NEW YORK – Convicted of engineering a $100 million mortgage-fraud scheme, Aaron Hand was yearning for vengeance and stuck in prison, prosecutors said.
So from behind bars, he plotted to have a key witness against him killed. He hired an undercover investigator posing as a hit man, issued instructions to make the murder look like a gang attack and said he wished he could be there to see the witness suffer, prosecutors said.
Hand was sentenced Monday to an additional eight to 16 years in prison for the contract-killing scheme, on top of the eight years and four months to 25 years he's serving in the mortgage fraud.
Hand's "actions strike at the heart of the justice system," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said when the former AFG Financial Group Inc. president pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to commit murder.
Hand, 40, acknowledged he began in July to try to arrange the slaying of one of the people who had cooperated with prosecutors and testified against him at his 2010 trial.
With Hand at the center, the sprawling case involved a cast of corrupt mortgage brokers and lawyers who pocketed money that banks lent people to buy real estate, duping both sellers and buyers along the way, prosecutors said. The witness was one of 27 people who pleaded guilty or were convicted; prosecutors said have refused to identify the person or discuss the outcome of his or her case.
"The case itself was filled with rats. Big time. One — one got me pretty ... good," Hand told the investigator in a secretly recorded conversation when they met in August at Coxsackie Correctional Facility in New York's Hudson Valley, prosecutors said when Hand was arrested in the hit plot last fall. "You don't get a free pass in life when you put away 30 ... people."
To get the investigator $150 to buy a gun, Hand told his unwitting parents and an associate he needed to bribe a prison guard to avoid getting transferred to a crummy cell, prosecutors said.
Hand outlined an elaborate plan for the investigator, initially telling him to block the witness' driveway so he couldn't escape and to kill the man's wife and children if they were home, according to prosecutors. After deciding it would be better to carry out the killing elsewhere, he told the investigator to paint gang symbols on the intended victim's car so the murder would seem gang-related, prosecutors said.
"I'd kill him myself" if not in prison, Hand told the undercover agent, whom he agreed to pay $2,000, according to the DA's office.
Hand passed up his chance to speak at his sentencing. His lawyer, Lee A. Ginsberg, declined to elaborate outside court.
Garden City, N.Y.-based AFG Financial Group found real estate owned by people with financial problems. Then the company lined up straw buyers who needed cash but had good credit to front as purchasers of the properties, prosecutors said. The buyers were told the deals would earn them and investors a healthy return and help people save their homes.
The conspirators then presented inflated property appraisals and phony loan qualification packages to get banks to finance the real estate purchases. Once the deals closed, the conspirators took the money and didn't pay the sellers or anyone else, prosecutors said.
The straw buyers ended up with bad credit, the sellers got foreclosed upon and banks lost millions of dollars. Some had sold investments based on the worthless mortgages.
AFG Financial Group isn't related to Cincinnati-based American Financial Group, an insurance company that goes by AFG.
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