MANHATTAN — An internationally known pianist hid records of his $1 million Hamptons home to swindle the federal government out of thousands of dollars in housing subsidies to pay for a TriBeCa apartment, DNAinfo has learned.
Antonio Fermin, who has performed at Carnegie Hall and worked as a piano teacher, was arrested and pleaded guilty last Thurs., April 5, to illegally receiving $17,815 in Section 8 housing funds from July 2004 to September 2009, after failing to disclose he owned a three-bedroom, 2,700-square-foot hideaway on wooded Ranch Court in Sagaponack, court records showed.
He used the money to pay for a two-bedroom apartment in Independence Plaza, which, at that time, was Mitchell-Lama low-income housing. He was already paying a subsidized, below-market $1,000-a-month rent for an apartment at the TriBeCa complex that normally costs about $3,400, the Department of Investigation found.
Fermin was caught after the department began looking for fraud among Section 8 tenants who were receiving large subsidies. The probe also caught Cherie Williams, of Brooklyn, who was arrested April 5 and charged in federal court with a separate scheme to steal $136,000 in funds on two apartments she and her daughter had, according to the DOI.
"These investigations reflect the variety of fraudulent schemes used to illegally obtain and increase public housing subsidies — subsidies that could have gone to New Yorkers in desperate need of these funds,” said Rose Gill Hearn, the city’s Investigations commissioner.
For five consecutive years, Fermin, 48, who's a former Juilliard School instructor and runs a popular piano school in Greenwich Village, checked the “No” box on his Section 8 application that asked if he owned any real estate, according to court documents.
In fact, he and then-wife Maria Schon, a well-known painter specializing in paradise landscapes, owned the house in tony Southampton.
According to a criminal complaint, on April 8, 2010, apparently after they divorced, Fermin and Schon placed the property solely in her name “after defendant filed his 2007, 2008, 2009 recertification in which he failed to disclose his ownership of 20 Ranch Court.”
Fermin's lawyer did not immediately comment.
Under the Section 8 Program, a low-income individual who meets certain eligibility requirements is approved for rental assistance payments.The payments are designed to make up the difference between what a recipient can afford and the total rent charged by the landlord.
Independence Plaza left the Mitchell-Lama rent-stabilization program in 2004, but low-income tenants were allowed to apply for Section 8 vouchers so they wouldn't have to leave their homes.
According to Fermin’s website, his distinguished résumé includes performing at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall and concert halls in Caracas, Venezuela, and London, England. He has also appeared with the American Composers Orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra and the Aspen Music Festival.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and the Juilliard School, Fermin says he has a Ph.D. from New York University in Piano Performance and has also taught at the Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, as well as stints as a visiting fellow at Harvard University.
Fermin presently runs “The Piano Studio” in Greenwich Village, offering “a comprehensive and progressive approach to piano playing” to students ranging from kindergarteners to adults, his website said.
Immediately following his arrest, Fermin pleaded guilty to petit larceny charges in a pre-arranged deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. He was sentenced to 40 hours community service after agreeing to pay back the $17,815 he received.
Fermin is due back in court on June 6, 2012.
Cherie Williams, 40, was accused of living in subsidized housing since 1998 in Brooklyn and then getting one for a daughter in Queens, who was listed as living in her apartment.
Charged with fraudulently obtaining $136,000 in federal housing funds, Williams was released on $50,000 bail after pleading not guilty. She is next due in court May 2, 2012.