The East Ramapo Central School District confirmed last week that they have finalized a deal to sell Colton Elementary School in New Hempstead to two separate yeshivas, netting about $5.1 million in the process.
The property was sold to the Monsey-based Bais Malka Congregation and the Brooklyn-based Hebrew Academy for Special Children, both of whom formerly rented the school grounds from the district. The deal was struck after a lawsuit in which the school district agreed to give the yeshivas $1.5 million credit for rent paid on the property.
The closure of the deal, as well as an expected $4.9 million sale of Hillcrest Elementary School to Congregation Avir Yakov, are expected to bring $10 million into the school district this year. However, the deals have stoked discontent in East Ramapo, where parents and community activists have accused the predominantly Orthodox Jewish school board of prematurely closing and undervaluing properties so they can be sold in sweetheart deals to other members of the religious community.
The original Hillcrest sale prompted a state investigation which determined the property was sold at an artificially low price of $3.2 million. Investigators discovered impropriety on the part of appraiser Avi Vardi, who pled guilty this week to second-degree filing of a false instrument and was sentenced to three years probation and three years suspension of his appraisal license, along with a $3,500 fee and a $1,000 fine.
The state suspects that Vardi received a $5,000 bribe to fudge the appraisal of the property to the $3.2 million mark, however, they only charged him for illegally representing both parties without revealing it to the second party. By law an appraiser must reveal to a client if he had appraised a property within three years prior. In Vardi’s case he appraised the property on behalf of Avir Yakov on one day, and then on behalf of East Ramapo Central School District the next day.
Though the sales of both schools have come under considerable scrutiny, the school district said the Colton Elementary sale was completed with consultation from state officials.