsday in 2007 when it first reported on the scheme 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 any price that I want.”