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No prison time for landlord whose rental homes poisoned children with lead

By Patrick Lakamp

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    BUFFALO, New York (The Buffalo News) — Angel Dalfin, considered one of the worst – if not the worst – rental housing operators in Buffalo, avoided a prison sentence Monday despite what a prosecutor called Dalfin’s “complete misrepresentation to the court” about his criminal behavior.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo sentenced Dalfin to five years of probation, eight months of home detention, 600 hours of community service and restitution of $115,000.

Dalfin in April pleaded guilty to a felony charge of falsely stating that he had no knowledge of lead-based paint hazards in 23 rental homes he sold. A plea agreement between Dalfin, 58, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office included an advisory guideline range of eight to 14 months imprisonment and a fine between $5,500 and $55,000, although the judge was not bound by it.

In written submissions to the judge, Dalfin contended that, for the most part, he was not the owner of the properties and that he was suffering from Covid-19 when he signed a “stack of documents” that were false.

“The truth is much different,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango said in a court filing.

At Monday’s hearing, Mango said Dalfin is “trying to excuse his conduct.”

The government acknowledged Dalfin managed several properties on behalf of a real estate investor in Hong Kong. An investigation revealed Dalfin essentially controlled all aspects of the real estate portfolio, Mango said. Dalfin was informed of all lead-based issues with the properties, made decisions on what repairs needed to be made, obtained a power of attorney from the investor, and then, ultimately sold the properties with false lead disclosures, Mango said.

As early as September 2018, before his Covid-19 illness, Dalfin discussed investment strategy with the Hong Kong investor and laid the groundwork for a sale of the properties. By June 2019, Dalfin told the investor that four houses were sold and that he needed the power of attorney to get the rest done quickly.

The investor gave Dalfin the power of attorney allowing him to sell the houses. In a Nov. 20, 2020, email – sent about three weeks after a temporary restraining order was issued in a civil case being pursued by the New York State Attorney General’s Office against Dalfin – he told the investor that it “would have been very bad if I didn’t sell the houses in Buffalo before the TRO.”

Taken as a whole, the emails between Dalfin and the investor show the control Dalfin had over the real estate portfolio, “and that the defendant’s sale of the properties was not the result of being thrust a stack of papers to sign while he was recuperating from Covid-19,” Mango said in a court filing.

“I’m truly ashamed of what I did and what I did not do,” Dalfin told Vilardo at the hearing.

Dalfin said he continues to “hope and pray” that those who lived in the rental homes are healthy and living productive lives.

Dalfin’s crime posed a danger to the health of children who lived in the properties, Vilardo said, calling it the kind of offense “that really push my buttons.”

“I agonized over whether to impose a sentence of imprisonment,” he said.

The judge said he opted not to incarcerate Dalfin in part because of the character letters sent on his behalf. Also, keeping him out of prison will give him more time to earn money to pay the restitution and start performing community service at a Habitat for Humanity chapter.

“I have no doubt you are a very good person who did a very bad thing,” Vilardo told Dalfin.

At the height of his operation, Dalfin owned or controlled more than 150 single- and two-family homes in Buffalo, rented mostly to low-income people of color. At least 63 of the houses were cited for lead paint hazards, and 29 children living in 22 of the homes suffered lead poisoning, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Of the 23 properties involved in the federal case, children in eight of the properties were found to have an elevated blood lead level during the period that Dalfin managed the property, according to Mango.

“He put children at risk of lead poisoning,” Mango said.

Defense lawyer Herbert Greenman had sought permission from Vilardo to allow the director of alternative sentencing at the Aleph Institute to address the court. But Greenman later withdrew the request.

Dalfin knew the Attorney General’s Office was investigating him for lead-based paint violations, Mango said. When selling the 23 properties, he included false riders that stated the lead-based paint hazards at the properties were unknown. Had the buyers known of the lead-based paint hazards at the properties, they would have spent an average of $5,000 per property to stabilize the hazard, for a total of $115,000.

The plea agreement calls for Dalfin to make restitution for the $115,000.

The prospects of him making that restitution seem doubtful.

“Financially, Mr. Dalfin is destitute,” Greenman said in a court filing.

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