Archives For Mortgage Fraud

Abolghasseni “Abe” Alizadeh, 59, Granite Bay, California was sentenced today to four years and eight months in prison.  Alizadeh pleaded guilty on January 12, 2018 to wire fraud, bank fraud and making false statements to a federally insured financial institution.

According to court documents, Alizadeh, a Sacramento-area commercial real estate developer, restaurateur and owner of Kobra Properties, came up with a scheme to fraudulently purchase land that he planned to develop. Banks usually loan up to 60 to 65 percent of the loan to-value ratio (LTV) on undeveloped commercial property. (LTV ratio is the comparison between the amount of the loan and the value of the property.) To circumvent the banks and fraudulently get a higher level of financing, Alizadeh submitted altered purchase contracts to the banks that greatly inflated the purported purchase price. The banks, which competed for Alizadeh’s business, were unaware that the purchase prices were inflated and sometimes loaned well in excess of the loan-to-value ratio. By concealing the true purchase price from the banks, Alizadeh received substantial amounts of cash, sometimes millions of dollars, at the close of escrow and avoided making the full down payment or, in some instances, any down payment.

Alizadeh was assisted in this scheme by co-defendant Mary Sue Weaver, 64, currently of Scottsdale, Arizona and formerly of Lincoln, California, who was employed at a local title company. According to the plea agreement, Alizadeh would write checks for the down payment, but because he lacked funds to cover the checks, he would call Weaver and ask her to delay depositing the checks until after escrow closed. Once escrow closed, Weaver disbursed funds from the title company’s escrow trust account to Kobra Properties. Kobra Properties then used those funds to cover its down payment and other costs. In this way, it appeared as though Alizadeh was making a substantial down payment when in fact he was not.

On April 29, 2005, Alizadeh submitted a fraudulent purchase contract to Central Pacific Bank, which induced the bank to lend him nearly $4 million for the purchase of 10.3 acres of property. This loan represented over 96 percent loan-to-value ratio. Similarly, on October 21, 2005, Alizadeh received over $22 million in funding and loans to purchase the Turtle Island property, when in actuality, the original purchase price was $10 million. In March 2006, Alizadeh also falsely claimed to Bank of Sacramento that he was paying $36 per square foot for a piece of property where he intended to build a TGI Friday’s restaurant. In reality, Alizadeh was paying only $21 per square foot. This resulted in a $650,000 inflation of the true purchase price. Alizadeh’s entire scheme, involving no fewer than six properties in the Sacramento area, resulted in a loss to various financial institutions of over $22 million.

U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. also ordered Alizadeh to pay $15,879,945 in restitution to the victims of his crimes.

On December 15, 2017, Weaver pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud and is scheduled for sentencing on June 22, 2018. She faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison on each count and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott.

The defendant used his reputation as a local business leader to perpetrate a complex fraud scheme to enrich himself at the expense of others,” stated U.S. Attorney Scott. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work diligently with its law enforcement partners to expose schemes like this and bring criminals like the defendant to justice.

The scope of the fraud is staggering,” said Michael T. Batdorf, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “As a well-known real-estate developer, title companies and banks competed for Mr. Alizadeh’s business. He submitted altered purchase contracts that greatly inflated the purchase price. This scheme cost financial institutions over $22 million. While this sentence cannot reverse the damage caused by Alizadeh and his co-defendant, it highlights the ongoing commitment of IRS-CI to hold accountable those involved in these types of crimes.

Today’s sentencing holds defendant Alizadeh accountable for causing more than $22 million in losses to the financial institutions, by corruptly inflating the value of property to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent bank loans,” stated FDIC Inspector General Jay N. Lerner. “This case is a powerful example of law enforcement cooperation to combat fraud and bring such swindlers to justice.”

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Anderson and Heiko P. Coppola are prosecuting the case.

Terrell Hampton, 37, was sentenced today to 119 months in prison for defrauding the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and innocent owners and purchasers of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania real estate.

Terrell Hampton, along with his father Kenneth Hampton and other family members, stole vacant homes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that belonged to people who could not afford to defend their properties. Kenneth Hampton was convicted and sentenced to 200 months in prison in November.

At the direction of his father, who was in prison at the time, Terrell looked for vacant properties to target, created and filed fraudulent deeds, sought buyers for the stolen properties, and kept Kenneth apprised of scheme developments. They communicated through phone calls, emails, and letters, as well as through Kenneth’s fiancée, co-conspirator Roxanne Mason.

The participants in the scheme moved into the stolen properties under the cover of fake leases that purported to grant them the right to occupancy.  They then found ways to profit from the stolen properties, either by selling the homes to good faith purchasers, by saddling them with debt, or by taking advantage of government programs designed to aid legitimate homeowners.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain.

This defendant stole from people who didn’t have the resources to fight back, often resulting in victim battling against victim, homeowner against good faith purchaser,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “He lived up to the low example set by his father, and I am proud that the talented case team has put both of them behind bars.”

The case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security – Office of the Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of the Inspector General, City of Philadelphia.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Paul G. Shapiro and Sarah M. Wolfe

On May 18, 2018,  Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Kirkland and Portland, Oregon based Real Estate Investment Network, LLC (REIN), a company accused of scamming foreclosed homeowners out of equity in the form of surplus funds from the foreclosure sale to halt its deceptive practices while the state’s lawsuit progresses. REIN had been charging up to 67 percent of surplus funds it recovers for homeowners following a foreclosure sale. These fees amounted to tens of thousands of dollars for each homeowner.

With the real estate market booming, foreclosure sales can bring in more money than is owed on the mortgage. Homeowners can often recover these “surplus funds” through a relatively simple process with the court.

REIN approached foreclosed homeowners soon after the foreclosure sale, before they receive notice that surplus funds are available.

REIN’ misrepresented  the process for recovering surplus funds, telling consumers the process could take up to a year and will be near impossible without their help. REIN then offered to help the consumer recover the funds in exchange for a fee, but presented documentation giving REIN all the rights to the surplus funds. Although REIN returned a percentage of the recovered surplus funds to the consumer, REIN’s cut often exceeded 50 percent of the total recovery and was sometimes as high as 67 percent.

REIN omitted any information about the amount of surplus funds available, which can exceed $100,000. In one instance, the foreclosure sale led to $134,000 in surplus funds, and under the terms of its contract, REIN would recover around $90,000 for its services. In another case, REIN’s contract allowed it to recover about $88,000 of more than $141,000 in surplus funds.

My office is a watchdog for homeowners facing foreclosure,” Ferguson said. “I will hold companies that prey on homeowners facing foreclosure accountable.”

Judge Catherine Moore, a King County Superior Court judge granted an agreed order for a preliminary injunction, which, among other restrictions, prevents REIN from collecting more than the 5 percent allowed by law.

The order prevents REIN from:

  • Making misrepresentations or material omissions to consumers about surplus funds;
  • Charging homeowners more than 5 percent of recovered surplus funds plus reasonable costs not to exceed $225; and
  • Failing to disclose all the information REIN knows about a consumer’s foreclosed property, including the foreclosure sale price, liens on the property and the amount of recoverable surplus funds.

One victim told KING 5 news that when he learned the true amount of the surplus funds available, he thought, “We were getting scammed. Totally.”

Dean Rossi, 49, Warrington, Pennsylvania, was found guilty by a federal jury yesterday of bank, mail and loan fraud in connection with a mortgage scheme.

Rossi, who owned numerous low-income properties throughout the Philadelphia area, misappropriated more than $643,000 from real estate closings. Specifically, after obtaining bank loans to purchase or refinance residential properties, Rossi teamed up with corrupt title/closing agents to divert a substantial portion of the loan proceeds, and then he pocketed cash from the settlements which should have been used to pay off prior mortgages and tax liens. In addition, to prevent the scheme from being detected, Rossi continued to cause payments to be made on the prior existing mortgages years after those loans were supposed to have been paid in full.

Rossi faces a maximum possible sentence of 120 years’ imprisonment, five years of supervised release, and a $4 million fine.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain.

Our investigators and trial team did a phenomenal job of following a trail of evidence that goes back more than a decade,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The defendant went to great lengths to cover his tracks, but due to the hard work of our agents and prosecutors, his long-running scheme was exposed.”

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joel Goldstein.

Vanessa Ricci, 41, Methuen, Massachusetts, a mortgage loan officer, was sentenced yesterday in federal court 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.

Ricci was sentenced to six months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $963,730. In March 2018, Ricci pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Vanessa+Ricci

Co-defendants Jasmin Polanco, 37, a real estate closing attorney, previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 21, 2018;  Greisy Jimenez, 50, pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 6, 2018; Hyacinth Bellerose, 51, a real estate closing attorney, was sentenced in March 2017 to time served and one year of supervised release to be served in home detention after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

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.)

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.

Joseph DiValli, Jackson, New Jersey, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his role in a large-scale mortgage fraud scheme that used phony documents and straw buyers to acquire more than $6 million in loans.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court: http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Joseph+DiValli+

From March 2011 through November 2012, DiValli and other conspirators agreed to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans for properties located in North Jersey, New Jersey. After recruiting “straw buyers” to purchase the properties, DiValli and others submitted false and fraudulent loan applications and supporting documents so the straw buyers could qualify for the loans. DiValli and others also used another conspirator, who worked at a bank, to create misleading certifications showing certain bank accounts held more money than they actually had. DiValli and other conspirators also submitted false appraisal reports, backdated deeds and used unlicensed title agents to close transactions and disburse the mortgage proceeds.

As a loan officer for a North Jersey mortgage lender, DiValli facilitated some of these fraudulent transactions, including a $244,855.26 mortgage on a property located on Smith Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey. Overall, the scheme induced lenders to issue more than $6 million in loans, resulting in several defaults and exposing lenders and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to more than $2 million in potential losses.

DiValli also admitted using a separate scheme to modify the mortgage on his personal residence. From March 2011 through June 2012, Divalli used false payroll ledgers and earnings statements to deceive a loan officer into believing that his net earnings were lower than his actual income level.

DiValli also admitted receiving income of more than $450,000 in 2012. In order to avoid taxes of $79,000, DiValli failed to file taxes for 2012 and cashed his paychecks at a check-cashing facility to conceal his income.

DiValli previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to a superseding information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. Judge Wigenton imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Wigenton sentenced DiValli to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $2,322,045.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito made the announcement and credited law enforcement agents of the FBI Newark Mortgage Fraud Task Force, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie; postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge Ruth M. Mendonca; special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi; special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Steven Perez; special agents of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), under the direction of Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero; special agents of IRS–Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryant Jackson; and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Esther Suarez, for the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lakshmi Srinivasan Herman of the National Security Unit, Andrew Kogan of the Cyber Unit, and Senior Litigation Counsel Barbara Ward of the Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Unit.

Defense counsel: Michael A. Koribanics Esq. Clifton, New Jersey.

Alejandro Tobon, 35, Orlando, Florida has been sentenced to 37 months and Carlos Escarria, 61, Largo, Florida has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. They pleaded guilty on June 9, 2017.

According to court documents, from as early as October 2007 through May 2008, Tobon, Escarria, and others conspired to execute a bank and wire fraud scheme. The goal of the fraud 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. The mortgage lenders were not made aware of these payments. The conspirators used several entities to conceal from the mortgage lenders the cash payments to buyers.

The conspirators made false statements on loan documents, such as purchase and sale agreements and loan applications, and on HUD-1 settlement statements, to induce mortgage lenders to approve loans for otherwise unqualified borrowers for the condo unit purchases.

Tobon was the manager of Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, Florida and he was also the President of Tobon Marketing and Consultant. His role in the conspiracy included submitting false and fraudulent loan applications to financial institutions to induce them to provide funding for buyers to purchase Preserve units. He also marketed units to buyers with undisclosed incentives and transferred funds he had received from the developer through Tobon Marketing and Consultant to borrowers’ bank accounts who needed money to close on the purchases. The money was then used to provide the down payment and cash to close requirements.

Escarria worked as a loan officer at Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, Florida. He signed false and fraudulent loan applications to induce financial institutions into providing funding for buyers to purchase condo units. The false representations submitted to and relied upon by the mortgage lenders included occupancy, income, source of funds, and assets.

The mortgage lenders’ total losses resulting from Tobon’s and Escarria’s role in the mortgage fraud conspiracy are approximately $5.8 million.

Tobon and Escarria were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew.

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

Nationstar Mortgage LLC has entered into settlement agreements with the Consumer Protection Division and the Commissioner of Financial Regulation to resolve allegations that it charged homeowners illegal inspection fees.

Nationstar, the nation’s largest non-bank servicer of home mortgages, arranges for property inspections in order to protect the interests of mortgage lenders when homeowners are in default on their payments. Although Maryland law prohibits passing the cost of these inspections onto homeowners, Nationstar allegedly charged the inspection costs to homeowners until January 1, 2014 for forward loans and February 2016 for reverse mortgages. Nationstar assessed Maryland homeowners over $1 million in inspection fees.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh made the announcement today.

These inspection charges violate state law,” said Attorney General Frosh. “They were performed for the benefit of the lenders, not the benefit of the homeowners. We are pleased that the victims of the illegal charges will be made whole.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Nationstar agrees to:

  • not collect inspection fees in the future,
  • return over $260,000 in fees in addition to $827,759 that it returned during the Division’s investigation, and
  • pay the Division close to $490,000 in penalties and $10,000 in costs.

The Commissioner of Financial Regulation, who licenses Nationstar, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding contemporaneously with the Consumer Protection Division’s settlement.

Geri Lyn McKinnon, 64, Gladstone, Oregon, was indicted today by the Clark County Grand Jury on four felony charges for her role in taking title, without authorization, to foreclosed properties owned by Federal National Mortgage Association.

According to the indictment, McKinnon recorded grant deeds in the Clark County Recorder’s Office, purporting to be the new owner of three single family homes in Clark County, Nevada. In fact, the properties actually belonged to the Federal National Mortgage Association and as a result of these misrepresentations, the properties became unmarketable for over two years.

The charges include three counts of Theft in the Amount of $3,500 or more, and one count of Pattern of False Representation Concerning Title, all category “B” felonies. The alleged fraudulent acts were committed in the fall of 2015.

The announcement was made by Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt.

It is important to Nevada’s housing market that property titles remain clear, marketable and free from fraud,” said Laxalt. “I encourage Nevadans looking to rent or buy properties to protect themselves through title insurance and to review the County records prior to entering into real property agreements.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jay Johnson. The Office of the Nevada Attorney General’s Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.

An indictment is merely a charging document; every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Kirk Lawrence Brannan, 64, Texas has entered a guilty plea to bank fraud for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme.  Brannan admitted to conspiring with others from 2005 to 2009 to execute a scheme to defraud Wells Fargo Bank and other lenders.

Brannan sold 10 beach homes in the Freeport/Surfside, Texas area to “straw buyers” at exorbitant prices. Other co-conspirators recruited straw buyers who created loan applications with misrepresentations that lenders relied upon in deciding to make the mortgage loans. The applications contained misrepresentations of the buyer’s address, employer, income and expenses. The applications also suggested the buyers were much better credit risks than they actually were. Brannan admitted he paid kickbacks to co-conspirators each time one of the beach homes was sold to a straw buyer.

The beach properties were sold at two to three times the appraised values. The mortgage lenders, including Wells Fargo Bank, were induced to lend the inflated amounts for the purchases through flawed or fraudulent appraisals which were based on comparisons Brannan manufactured to further the scheme.

Brannan created settlement statements that suggested he sold three of his properties to his children at exorbitant prices. Appraisers relied upon these “sales” as comparable sales in appraising Brannan’s remaining properties sold to straw buyers. As a result of the fraudulent appraisals, he and his co-conspirators were able to inflate the values for his properties and deceive the lenders into approving home loans at those exorbitant amounts.

All of the straw buyers defaulted on the mortgages, and all 10 of the beach properties ended up in foreclosure.

The fraudulent mortgage loan scheme resulted in a loss of $5,317,350 to Wells Fargo Bank and the other lenders. Brannan paid $2,401,368 to his co-conspirators as part of the scheme.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal accepted the plea and set sentencing for Aug. 29, 2018, at which time Brannan faces up to 30 years in federal prison and a possible $1 million maximum fine. He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

Co-conspirators Chucoboie Lanier, 41, Houston, Texas, David Lee Morris, 55, Houston, Texas, and Derwin Jerome Blackshear, 50, Houston, Texas, previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. They are set for sentencing Sept. 26, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick made the announcement.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Johnson and Michael Day are prosecuting the case.