More than a year after the appraiser's arrest, prosecutors reportedly still refuse to identify the Skvere hasidim who allegedly bribed Vardi and at least one school board member who allegedly played a role in the scheme, and none of them have been arrested or charged.
Appraiser Who Allegedly Took $5,000 From Skvere Hasidim Gets Sweetheart Plea Deal, Hasidim, School Board Members Still Not Charged
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
In 2010, Avi Vardi, a 57-year-old real estate appraiser, allegedly took a $5,000 bribe from Skvere hasidim to under-appraise a school Skvere’s Congregation Avir Yaakov wanted to purchase from the haredi-controlled scandal-plagued East Ramapo school district.
Vardi willingly complied, allegedly took the money and undervalued the Hillcrest School by $2.66 million.
However, the sale of the school was overturned by the state and Vardi was later arrested in July 2013 and charged with two felonies.
Today, Vardi pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor – second-degree filing a false instrument – and was sentenced by Clarkstown Justice Craig Johns to three years of probation, the Journal News reported. He will also have to repay the $3,500 the district paid him to do the appraisal and a $1,000 fine. He also agreed not to renew his license to appraise property in New York State for the next three years.
Prosecutors reportedly refused to identify the Skvere hasidim who bribed Vardi and at least one school board member who allegedly played a role in the scheme.
Neither that school board member or any Skvere hasidim have been arrested – even though prosecutors and law enforcement know who they are and have evidence against them.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who made a show of fighting public corruption and whose office first began the prosecution of Vardi, has come under fire in the past few days for allegedly cooperating in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tampering with an anti-corruption panel Cuomo empaneled and then abruptly disbanded as it neared making indictments. The resulting scandal is believed to have nded Cuomo's chance of running for president in 2016.
After Vardi was sentenced, Schneiderman’s office reportedly said that the original charges against Vardi did not involve the alleged $5,000 payment from Avir Yakov to Vardi and claimed the investigation into that bribe continues.
An “ongoing” investigation allows Schneiderman and prosecutors to remain silent about the bribery and the Skvere hasidim and school board members who allegedly participated in it.
Vardi's attorney said that Vardi only admitted to a technical violation.
"Mr. Vardi has has always maintained his innocence in connection with the broader allegations and has admitted to technical violations of not disclosing he appraised the property within the past three years,” Michael Bachner told the Journal News.
Local activist Steven White, who originally forced the district to publicly release Vardi's fraudulent appraisal – which it had closely guarded and had refused to release – by taking legal action against the district was upset with the plea deal the state gave gave Vardi, noting that Vardi’s appraisal compared the Hillcrest School to a vacant lot Vardi deceptively labeled as a school.
"I think that justice has not been served," White told the Journal News.
Despite the bribe and the appointment by Governor Andrew Cuomo of a fiscal monitor – a crony of Coumo – for the troubled school district, earlier this month the East Ramapo school board sold Hillcrest to Yeshiva Congregation Avir Yakov – the same Skvere congregation that allegedly bribed Vardi. The sale price was $4.9 million – the same price the congregation originally tried to buy the school for under Vardi’s false appraisal.
[Hat Tip: Devorah.]