State seeks $5M from 'callous' landlord in lead paint case

State seeks $5M from 'callous' landlord in lead paint case

A former landlord who once owned or controlled 22 Buffalo homes where 29 children suffered lead poisoning should pay more than $5 million in penalties, restitution and forfeited rent, the state Attorney General's Office told a judge Wednesday.

The amount appears to be the largest ever sought from a landlord in a lead-paint violation case in Western New York.

Angel Elliot Dalfin, until recently a fugitive, is considered by government officials to have been among the worst – if not the worst – rental housing operators in Buffalo. He surrendered at the federal courthouse last month to face criminal charges related to lead-paint violations.

The penalties sought by the state stem from 126 instances of deceptive acts and practices that State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto, in a default judgment in the state's civil lawsuit, found Dalfin and his entities engaged in.

At least 63 of the Dalfin properties were cited for chipping, peeling or deteriorating paint and other conditions conducive to lead poisoning between 2013 and 2020.

"They did not try to prevent lead poisoning," said Assistant Attorney General Patrick Omilian at a hearing before Panepinto. "Instead, they cut corners. They lied to tenants. They lied to authorities."

For them, Omilian said, ignoring the perils of childhood lead poisoning was an "intentional business practice."

Dr. Melinda S. Cameron, a pediatrician and medical director of the WNY Lead Poisoning Prevention Resource Center, testified that the prevalence of lead poisoning among children in Buffalo, particularly in impoverished Black neighborhoods, "is still terrible," although some progress has been made.

The judge said granting the state's request is a step she is "very inclined to do because I see no reason not to."
Panepinto reserved decision, in part because of Cameron's testimony, to investigate if the money – if any is collected from Dalfin and his entities – can be spent on the ongoing public health crisis involving lead poisoning locally rather than just be deposited into government budgets.

Over the years, Dalfin repeatedly violated laws by failing to maintain the properties, allowing lead paint to deteriorate, and he also provided deficient and false lead disclosures – or no disclosures at all – to tenants and purchasers of his properties, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

"The totality of the evidence in the record established the callous, egregious nature of (his) deceptive acts," Omilian said in court papers.

The judge banned him from renting out or managing residential properties in New York State as part of the default judgment in April.

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 on the city's East Side.

Dalfin operated using a web of 19 companies incorporated in the states of Wyoming, Maryland, Delaware and New York, and he shuffled the properties among them, according to court records. Dalfin never appeared at a civil hearing in state court. He stopped replying to court orders, although a lawyer representing him watched Wednesday's proceeding.