The wheels of justice turn slowly — but turn they do.
It’s been more than a decade since some Long Islanders bought homes through HTFC Corp., a Garden City mortgage bank. Most of those homebuyers ended up in foreclosure; their purchases were based on falsified records, inflated appraisals and valuations that were far too high. They were victims of a $30 million mortgage fraud orchestrated by Copiague resident Aaron Wider, who headed HTFC. Wider was convicted of conspiracy on Monday. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
Newsday uncovered Wider’s scheme in 2007 after analyzing property records, initially to examine lending and foreclosure trends. Those documents showed Wider would buy a property, transfer it to a trust and then sell it, sometimes for nearly $300,000 more. False appraisals justified the higher prices, and a hot real estate market concealed the activity. Wider’s bank would sell off the loans, so other federally insured banks were defrauded, the evidence showed. Nassau County’s assessment office and banks that bought the loans flagged the transactions, mostly in the Massapequa area. That eventually led to the charges, but more than eight years passed until the conviction came.
Surprisingly, mortgage fraud convictions have been relatively rare on Long Island despite the huge fallout from the 2008 economic crash, a tremendous rise in foreclosure activity, and reports across the region of toxic mortgage lending, deed theft and other scams.
But the Wider case illustrates just how critical it is that local, state and federal investigators and prosecutors prioritize financial and mortgage fraud cases. No matter how much time passes, the families destroyed financially by schemers like Wider deserve justice. — The editorial board