Owner Of Mortgage Elimination Company Found Guilty Fraud Conspiracy

Stephanie Abbott —  June 14, 2019 — 4 Comments

Jacqueline Graham, 53, formerly of Levittown, Pennsylvania was convicted at trial on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, of participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud in connection with a fraudulent debt-elimination scheme to defraud homeowners and banks.

According to the Indictment in the case and the evidence presented at trial:

From at least 2011 to at least 2012, Graham partnered with Bruce Lewis, 67, formerly of Alaska and Washington State and John Ruzza in operating the Valhalla, New York-based Terra Foundation (“Terra”) ,which was originally known as the Pillow Foundation, which held itself out as a business that would investigate and eliminate mortgage loans in exchange for fees, soliciting clients who were having difficulties making their mortgage payments.  In fact, however, Terra engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud clients, county clerks’ offices, and banks.

The fraudulent scheme, which was created by Graham and Lewis, involved Terra performing “audits” of clients’ mortgages, sending pseudo-legal paperwork to the banks and/or lenders holding the mortgages, and ultimately filing purported mortgage discharges with the relevant county clerks’ offices, which discharges were signed by Lewis or other co-conspirators, claiming falsely to represent the banks and/or mortgage lenders.  As a result, anyone doing a title search for one of Terra’s clients would see that the client’s mortgage had been satisfied.  The mortgages had not, however, been discharged, and the mortgages were eventually reinstated, after the clients paid their fees.

In order to effectuate the scheme, Graham, Lewis, and Ruzza involved others, including Rocco Cermele, 56, Yonkers, New York , who was Terra’s director of operations and who recruited clients, among other duties; Paula Guadagno, who did real estate title work for, and filed discharges on behalf of, Terra; and Anthony Vigna, 61, Thornwood, New York,  a lawyer and CPA who worked in Terra’s offices.

To profit from their scheme, Graham and her co-conspirators charged various fees to Terra’s clients.

In total, Graham and her co-conspirators filed over 60 fraudulent discharges in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York, and in Connecticut.  The fraudulent discharges claimed to discharge mortgages with a total loan principal of nearly $38 million.

Graham was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud.  The count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Lewis pled guilty to one count of wire fraud relating to the Terra scheme, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Vigna pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud relating to the Terra scheme, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Cermele pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and bank fraud, and one count of wire fraud, each relating to the Terra scheme, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison, and three additional counts of wire fraud relating to other crimes, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

Graham was found guilty of the one count she faced after a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Román.

The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the court.

All defendants are awaiting sentencing.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made the announcement.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Jacqueline Graham preyed on vulnerable homeowners who could not afford their mortgage payments during a time of crisis in the housing market.  Because of her greed, these homeowners ended up financially worse off than when they found her.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who victimize the vulnerable.”

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Mr. Berman also thanked the Office of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their assistance in the case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Felton, Michael Maimin, and James McMahon are in charge of the prosecutions.

Stephanie Abbott

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4 responses to Owner Of Mortgage Elimination Company Found Guilty Fraud Conspiracy

  1. Rachel:

    Would you care to opine about the “new” way to compensate judges for their decisions (bribery) involving mortgage fraud? In the early 1920s envelopes stuffed with cash (remember the days when $10,000.00 bills were in circulation?) would be discretely passed to a judge. Later in the 20th century, judges provided some window dressing and instead of brown envelopes, set up charities to which all the local charities could contribute for “the cause”. Of course, 99% of contributions went to administrative costs and paltry amounts to “the cause”. The charities were administered by judges’ wives, family, and relatives.

    Those days left when charitable reporting requirements made it pretty obvious what was really going on (Clinton Foundation anyone?) and something had to be fixed if we were going to preserve the pay for play system.

    Enter mortgage fraud and unsecured lines of credit. Nowadays judges take out a loan, a HELOC, or similarly structured instrument, make several month’s payments, then at a later point in time….viola’…it’s paid off. But not by the judge. The bank doesn’t care – it was paid. The recorder doesn’t know who paid what. And the only records left reflect the judges’ activity. All the better if the check or ACH comes in from a New Mexico/Nevada/Wyoming corporate entity owned by a New Mexico/Nevada/Wyoming entity owned by a ….etc.

    Would be interested in your commentary on this system?

  2. When is the sentencing date for Jacqueline Graham? Let us know.

  3. When is the sentencing date for Jacqueline Graham?

    • Lewis was sentenced on 7/24/2019 to 84 months in prison. Vigna was sentenced on 7/25/2019 to 1 year and 1 day in prison.

      Jacqueline Graham was scheduled to be sentenced on September 20, 2019. Her attorney has requested it be continued to November 15, 2019. The court has not ruled on the request.

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