Sergio Natera, 35, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Anna McElaney, 38, Norwalk, Connecticut, have been indicted and charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud. Natera and McElaney are licensed real estate agents and the charges stem from an alleged “short sale” mortgage fraud scheme involving four properties located in Connecticut.
The indictment was returned on October 6, 2009. Natera and McElaney appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport and each entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. Following the arraignment, each was released on a $50,000 bond secured by property.
A “short sale” transaction involves a mortgage holder or lender entering into an agreement to release its mortgage or lien on real property in exchange for payment of less than the total amount owed on the underlying debt. Many short sale transactions are legitimate.
The indictment alleges that in 2007 and 2008, Natera and McElaney conspired to defraud financial institutions of the full proceeds due to them on four separate real estate transactions in Bridgeport (2), Monroe and Wallingford, Connecticut. The indictment alleges that Natera and McElaney created straw buyer transactions in order to negotiate with mortgage holders to allow sales of the properties to occur without paying the mortgages in full. During the negotiations with the mortgage holders, Natera and McElaney knew that legitimate purchasers already had executed purchase and sale agreements with the property owners to purchase the property at higher prices. On each of the transactions, Natera and McElaney are alleged to have arranged for two closings to take place, the first from the property owner to the straw buyer at the short sale price, and the second from the straw buyer to the legitimate purchaser at a higher price. The indictment alleges that the mortgage lenders did not know about the second closing and received no proceeds from the second closing.
If convicted, Natera and McElaney each face a maximum term of imprisonment of 30 years and a fine of up to $1 million, on each count.
U.S. Attorney Nora R. Dannehy stressed that an indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial at which it is the Government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ann M. Nevins.
In July 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the formation of the Connecticut Mortgage Fraud Task Force to investigate and prosecute mortgage fraud cases and related financial crimes occurring in Connecticut. In addition to investigating past mortgage fraud schemes, the Task Force will focus on emerging crime trends that are associated with the growing tide of foreclosures, including foreclosure rescue schemes, and short sale schemes. Citizens are encouraged to report any suspected mortgage fraud activity by calling 203-333-3512 and requesting the Connecticut Mortgage Fraud Task Force, or by sending an email to email@example.com.
The Connecticut Mortgage Fraud Task Force includes representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General, and State of Connecticut Department of Banking.
Nora R. Dannehy, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced the two-count indictment.