Alexander Almaraz, owner of Design Concepts Group LLC in Freeport, has been charged in a 20-count indictment in connection with a scheme to defraud homeowners recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Almaraz, a 55-year-old former Freeport resident now living in California, was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and attempted wire fraud for allegedly convincing homeowners to hire his company and pay for repairs following Hurricane Sandy.
It is alleged that Almaraz used $2.5 million received from homeowners to purchase luxury cars, including a Lamborghini, a Porsche and a Jaguar. Almaraz was arraigned and pleaded not guilty Jan. 26 in federal court in Central Islip before United States Magistrate Judge Lee G. Dunst. He is currently free on a $100,000 bond.
Officials from the U.S. attorney’s office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Nassau County district attorney reported that Almaraz, who is accused of exploiting disaster victims by preying on homeowners eager to rebuild, was arrested and charged.
“In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the defendant took advantage of distressed homeowners who were desperate to rebuild their homes and their lives,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace stated in a news release. He noted that though Sandy was more than a decade ago, people who commit fraud will be prosecuted.
“As our fellow community members attempted to restore their lives following the cataclysmic destruction of Hurricane Sandy, the defendant exploited the opportunity to operate a years’ long scheme,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said in the release. “As alleged, rather than complete the promised contract, Almaraz stole his victims’ money to pay for his lavish personal expenses. The FBI will continue to investigate fraud and abuse of government relief programs and hold the scammers accountable for their schemes.”
Sandy struck the metropolitan area Oct. 29, 2019 resulting in severe damage to low-lying and coastal regions, particularly in the communities within the Eastern District of New York. Homeowners whose properties were impacted by the storm were able to apply for financial support through the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery’s NYR program.
“Dozens of New Yorkers — in their hour of need — were left homeless, and with their homes in ruin, due to the alleged actions of Alexander Almaraz,” Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly stated in the release. “For nearly four years, this contractor allegedly promised families that he’d repair their homes, but instead he used disaster relief money to buy exotic sports cars and property in another state. I thank our partners at the US. Attorney’s Office and the FBI for their diligent pursuit of this defendant, who has left a trail of destruction in his wake.”
The indictment states Almaraz represented himself as the owner of DCG and fraudulently posed as the owner of another company. It adds he entered into agreements with homeowners who were eligible to receive funds from the NYR program. The contracts included Almaraz’s promise to raise the homes of the homeowners and place them on a temporary support structure, allowing for the demolition of the foundation and the installation of a new one, lowering the house and reconnecting appliances.
From October 2015 to June 2019, Almaraz agreed to elevate the homes of at least 20 clients who had received NYR funding and had collectively paid him over $2.5 million. He convinced many of these homeowners to vacate their homes and pay him rent to live elsewhere, all the while neglecting the projects and causing additional damage.
Instead of carrying out the agreed-upon work, Almaraz allegedly used the homeowners’ funds to pay for personal expenses, such as credit card bills, land in Kansas City, Missouri, and luxury vehicles. If found guilty, Almaraz could face a maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment on each count in the indictment.
Almaraz’s next court date is scheduled for March 9, via teleconference.