Archives For Stephanie Abbott

Lori Lynn Andrew, 49, Cashmere, Washington, the owner of Hartman Escrow, Inc., a real estate escrow firm was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for bank fraud.

Andrew stole more than $2.1 million through a variety of techniques, including making false entries in escrow closing documents, altering accounting records, and depositing checks into the general account instead of the trust account.

According to records in the case, beginning in about January 2011, and continuing until July 2012, Andrew used a variety of means to defraud financial institutions and individual home buyers and sellers who were involved in various real estate transactions.  Andrew made, or had others make, false settlement statements on closing transactions listing false or inflated fees and charges.  Andrew forged signatures on various statements and created false invoices, statements, and bills; she altered and deposited checks to her company account that should have gone to others; and she took client funds from her trust account and transferred them to her personal account for her own use.  Andrew used the money for casino payments, credit card bills, and other personal expenses.  Andrew defrauded individual customers, as well as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi Bank, Chase, and GMAC.  http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Lori+Lynn+Andrew

In all Andrew defrauded the financial institutions and other customers of $2.185 million.  In July 2012, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions arranged for a receiver to take over the Tukwila, Washington, escrow company after finding evidence of fraud.  Andrew had her license to act as an escrow agent suspended in 2013, and her license has since been revoked. The receiver was able to recover some funds for unsecured claimants, but just over $1 million is still owed to defrauded clients.

U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes made the announcement.

This defendant chose to victimize people when they were buying or selling a home–often the most important financial transaction of their lives,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.  “Like all real estate escrow agents, the defendant was responsible for ensuring large amounts of money went where they belonged.  When she decided to line her own pockets rather than do her job, she crossed the line and earned the prison sentence that the court imposed today.”

At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said, “Every single time you had an opportunity to change your mind and say ‘this is wrong,’ you kept doing it.

The case was investigated by the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG).

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Hugo Torres. Mr. Torres is a King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor specially designated to prosecute financial fraud cases in federal court.

 

Daniel Cardenas, 37, Tampa, Florida, was sentenced today to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to court documents, from as early as October 2007 through May 2008, Cardenas and others conspired to execute a wire fraud scheme affecting financial institutions. The goal of the scheme was to sell condominium units at The Preserve at Temple Terrace, a 392-unit condominium complex in Tampa, Florida. To entice buyers to purchase the units, the conspirators offered cash payments to buyers, either before or after closing. Payment of the funds to the individual buyers was neither known to nor approved by the mortgage lenders.

The conspirators made material false statements on loan documents, such as purchase and sale agreements, loan applications, and HUD-1 settlement statements, to induce mortgage lenders to approve loans for otherwise unqualified borrowers. The conspirators used several entities to conceal the payments to buyers from the mortgage lenders.

Cardenas’s role in the conspiracy, as a loan officer at Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, Florida included but was not limited to preparing, signing, and certifying false and fraudulent loan applications submitted to lenders in order to induce the institutions to provide funding for buyers. The false representations submitted to and relied upon by the mortgage lenders included representations concerning occupancy, income, source of funds, and assets.  Cardenas’s participation in the mortgage fraud conspiracy caused approximately $710,000 in losses to the victim mortgage lenders.

Cardenas pleaded guilty on April 24, 2018.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Chris Poor and Assistant United States Attorney Jay Hoffer.

 

Christopher Graeve, Florida, a real estate investor, pleaded guilty today in connection with an ongoing investigation into bid rigging at online public foreclosure auctions in Florida. Graeve is the second real estate investor to plead guilty in this investigation.

According to court documents, from around January 2012 through around June 2015, Graeve conspired with others to rig bids during online foreclosure auctions in Palm Beach County, Florida.

The primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at online foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices.  When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with any remaining proceeds available to the homeowner.  According to court documents, the conspiracy artificially lowered the price paid at auction for such homes. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Christopher+Graeve

Felony charges of bid rigging were filed against Graeve on November 2, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Department of Justice made the announcement.

In the past several years, the Division and its law enforcement partners have secured convictions of more than 100 individuals for rigging public mortgage foreclosure auctions in six different states, including Florida.

Real estate investors who deal in foreclosed properties should be on notice that the Division will not tolerate the subversion of competition in foreclosure auctions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division will continue to prosecute antitrust violations that occur at these auctions, and will hold individuals who engage in this conduct accountable.”

Real estate investors who think they can swindle the system to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains beware,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI Miami’s Field Office. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will vigorously investigate such schemes.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section and the FBI’s Miami Division – West Palm Beach Resident Agency.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal I Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-307-6694, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.

 

Greisy Jimenez, 50, Methuen, Massachusetts, a real estate broker, was sentenced today in connection with a sweeping conspiracy to defraud banks and mortgage companies by engaging in sham “short” sales of residential properties in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts.

Three co-conspirators involved in the scheme have been sentenced after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. In June 2018, Jasmin Polanco, 37, Methuen, Massachusetts, a real estate closing attorney, was sentenced to 15 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,224,489 in restitution. In May 2018, Vanessa Ricci, 41, Methuen, Massachusetts, a mortgage loan officer, was sentenced to six months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $963,730. In March 2017, Hyacinth Bellerose, 51, Dunstable, Massachusetts, a real estate closing attorney, was sentenced to time served and one year of supervised release to be served in home detention. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Greisy+Jimenez

The charges arose out of a scheme to defraud various banks via bogus short sales of homes in Haverhill, Lawrence and Methuen, Massachusetts in which the purported sellers remained in their homes with their debt substantially reduced. A short sale is a sale of real estate for less than the value of any existing mortgage debt on the property. Short sales are an alternative to foreclosure that typically occur only with the consent of the mortgage lender. Generally, the lender absorbs a loss on the loan and releases the borrower from the unpaid balance. By their very nature, short sales are intended to be arms-length transactions in which the buyers and sellers are unrelated, and in which the sellers cede their control of the subject properties in exchange for the short-selling bank’s agreement to release them from their unpaid debt.

The conspiracy began in approximately August 2007 and continued through June 2010, a period that included the height of the financial crisis and its aftermath. Home values in Massachusetts and across the nation declined precipitously, and many homeowners found themselves suddenly “underwater” with homes worth less than the mortgage debt they owed. As part of the scheme, Jimenez, Polanco, Ricci, Bellerose and others submitted materially false and misleading documents to numerous banks in an effort to induce them to permit the short-sales, thereby releasing the purported sellers from their unpaid mortgage debts, while simultaneously inducing the purported buyers’ banks to provide financing for the deals. In fact, the purported sellers simply stayed in their homes, with their debt substantially reduced.

The conspirators falsely led banks to believe that the sales were arms-length transactions between unrelated parties; in fact, the buyers and sellers were frequently related, and the sellers retained control of (and frequently continued to live in) the properties after the sale. The conspirators also submitted phony earnings statements in support of loan applications that were submitted to banks in order to obtain new financing for the purported sales. In addition, the defendants submitted phony “HUD-1 Settlement Statements” to banks that did not accurately reflect the disbursement of funds in the transactions. HUD-1 Settlement Statements are standard forms that are used to document the flow of funds in real estate transactions. They are required for all transactions involving federally related mortgage loans, including all mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

Jimenez was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, to three years in prison, four years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a fine of $12,500. The court will determine issues of restitution and forfeiture on Aug. 29, 2018. In January 2018, Jimenez pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, New York Field Office; and Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen E. Frank, Chief of Lelling’s Economic Crimes Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sara Miron Bloom and Victor A. Wild, also of the Economic Crimes Unit, prosecuted the cases.

SAN FRANCISCO ­— Two former senior executives at Sonoma Valley Bank and an attorney for one of its biggest borrowers were sentenced to prison Friday for their roles in defrauding the bank, costing taxpayers and investors millions of dollars when it collapsed in 2010. Sean Cutting, the bank’s former president and CEO, and Brian Melland, its former vice president and chief loan officer, each received eight-year sentences from U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston.

Source: Sonoma Valley Bank executives sent to prison for bank fraud

Ricardo Bentham, 58, Jamaica, New York, has been charged today with grand larceny and other crimes for allegedly conning a 101-year-old neighborhood friend into transferring the deed of his long-time home into the defendant’s name in October of 2017.

According to the criminal complaint, the defendant submitted a quitclaim deed to be filed with the city on October 5, 2017. The document stated that the victim, 101- year-old Woodrow Washington was transferring ownership of his 143rd Street, Jamaica, New York, home which has a value in excess of $50,000 to the defendant for a sale price of $0.

According to the complaint, the victim did not realize anything was awry until he received a letter from the Department of Finance stating that the deed to his home had been transferred to defendant Ricardo Bentham. An inquiry was conducted with the New York City Automated Register Information System which revealed that the document that was filed bears the signature of the Mr. Washington along with a notary stamp and signature of a notary. Mr. Washington stated that the signature on the form is his, however, he is adamant that he never signed any documents in front of a notary. Mr. Theodore White, a 93-year-old notary, who was later questioned by detectives acknowledged that he also knows the defendant from the neighborhood and would often sign documents brought to his home by Bentham because he trusted him. Mr. White, though, said the document bearing his signature was missing the notary seal, which he always added to a document.

Furthermore according to the charges, Mr. Washington identified the defendant as a neighborhood friend who offered to help him collect rent from his tenants. He also stated that he recalled signing documents that the defendant brought to his residence and that some of the forms were blank.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown made the announcement.

District Attorney Brown said, “This is a particularly troublesome case. The defendant was supposedly assisting his centenarian neighbor collect rent from his tenants, but in actuality the helper is alleged to have duped the old man into signing away his home. If the charges are proven true, the defendant now faces prison time for his actions.”

Bentham was arraigned before Queens Criminal Court Judge Jeffrey Gershuny on a complaint charging him with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of stolen property, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. Judge Gershuny released the defendant on his own recognizance and ordered him to return to court on August 21, 2018. If convicted, Bentham faces probation to up to 15 years in prison.

The case was investigated by Detective Gloria Castelbanco of the New York City Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation under the supervision of Sergeant Teresa Russo and the overall supervision of Sheriff Joseph Fucito.

Assistant District Attorney Christine Burke, of the District Attorney’s Elder Fraud Unit of the Economic Crimes Bureau, is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Silvana T. Sutich, Accountant and James J. Dever, Supervising Accountant Investigator, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Kristen A. Kane, Chief of the Elder Fraud Unit, Gregory C. Pavlides, Bureau Chief, and Christina Hanophy, Deputy Bureau Chief, and the under the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney for Investigations Peter A. Crusco.

It should be noted that a criminal complaint is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and several of its affiliates (Wells Fargo) will pay a civil penalty of $2.09 billion under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) based on the bank’s alleged origination and sale of residential mortgage loans that it knew contained misstated income information and did not meet the quality that Wells Fargo represented. Investors, including federally insured financial institutions, suffered billions of dollars in losses from investing in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) containing loans originated by Wells Fargo.

FIRREA authorizes the federal government to seek civil penalties against financial institutions that violate various predicate criminal offenses, including wire and mail fraud. The United States alleged that, in 2005, Wells Fargo began an initiative to double its production of subprime and Alt-A loans. As part of that initiative, Wells Fargo loosened its requirements for originating stated income loans – loans where a borrower simply states his or her income without providing any supporting income documentation.

To evaluate the integrity of its increasing volume of stated income loans, Wells Fargo subjected a sample of these loans to “4506-T testing.” A 4506-T form is a government document signed by the borrower during the loan approval process that allows the lender to obtain the borrower’s tax transcripts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 4506-T testing involves comparing the tax transcripts of the borrower with the income stated on the loan application. Wells Fargo implemented 4506-T testing on two of its programs. This testing revealed that more than 70% of the loans that Wells Fargo sampled had an “unacceptable” variance (greater than 20% discrepancy between the borrower’s stated income and the income information reflected in the borrower’s most recent tax returns filed with the IRS), and the average variance was approximately 65%. After receiving these results, Wells Fargo conducted further internal testing. This additional testing, performed by quality assurance analysts, was designed to determine if “plausible” explanations existed for the “unacceptable” variances over 20%. This additional step revealed that nearly half of the stated income loans that Wells Fargo tested had both an unacceptable variance and the absence of a plausible explanation for that variance.

The results of Wells Fargo’s 4506-T testing were disclosed in internal monthly reports, which were widely distributed among Wells Fargo employees. One Wells Fargo employee in risk management observed that the “4506-T results are astounding” yet “instead of reacting in a way consistent with what is being reported WF [Wells Fargo] is expanding stated [income loan] programs in all business lines.”

The United States alleged that, despite its knowledge that a substantial portion of its stated income loans contained misstated income, Wells Fargo failed to disclose this information, and instead reported to investors false debt-to-income ratios in connection with the loans it sold. Wells Fargo also allegedly heralded its fraud controls while failing to disclose the income discrepancies its controls had identified. The United States further alleged that Wells Fargo took steps to insulate itself from the risks of its stated income loans, by screening out many of these loans from its own loan portfolio held for investment and by limiting its liability to third parties for the accuracy of its stated income loans. Wells Fargo sold at least 73,539 stated income loans that were included in RMBS between 2005 to 2007, and nearly half of those loans have defaulted, resulting in billions of dollars in losses to investors.

The Justice Department made the announcement today .

This settlement holds Wells Fargo accountable for actions that contributed to the financial crisis,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio. “It sends a strong message that the Department is committed to protecting the nation’s economy and financial markets against fraud.

Abuses in the mortgage-backed securities industry led to a financial crisis that devastated millions of Americans,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Alex G. Tse. “Today’s agreement holds Wells Fargo responsible for originating and selling tens of thousands of loans that were packaged into securities and subsequently defaulted. Our office is steadfast in pursuing those who engage in wrongful conduct that hurts the public.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort between the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, with investigative support from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no admission of liability.

PHH Mortgage Corporation (“PHH”) has entered into a settlement today with Attorney General Chris Carr’s office to resolve allegations that it violated Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act by charging unauthorized fees to Georgia consumers.

The Attorney General’s office alleges that PHH, a New Jersey-based mortgage servicing and mortgage originating business, marketed various third-party products and services, including insurance products and home warranty programs, to certain consumers whose mortgages it serviced and placed charges for these products and services on consumers’ mortgage bills. According to the Attorney General, many consumers did not even realize they had signed up for these products and services. Likewise, they were not aware that the cost of these items was being added onto their monthly mortgage payments.

In resolution of these allegations of unfair and deceptive acts and practices, PHH has entered into a settlement requiring it to:

  • comply with the Fair Business Practices Act;
  • refrain from soliciting Georgia consumers’ purchase of and/or enrollment in third-party products and/or services;
  • cease all billing for the products and/or services provided and/or fulfilled by third-parties;
  • notify each consumer it is currently billing for products and/or services provided and/or fulfilled by third-parties that the consumer may cancel the remainder of the contract without penalty;
  • pay $25,000 to fund a Consumer Restitution Trust Account, to be administered by the Attorney General, for consumers who paid fees for third-party products and/or services that, due to any of PHH’s solicitation and/or billing practices, the consumer alleges were not owed; and
  • pay $50,000 to the Attorney General’s office in fees, penalties, investigation and litigation costs, and/or for future  consumer protection and consumer education costs. In the event that PHH fails to comply with the settlement terms at any time during a 120-day monitoring period, an additional $50,000 will immediately become due.

“Our office will hold accountable those that use deceptive means to profit from consumers,” said Attorney General Chris Carr.

Refunds for Consumers

Consumers who paid fees for third-party products and/or services due to any of PHH’s solicitations and/or billing practices may be entitled to compensation under the settlement and  should fill out and submit a prescribed claim form, along with supporting documentation, to the Georgia Department of Law. Claim forms must be postmarked, faxed or hand-delivered no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 in order to be considered for restitution.

Eligibility

Claims must be submitted by or on behalf of consumers who: pfees for third-party products and/or services that, due to any of PHH’s solicitation and/or billing practices, the consumer alleges were not owed; and have not received a full refund from PHH and/or the third-party provider.

Filing a Claim

Consumers can download a claim form from the Consumer Protection Unit website here.

Completed claims and any documentation, should be submitted by mail, overnight delivery, fax or hand-delivery to:

Georgia Department of Law – Consumer Protection Unit

ATTN: PHH Restitution

2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SE, Suite 356

Atlanta, Georgia 30334-9077

Fax number:  404-651-9018

You may NOT submit the Claim Form by email.

Claims must be postmarked or faxed no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on August 29, 2018.

 

Mark Goldstein and Drew Alia, Pennsylvania, and their five Pennsylvania mortgage foreclosure companies were sued today for deceiving consumers into signing contracts to have their mortgage loans modified and never delivering the services paid for.

Goldstein and Alia’s companies included GMK Solutions, the Foreclosure Law Center; Century Legal Group; Alia Law Group; and the Law Offices of Drew Alia.  Pennsylvania homeowners and other consumers wound up agreeing to pay the defendants more than $280,000 through their scam conducted between 2008 and 2015.

Here’s how the scam worked:

The defendants signed contracts with homeowners, promising to do a home loan audit and a mortgage modification – with the goal of lowering the consumer’s monthly mortgage payments or interest rate, or saving their home from foreclosure.

The defendants took cash deposits, often thousands of dollars, and then failed to produce the audits or mortgage modifications. To hide their scam, they told homeowners not to contact their mortgage lenders or make any payments because they were “handling” negotiations on the homeowners’ behalf.  When anxious consumers began to demand updates on the status of their loans, the defendants dodged their calls and offered no refunds.

During the scam, many homeowners received notices from their lenders stating that if they did not respond, their homes would be foreclosed upon or sold at sheriff’s sale.  In one instance, a consumer paid $3,500 up front for mortgage foreclosure services, and after the defendants assured the homeowner they had stopped the Sheriff’s sale, the home was lost anyway.

Another consumer from Delaware County called the Foreclosure Law Center for a loan modification to keep her home out of foreclosure, and paid a $700 deposit. The night before a sheriff’s sale, the defendants contacted the consumer and told her to file for bankruptcy to delay the sale. The bankruptcy filing was dismissed by the court. Ultimately, the defendants never delivered services or helped her and wouldn’t refund her deposit.

This consumer, Kathleen Zang, said: “The Foreclosure Law Center told me not to contact my mortgage company and they were handling everything on my behalf. I had to file for bankruptcy after I learned that communication was never made to keep my house — where my children and family lived. I was outraged after learning from my mortgage company that no one from the Foreclosure Law Center had been in touch with them. Other people lost their homes because of this company. I lost $700 — and I’m grateful to Attorney General Shapiro and his Bureau of Consumer Protection for stepping up for consumers like myself.”

The Office of Attorney General received 21 complaints from Pennsylvania consumers, and nearly 50 more from consumers across the country, who entered into mortgage modification contracts. In some cases, homeowners instructed by the scammers to not pay their mortgages ultimately lost their homes in sheriff’s sales.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro made the announcement.

Defendants Mark Goldstein, Drew Alia and their companies preyed upon dozens of Pennsylvanians and other consumers who thought they were making a smart decision for their home and family,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “They wanted to lower their interest rates, modify their mortgages, and save their homes. Instead, all they received from these defendants were false promises and no services. Some even lost their homes.  This misleading scam was outrageous and I’m suing to get restitution for every person and hold these companies accountable.

In addition to claims filed under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Attorney General’s lawsuit bases other claims against the defendants under the Pennsylvania Mortgage Licensing Act.

“If you believe you were victimized by defendants Goldstein, Alia or any of their companies, or any other false mortgage modification deal, call my office today or email us at scams@attorneygeneral.gov,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “I want to hear from you, and we’ll seek justice and restitution for you.”

The lawsuit in the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court seeks injunctive relief and restitution in excess of $280,000 total for all consumers who are currently or have ever been in a transaction with any of these companies or their affiliates.

Trung Anh Le, 36, California, pleaded guilty to one count of pattern of mortgage lending fraud, a category “B” felony. The fraud was committed in March of 2015.

Le misrepresented himself as the owner of three pieces of real estate property in Las Vegas, Nevada by impersonating the true owners of the property as a way to secure a loan in the amount of $180,000. As a result of Le’s misrepresentation, the title company filed deeds with the Clark County Recorder’s Office, effectively encumbering the properties.

Pattern of mortgage lending fraud is punishable by 3-20 years of imprisonment and a fine of no more than $50,000.The sentencing hearing for Le is scheduled for September 17, 2018 in the Eighth Judicial District Court.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt made the announcement.

My office is committed to protecting homeowners from fraudulent scams, and I encourage those who suspect they’ve fallen victim to a scam to file a complaint with my office,” said Laxalt.

This case was prosecuted by the Nevada Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecution Unit.

To view the criminal Information for Le, click here. To file a complaint about someone suspected of committing fraud, click here.