By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The architect of a $100 million mortgage fraud scheme admitted on Monday to attempting to arrange the murder of a witness who testified against him at trial.
Aaron Hand, 40, pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree conspiracy to commit murder before Acting Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward in Manhattan.
"The defendant's actions strike at the heart of the justice system," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement. "Nothing is more important than the safety of witnesses, and my office will do everything in its power to ensure their safety."
Hand is serving a prison sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years for racketeering, grand larceny, fraud, and conspiracy. He faces a further 8- to 16-year term when he is due to be sentenced on February 6.
His lawyer, Kevin Canfield, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Prosecutors declined to identify the threatened witness.
Hand was convicted in July 2010 of masterminding a mortgage fraud scheme, following an investigation that eventually led to the indictment of 27 defendants from all corners of the real estate industry, all of whom either were convicted or pleaded guilty.
According to prosecutors, in 2011, Hand met in prison with an undercover investigator posing as a hit man, and tried to hire him to murder an unidentified witness for $2,000.
Prosecutors said Hand was caught on tape giving instructions to the undercover "hit man" on how to kill the witness -- and, if necessary, his wife and child -- without leaving evidence.
Hand created his company, Long Island-based AFG Financial Group, solely to defraud lending banks of millions of dollars while taking advantage of low-income homebuyers, according to prosecutors. The company located distressed properties and recruited straw buyers -- people who had excellent credit but little cash -- to purchase them.
Hand used phony appraisals, forged documents, and false loan qualifications for the buyers to secure financing, with the aid of corrupt bank and mortgage lender employees, appraisers, lawyers, and real estate agents, according to prosecutors.
The company kept most of the bank's loan money, allowing the properties to be foreclosed upon and leaving the straw buyers with ruined credit and no return on their investment, prosecutors said.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta)