Let Us Prey

One Church in the HUD Rehab-Loan Scandal Says It Was a Lamb Led to the Slaughter

In late 1998, a year after Boccagna started making deals with Word of Life, he was introduced to officials of Family Preservation Center, another Long Island nonprofit, and they started doing deals with Graynor and Fox, prosecutors contend. Soon, other lawyers, other investors, and other nonprofits joined in.

And the future looked bright, according to the federal complaint against Beth Coppozi: "CW-1 indicated that the agreement was that, if the properties were successfully rehabilitated and re-sold, the CW-1 and Word of Life would split the profits."

Rehab work was done on some of the properties, but insiders say the renovation work required by the terms of the 203(k) program was never completed on any of the properties.

As it turned out, the most powerless victims of the scam brought it tumbling down. An illegal eviction of tenants at a Harlem building in March 1999 roused the suspicions of housing activists at the West Side SRO Law Project, a tenant-rights group, and city and federal investigators started sniffing around. (See "HUD: The Horror Movie," January 16; "Seduced and Abandoned," January 23.)

Probes began on several fronts; a civil suit was filed by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer against Helpline and some others in the alleged scam, and criminal charges against others were filed late last year. Because the rehab work was not completed, and people running the property deals became strapped for cash, properties began careening toward foreclosure.

Some of the buildings were vacant, but others had tenants who discovered that their landlords weren't paying the bills.

However, one home Word of Life purchased with money from the 203(k) program for low-income earners is not likely to go into foreclosure. It's a house on Ocean Avenue in Freeport near Word of Life's church: the residence of Pastor Anastasi and his wife, Michele.

See Also:

Spit-Shining a Scandal
The Chilly Victims of the HUD Housing Scam Listen to Some Hot Air
by Ward Harkavy

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