Ronald Harris Jr., 41, Piscataway and West Orange, New Jersey, who owned and operated multiple foreclosure rescue companies, admitted his role in a mortgage fraud scheme that defrauded numerous mortgage lenders of over $10 million.
Harris pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to an Information charging him with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Judge Shwartz recommended to U.S. District Judge Faith S. Hochberg that his plea of guilty be accepted and entered.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made during Harris‘ guilty plea proceeding, Harris owned and operated Harris Capital and Skyline Capital Group, both of which held themselves out as foreclosure rescue companies and operated out of offices in Newark and later, Maplewood, N.J. Harris admitted that he and other individuals, including Harris Capital employee Sterling Bruce, 37, Newark, New Jersey, fraudulently promised to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, keep their homes, and repair their damaged credit by directing the homeowners to allow title to their homes to be put in the names of third party purchasers, or straw buyers, for approximately six month to one year. Harris told the homeowners that during that time period, he and others would help them obtain more favorable mortgages and improve their credit ratings. The homeowners were told that the titles to their homes would be returned to them.
After the homeowners were signed up, Harris, Bruce, and others recruited individuals with good credit scores to act as straw buyers of the distressed properties. The straw buyers were told that they were helping someone save his or her home and that they would make money when they sold the property back to the current owner after approximately one year.
Once the distressed homeowners and straw buyers were in place, Harris, Bruce, Pia Perkinson, 39, Parlin, New Jersey, a mortgage loan officer at a number of different mortgage loan companies, and others caused loan applications to be sent in the straw buyers’ names to mortgage lenders. To increase the credit-worthiness of the straw buyers and to ensure that they would be approved for the loans, Harris, Bruce, Perkinson, and others submitted loan applications containing material false personal and financial information about the straw buyers, such as misstating their employment, income, and assets. For example, many of the straw buyers’ loan applications falsely stated that they worked for one of Harris‘ companies making a substantial salary. Harris would also regularly submit fraudulent supporting documents with the loan applications to support the false statements, such as fake employment records and fake investment account statements.
Prior to the closings of these fraudulent transactions, Harris and Bruce regularly filed fraudulent liens for tens of thousands of dollars on the properties. At the closings of the transactions, the liens would be paid off with the proceeds of the fraudulently obtained loans and Harris and Bruce would enrich themselves. Harris admitted that he regularly laundered these loan proceeds through various bank accounts he controlled.
In total, Harris and his co-conspirators caused lenders to fund dozens of fraudulent loans that totaled more than $10 million. Of that amount, Harris received approximately $1,145,993.
The wire fraud conspiracy count to which Harris pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. The money laundering conspiracy count carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is currently scheduled for September 13, 2011.
Bruce previously pleaded guilty before Judge Shwartz to one count of wire fraud conspiracy relating to his role in the mortgage foreclosure rescue scheme. He is currently scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Hochberg on September 12, 2011.
Perkinson also previously pleaded guilty before Judge Shwartz to one count of wire fraud conspiracy. During her guilty plea, Perkinson admitted to submitting fraudulent loan applications to various lenders, as well as taking out at least two fraudulent loans herself. A sentencing date has not yet been determined.
Sabir Muhammad, 47, South Plainfield, New Jersey, was charged along with Harris in the initial complaint, and the charges against him remain pending.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced the guilty plea.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge Thomas E. Boyle; special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward; and special agents of the IRS, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Victor W. Lessoff, with the investigation leading to the guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew E. Beck and Aaron Mendelsohn of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.
The charges contained in the complaint against Muhammad are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
Defense counsel: Alan D. Bowman Esq., Newark