David Avigdor (pictured), New Haven’s longest-serving pulpit rabbi, learned his fate at a sentencing Thursday before Chief Judge Alvin W. Thompson in U.S. District Court in Hartford.
The rabbi was the sole defendant left standing last year after a trial for six of the 15 people accused of taking part in a conspiracy that defrauded government and private lenders of millions of dollars and left blighted homes scattered through New Haven and surrounding towns. While his co-defendants headed to prison, the rabbi remained free after a jury deadlocked on his case.
Avigdor and his family returned to court Thursday for a final chapter in the case that he said has “devastated” him.
Under the plea deal, Avigdor agreed to surrender his law license for one year and pay $20,000 in restitution. The government agreed to recommend three years’ probation instead of prison.
However, the final word was up to the judge.
Heading into his sentencing Friday, Avigdor faced up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Based on the relatively little amount of money Avigdor reaped in the scam compared to his co-defendants, Judge Thompson said, he agreed to depart from sentencing guidelines and give him three years’ probation instead of prison. The final amount of restitution to the victim, Wells Fargo Bank, is yet to be determined.
The decision brought tears of relief after a tense morning in the grand, gold-paneled second-floor courtroom.
Avigdor, who’s 58, showed up in court Thursday morning with his wife Susan, their eldest child, Rachel, and their youngest, Jacob.
He broke down on the stand as he apologized for what he did, while also trying to pin blame on his co-defendant, former Alderman and state Rep. Morris Olmer.
Avigdor limped to the stand. He is suffering from partial paralysis on his left side due to a stroke he suffered while the case was pending, according to his lawyer.
“I stand before you ashamed, frightened, and regretful that I had any part at all in this terrible mortgage fraud,” Avigdor told the judge.
Avigdor claimed he was “drawn into transactions that were fraudulent” without his intent.
“I regret the day I met him,” Avigdor said of Olmer.
The members of the ring made money by falsely inflating the price of homes, paying “straw buyers” to take out mortgages using trumped-up income and employment records, using the mortgage money to buy the homes for their actual prices, then pocketing the difference and walking away. The scheme left a trail of blighted properties through New Haven and elsewhere.
Because Olmer had lost his law license, Avigdor acted as the settlement agent on the home sales. Avigdor pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on a mortgage form.
But he didn’t do as he had promised. He transferred only $93,000 to Asmar, and sent $49,375 to Sheda Telle Construction, a fake construction company the conspirators had invented as a cover.
by Melissa Bailey - http://www.newhavenindependent.org/