New York state has revoked the real estate license of a Long Island man who used a racial epithet and made threats while brandishing an assault-style weapon in a widely circulated online video. A state administrative law judge called his actions "racist" and said he could not be trusted.
Jared Aversano, who was an agent at his parents’ Ronkonkoma-based brokerage RE/MAX Eastern Properties until the 14-second video came to light in June, "cannot be relied upon to execute the duties of a real estate professional," and "the deeply ingrained bad faith and rancor he holds against Black people that he betrayed in his video cannot be erased or softened by an empty apology," Administrative Law Judge Joan R. Salzman wrote in a 24-page decision released this week by the New York Department of State, which licenses real estate agents and brokers.
Aversano, 23, who lives in Lake Grove, did not respond to a request for comment. His attorney, Dennis Valet, said in a statement Thursday that Aversano "apologizes for his words and the Snapchat video. It was a careless private joke amongst friends and was in no way intended to disparage or threaten any specific individual or group of individuals."
Valet said Aversano "wholeheartedly disavows unlawful discrimination.... He was 22 years old when he made this mistake.... We ask that you respect his acceptance of responsibility and desire to grow from this experience."
Aversano has until Dec. 30 to file an appeal, the Department of State said. Valet said Aversano had not decided whether to appeal.
In her Nov. 30 decision, Salzman wrote that Aversano appeared in the video "shirtless, angry, and agitated, his eyes bulging, as he shouts the following repugnant statements, all the while brandishing a large, assault-style rifle: ‘All right, my response to the looting and rioting that’s going on . . . I wish a [racial epithet] would. I went out and spent 1,300 bucks on this [expletive, referring to the weapon], please I want to use it!" Salzman’s decision included the unredacted epithet and expletive. She wrote that Aversano posted the video while the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis were underway.
The video was viewed more than 1 million times, and led to Aversano being expelled from the Long Island Board of Realtors and receiving a visit from Suffolk County police, Salzman wrote.
Aversano later posted a second video saying the first one was meant to be "private," saying, "I did not intend for it to be racist. However, I do understand that a lot of people took it that way and I do truly apologize," Salzman wrote in her decision.
After the video attracted widespread attention, Aversano’s parents, Rudolph and Diane Aversano, wrote on the Facebook page of RE/MAX Eastern Properties, where Rudolph Aversano was corporate broker, that they were "greatly troubled and personally hurt by the harmful words and actions of our son." Reached by phone on Thursday, Rudolph Aversano declined to comment. Diane Aversano did not respond to a request for comment.
The Colorado-based real estate company RE/MAX posted a message on its Twitter account in June saying Aversano had been fired, saying his statements were "contrary to our values."
Last month, the National Association of Realtors adopted a new rule prohibiting members from using "harassing or hate speech." The group said it had received "various complaints about discriminatory speech posted online by Realtors® earlier this year, particularly on social media."
Aversano chose not to testify during the proceeding, instead invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, Salzman wrote.
The judge called Aversano’s video apology "hollow and insincere."
Salzman wrote, "His threat to injure or even kill Black protesters or those Black persons he considered looters or rioters by using his new assault-style weapon on them was explicit and unequivocal. At no time did he contend here that he was only kidding or play acting ... ."
Aversano voluntarily surrendered his AR-15-style weapon to police, Valet said. Police said he later retrieved it. In an interview, Valet said Aversano is legally allowed to own the gun, which he said complies with New York law.
During the online videoconference hearing, Valet defended Aversano's statements as private, political statements that are permissible under the First Amendment, Salzman wrote. The judge rejected that argument, saying threats of violence are not protected as free speech.
Valet also argued that the state could not revoke Aversano’s license since the video surfaced two months before a new state law gave the Department of State the explicit power to revoke licenses for violations of the state human rights law, which prohibits discrimination, Salzman wrote.
Salzman wrote that the state has long had the power to revoke agents’ licenses for "untrustworthiness," including in cases of discrimination. Its ability to do so "has been upheld repeatedly by the courts," including cases dating from 1966 to 1988 in which judges affirmed the agency could suspend or revoke agents’ licenses because they discriminated on the basis of race and therefore could not be trusted, she wrote.
The agency’s decision about whether an agent is trustworthy, she wrote, "is a test of the good character required to earn the privilege of holding a state-issued license to serve the public in specific occupations, such as real estate broker or salesperson."