By Jonathan Sperling
The ringleader of a phony real estate scheme operating out of Hollis will soon have a new address upstate.
Herzel Meiri, 64, targeted dozens of black and Latino homeowners at risk for foreclosure and homelessness as part of a fraud conspiracy. Meiri controlled a crew that attempted to swindle low-income black and Latino homeowners and steal their homes. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the federal court Thursday.
Meiri and his 35-year-old son, Amir, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in April and each faced a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
Brooklyn Legal Services, which represented 10 of Meiri’s victims, noted that people of color are “often” targeted in mortgage scams such as Meiri’s.
“Property and mortgage scams are rampant in New York City. The unscrupulous individuals
who run these scams often have experience in the mortgage and real estate industries, and they most often target homeowners of color,” said Jennifer Sinton, Director of BLS’ Foreclosure
Prevention Program, which is part of Legal Services NYC. “This particular operation is unique
in that the perpetrators were caught and prosecuted.”
The scam would begin innocently enough for victims.
From an office on Hillside Avenue, Meiri and associates would or call or mail the owner of a distressed property. Meiri typically employed a person from the same racial background as the victim to make the call — a tactic otherwise known as “affinity marketing,” according to BLS.
The caller invited the owner of the property to the offices of “Homeowner Assistance Services of New York.”
When the victim arrived at the Hollis office, Meiri’s team would trick them into signing documents that they did not understand, or were purposely left blank.
Meiri’s team would then execute a short-sale, enabling the fraudsters to purchase the property for far less than it was worth without the homeowner’s knowledge. Meiri and his son operated a shell company called to Launch Development LLC to buy the distressed homes and mask their involvement in the purchase.
By providing false documentation and lying to the bank about the homeowner’s intentions and financial circumstances, Meiri’s team was able to pull of the scheme, while also hiding that they were the property purchasers.
Before handing down the sentence, District Judge Edgardo Ramos noted that Meiri’s scam had a racist element because it “almost exclusively took place in non-white communities.”
“Our home was our only asset,” said Vincent Holmes—one of the plaintiffs represented by BLS—in a statement given to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New
York. “We are now facing the possibility that we will be thrust into homelessness as senior
citizens, with nothing to show for the decades of work that we devoted to preserving our home.”
Amir Meiri’s sentencing is scheduled for November.
Mario Alvarenga, who was charged with Meiri in 2015 and still lists himself as vice president of operations for the HASNY — Nov. 2012 to present — on LinkedIn, did not respond to request for comment.