It's no secret the Miami area desperately needs affordable housing. The city often ranks among the worst for renters; research shows Miamians spend more of their incomes on housing than residents of any other U.S. city. Wages aren't keeping up with housing prices. Meanwhile, the city has a glut of empty million-dollar condos.
None of this stopped the leaders of a Hialeah Gardens-based company from ripping off the county's affordable housing program. Javier Estepa and Diego Alejandro Estepa Vasquez, president and vice president of Aaron Construction Group, were convicted in federal court last week of defrauding Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development, which manages more than 9,000 units of public and mixed-income housing.
"While my clients regret the verdict, they respect the jury’s decision and the time and attention devoted by the individual jurors," attorney Neil G. Taylor tells New Times.
According to the indictment, Estepa and Estepa Vasquez's general contracting firm was chosen to renovate and repair public housing developments after submitting fraudulent bids. The pair falsely claimed they wouldn't be using subcontractors, misrepresented the number of workers employed on the project, and falsified the number of hours being worked. They also underpaid workers, violating federal law requiring laborers on federally funded projects earn prevailing wages.
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The scheme worked: Public Housing and Community Development transferred more than $3.9 million to bank accounts controlled by the two before they were caught. They are among several developers prosecuted federally for scamming Miami-Dade's affordable housing program. In one major case, executives at Carlisle Development Group and Biscayne Housing Group pleaded guilty in 2015 to stealing affordable housing funds in a scheme that cost taxpayers $36 million.
In the Aaron Construction Group case, Estepa and Estepa Vasquez were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and three counts of wire fraud, as well as charges of making false statements to a federal agency.
They could face up to 20 years for each count of wire fraud and five years for each count of making a false statement.