Noel Albanes-Gomez, formerly of Miami, Florida, was convicted on Thursday, October 22, 2009, of conspiracy and mail fraud charges for his participation in a mortgage fraud scheme. Sentencing has been scheduled for Friday, January 22, 2010, before the U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez. Albanes-Gomez and his co-defendants were originally indicted in January of 2009, as previously reported on Mortgage Fraud Blog.
In May 2006, Port St. Lucie Police began an investigation, soon joined by the Drug Enforcement Administration, that led to the discovery of numerous hydroponic marijuana grow houses in St Lucie County, Florida. These marijuana grow houses were established and operated by the Pupo organization. According to the trial evidence, in September 2005, at the behest of Elieser Pupo, defendant Noel Albanes-Gomez purchased a house on Chello Lane, in Port St. Lucie.
Co-defendant Magalys Fajardo, a mortgage broker, testified at trial that she falsified Albanes-Gomez‘s mortgage application as part of her agreement with Albanes-Gomez and co-defendant Elieser Pupo. The mortgage application contained materially false information regarding the intended use of the property and Albanes-Gomez‘s employment and income. Magalys Fajardo previously pled guilty and was sentenced to 27 months in jail on August 7, 2009.
Another witness, Liban Beritan, testified that he was recruited by Elieser Pupo to maintain the house that would be used to grow and distribute marijuana. This house was converted by Elieser Pupo and his brothers into a hydroponic grow house, equipped with a sophisticated timed watering and lighting system with electric meter diversions. According to Beritan, he was required to sign a lease with Noel Albanes-Gomez. As part of the agreement, Elieser Pupo paid for Beritan‘s living expenses and transportation, and supplied and set up the grow house materials (including marijuana plants). As well, Pupo taught Beritan how to care for and harvest the mature marijuana plants. Beritan testified that he was promised $1000 per pound of marijuana harvested.
Noel Albanes-Gomez testified in his own defense, and admitted that he bought the house at the behest of his lifelong friend, Elieser Pupo, because of his good credit and as an investment. He denied knowing the mortgage application was false. He also admitted that all payments were made by Elieser Pupo, including his deposit on the property. During his testimony, he admitted owning a grow house in Miami in November 2005, but denied any knowledge of the marijuana growing in his Port St. Lucie property.
The conspiracy to commit mail fraud and the substantive mail fraud count each carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Port St. Lucie Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carmen Lineberger.
The conviction was announced by Jeffrey H. Sloman, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, Miami Field Office, and Daniel W. Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division.