Jo’Mell Thomas, 29, Wallingford, Connecticut, waived his right to indictment and pleaded guilty March 7, 2011, before Chief United States District Judge Alvin W. Thompson in Hartford to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud stemming from his participation in a mortgage fraud conspiracy.
According to court documents and statements made in court, this matter stems from an investigation into an extensive mortgage fraud scheme during which participants obtained residential real estate loans, including loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, through the use of sham sales contracts, false loan applications and fraudulent property appraisals. Thomas and others, including co-conspirator Syed Babar, engaged in a scheme to defraud lenders by using nominee, or “straw,” buyers that Thomas, Babar, and others recruited, including Alicia Martineau, Wilson Nicolas, and Lisa Depa. Babar then used these straw buyers to apply for numerous residential real estate loans using false information that Babar and others had generated. The false information included information about the straw buyer’s employment, income, assets, and liabilities. After a closing on a house on which one of the individuals who had been recruited by Thomas had served as the straw buyer, Thomas was paid a fee.
In March 2007, Thomas, at the direction of Babar, agreed to open a bank account at for a fictitious construction company called “Sheda Telle Construction, LLC.” Babar told Thomas that Sheda Telle means “ring the bell and run.” The purpose of the fictitious construction company and its bank account was to divert fraud proceeds to it and, in some cases, to falsely justify the artificially inflated sales price of houses based on renovations purportedly made to the property that, in fact, did not occur.
Almost all the money deposited into the account of Sheda Telle Construction, LLC was derived from loan proceeds generated by real estate closings conducted as part of the underlying mortgage fraud scheme. In many instances, the money was withdrawn as cash soon after it was deposited as a result of a real estate closing. For instance, on March 19, 2008, approximately $64,995.94 was wired into the Sheda Telle account from a lawyer’s trust account in connection with the sale of a home at 75 Bradley Avenue in Meriden. Approximately one week later, $64,700 was withdrawn in cash from the account. As another example, on November 20, 2008, approximately $76,591.09 was wired into the Sheda Telle account from a lawyer’s trust account in connection with the sale of a home at 88 Hazel Street in New Haven. The next day, $74,000 was withdrawn in cash from the account.
Between approximately March 2007 and October 2009, approximately $977,979 was deposited into the account of the fictitious construction company, and approximately $977,648 was withdrawn from the account. The money was distributed among the co-conspirators at Babar‘s direction.
Judge Thompson has scheduled sentencing for June 29, 2011, at which time Thomas faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
On February 1, 2011, Babar pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges related to his leadership of this extensive mortgage fraud scheme, which has caused losses in excess of $3.2 million to lenders. He awaits sentencing.
Alicia Martineau, Wilson Nicolas, and Lisa Depa, also have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from this scheme and await sentencing.
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced the guilty plea.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Eric J. Glover and Susan Wines and Trial Attorney Liam Brennan of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section.
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 e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Connecticut Mortgage Fraud Task Force includes representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation; 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.
To report financial fraud crimes, and to learn more about the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, please visit www.stopfraud.gov.