Friedman served as AMREP Corp.’s president, CEO, treasurer and board chairman before retiring in 1991, according to company officials. He was also the CFO for the Rio Rancho development.
“I am very proud to have been a major participant in Rio Rancho’s founding and to have played a part in it becoming New Mexico’s third-largest city,” Friedman wrote in an op-ed he authored for the Albuquerque Journal in 2012.
Rio Rancho Estates, as it was originally called, was established in 1961 when several real estate businessmen from AMREP Corp. purchased 55,000 acres of ranchland from Albuquerque developer Ed Snow.
In addition to Friedman, the AMREP/Rio Rancho developers included Herman Oberman, Irving Blum, Henry Hoffman and Chester Carity.
Rio Rancho grew to a population of 1,000 by 1970. In 1971, an additional 35,000 acres was purchased. Currently, the city has nearly 90,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some legal problems accompanied that growth.
In 1975, government regulators filed a lawsuit against AMREP for allegedly defrauding 45,000 investors for as much as $200 million. They claimed AMREP promised shareholders their real estate investments would double or triple in just a few years, despite knowing the land had no resale market.
Ultimately, Friedman, Carity, Hoffman and Senior Vice President for Sales David Friedman were sentenced to six months in prison and the company was fined $45,000.
Later in 1993, the Federal Trade Commission brought a civil suit against AMREP with the same charges. As a result, there was a settlement of $350,000 given to the 22,000 defrauded land buyers.
Nevertheless, Howard Friedman – a lifelong New Yorker – always considered Rio Rancho to be one of his greatest accomplishments and held an unyielding passion for New Mexico, said his son, Ira Friedman.
“He just didn’t have it in his DNA to give up,” Ira said in the eulogy for his father. “Howie met life’s challenges head-on. He loved his decades of work and play in New Mexico, and those same sentiments have been thankfully passed along. Our entire family’s love affair with the Land of Enchantment remains strong to this day.”
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Lee; his children, Ira, Debra, Patti and Jane; eight grandchildren; and sisters Gloria and Myrna.
Friedman was buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, N.Y., on Nov. 1.