Jailed NY fraudster admits plot to kill witness

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NEW YORK (AP) — The convicted mastermind of a $100 million mortgage fraud scheme admitted Monday to plotting the death of a key witness in his trial while behind bars, with an undercover investigator posing as a hit man.

Former AFG Financial Group Inc. President Aaron Hand pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors had said he gave the phony contract killer money to buy a gun, issued detailed instructions — including how to make the murder look like a gang attack — and agreed to pay $2,000.

"I wish I was there to ... watch him suffer," Hand told the investigator in a recorded conversation at the prison, according to prosecutors.

He was already serving 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison and is facing an additional sentence of 8 to 16 years to run consecutively when he is sentenced Feb. 6. He had faced 25 to life if convicted on the more serious charge of attempted murder.

His attorney told the New York Post the deal was a "more appropriate" way to resolve the situation. The attorney didn't immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

The witness, whom prosecutors wouldn't name, was one of several who cooperated and testified against Hand in the case. They detailed an expansive scheme in which a troop of corrupt mortgage brokers and lawyers pocketed money that banks lent people to buy real estate, duping both sellers and buyers along the way. Hand, 39, was convicted in July 2010 of racketeering and other charges.

The witness was one of the 27 who pleaded guilty or were convicted in connection with AFG Financial Group, prosecutors said, but they declined to discuss the outcome of the witness' case.

Authorities had gotten a tip earlier that Hand was interested in arranging a hit, so they sent the undercover investigator his way, prosecutors said.

He laid out a detailed plan to the undercover officer, telling the supposed hit man to block the witness's driveway so he couldn't escape, to kill the man's wife and children if they were home at the time, to wear gloves and to leave no DNA, prosecutors said. He later decided against staging the killing at the witness's home, prosecutors said.

To get the investigator $150 to buy a gun, Hand told his parents and an associate he needed to bribe a prison guard to avoid being transferred to an undesirable cell, prosecutors said.

The undercover investigator visited Hand again, saying he'd gotten the gun, had followed the witness a few times in preparation and was ready to go — and there would be no turning back once he left the prison that day, prosecutors said.

Hand told him to do it, prosecutors said, telling the officer to paint gang symbols on the intended victim's car so the murder would seem gang-related.

The Garden City, N.Y.-based company AFG Financial Group isn't related to American Financial Group, of Cincinnati, an insurance company that goes by AFG.

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