Government briefs

Four sentenced in $100M mortgage fraud scam

Aaron Hand, Kenneth Law, Eric Shields and Jerry Strklja were sentenced last month for perpetrating a massive mortgage fraud scheme conducted through a corrupt loan origination company called AFG Financial Group, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced. The defendants were found guilty earlier this year of multiple felonies, including enterprise corruption, scheme to defraud, conspiracy and dozens of grand larcenies. The DA’s office launched an investigation into the activities of AFG, called “Operation Broken Brownstone,” in July 2008, which revealed a nearly four-year path of mortgage fraud totaling well over $100 million in bad loans. Maximum sentences for the defendants ranged from nine to 25 years, the DA’s office said.

Christine Quinn

HARP shows few results a year after inception

Though a year has passed since the Department of Housing Preservation and Development began accepting applications for its Housing Asset Renewal Program, or HARP, no tangible changes have been implemented. Conceived by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the program was met with much enthusiasm for its promise to solve the problems stemming from a shortage of affordable housing and a surplus of stalled or empty “luxury” housing that was created during the boom, the Observer reported. The Bloomberg administration and the City Council set aside $20 million for a pilot program, hoping to convert 400 luxury units to affordable ones. But not a single unit has been converted and no money has been spent to date. The program has been almost entirely ignored, which may be attributed to the fact that prices have remained good enough in New York City so that even the most underwater developers refuse to take the cuts that HPD is insisting on. Despite its apparent failure so far, HPD remains committed to HARP. HPD spokesperson Eric Bederman noted that his department is still receiving unsolicited applications, though the deadline has passed.

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Paterson vetoes HIV/AIDS rent cap bill

Governor David Paterson vetoed a bill last month that would have capped rents for HIV and AIDS patients at 30 percent of their income, saying that the state can’t afford the $20 million program. Paterson called the decision his “most difficult veto” but promised to sign the bill if the state legislature makes $20 million worth of budget cuts to free up funds, the New York Post reported. While advocates for the city’s 10,000 residents suffering from HIV and AIDS predicted that the veto would force patients into homelessness, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Paterson’s decision “difficult and wise,” adding that “this is not the time for unfunded mandates, no matter how well-intentioned.”

Mayor Bloomberg

Bloomberg: 9/11 memorial will open next year

The landscaped outdoor portion of the 9/11 memorial will be completed by Sept. 11 next year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged, in time for the 10-year anniversary of the terror attacks. Bloomberg also highlighted recent progress made in reconstructing the ground zero area, including One World Trade Center, Tower 4 and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The mayor acknowledged that the reconstruction process has taken longer than some anticipated, but said he’s pleased with the progress that’s now being made. “I think it goes to show that while nothing happens in democracy as quickly as you would like, the truth of the matter is democracy does get you to the right place,” Bloomberg said.

Compiled by Yaffi Spodek