Anthony Natale, Esq., 44, Neshanic Station, a New Jersey attorney and Kenneth Lagonia, 58, formerly of East Brunswick who now resides in North Carolina, have entered guilty pleas, marking the ninth and tenth defendants associated with the investigation of NJ Affordable Homes, Corp. (NJAH) to plead guilty to federal charges.
Sentencing for both defendants was scheduled for May 18. Natale and Lagonia are both free on $100,000 unsecured bonds.
Natale, whose law office was in Cranford, was retained by Wayne Puff, NJAH’s President and founder, to conduct real estate closings for properties bought by NJAH as part of an investment program referred to as “Our Money, Your Credit,” where NJAH promised to purchase and renovate properties to be resold at substantial, guaranteed profits.
At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares, Natale admitted that he directed his paralegal, Sydney Raposo, to prepare false and fraudulent HUD-1 Universal Settlement Statements that falsely showed that Natale’s clients, who were “nominee buyers,” or buyers who were “in name only,” had paid money to purchase the properties, and thus had equity in the properties, when Natale knew they had not. Natale also acknowledged that these false HUD-1s were often submitted to mortgage lenders for mortgage loans, and then to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which, in turn, federally insured the loans.
Lagonia, President of Quality Homes Are Us, LLC, a company affiliated with NJAH, admitted that he created false solicitation letters on behalf of NJAH, representing that NJAH was profitable, in order to lure investors. Lagonia also admitted that after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s began its inquiry into NJAH and its affiliated companies, Wayne Puff and others shredded incriminating documents to conceal the fraud.
Lagonia acknowledged that he signed false employment verifications for nominee purchasers which were submitted to lenders, and notarized deeds and other mortgage documents, falsely representing that the nominee purchasers were present at closings when, in fact, they were not. Lagonia also used a company credit card for personal expenditures such as family trips to Disney World and Mohegan Sun Hotel and Casino, funeral expenses for a close relative, clothing, home accessories, a gym membership at a female fitness center and the like.
As part of the conspiracy, Puff recruited the nominee buyers, to serve as supposed bonafide purchasers of real estate properties, many of which were located in Irvington and Newark. The buyers, however, did not pay money in connection with the purchases although the closing documents which were submitted to the mortgage lenders and HUD falsely stated they did. Puff fraudulent scheme which, in total, caused over $75 million in losses to investors and mortgage lenders.
Others who have previously pleaded guilty:
• Mitchell Fishman, 56, Princeton Junction, a lawyer, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for creating and signing materially false and fraudulent Settlement Statements relating to NJAH real estate transactions.
• Michael Meehan, 48, Bellmar, NJAH’s former licensed real estate appraiser, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for creating and submitting materially false and misleading property appraisals in the names of nominee buyers tovarious mortgage lenders.
• Katrina Arrington, 36, Hillside, a mortgage loan processor, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging her with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for her role in falsifying the income, assets, and employment status of nominee buyers on loan applications submitted to mortgage lenders.
• William Page, 49, Old Bridge, a former licensed real estate appraiser, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for creating materially false and misleading property appraisals and construction progress letters.
• John Morris, 61, Fort Lee, NJAH’s appraisal coordinator, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in overseeing the creation of fraudulent property appraisals for properties which were sold by NJAH, in the names of nominee buyers, to straw buyers at inflated prices.
• John Kurzel, 57, New Brunswick, a mortgage loan processor at NJAH, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in preparing false and misleading loan applications in the names of nominee buyers which were submitted to mortgage lenders.
• Lucesita Santiago, 36, Woodbridge, an account manager at NJAH, pleaded guilty to a onecount Information charging her with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for her role in creating fictitious account statements falsely showing that nominee buyers had assets invested with NJAH, which in turn were submitted to mortgage lenders.
Each of the above individuals pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud are subject to a maximum term of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sydney Raposo, 41, Rahway, who served as a paralegal for Natale, pleaded guilty to a onecount Information, charging her with making false statements to HUD relating to a federallyinsured mortgage loan issued by a mortgage lender. She is subject to a two-year maximum period of incarceration and a $250,000 fine.
Robert Kirsch and Justin W. Arnold, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, are handling the prosecutions.