Gary Bryan Penrod was acquitted by a Federal Jury on twenty-two counts of mail fraud and wire fraud after trial in the Western District of Missouri Federal Court.  This acquittal is as to all charges brought against Penrod.

Rosemary Anton, Phoenix, Arizona, was charged by information in a short sale fraud and pled guilty to one count of conspiracy in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. Sentencing is scheduled for May 8, 2017.

According to the Information, in March 2005, Anton purchased a home located at 3612 East Elm Street, Phoenix, Arizona for $712,000 and obtained two mortgage loans to finance the purchase.

In July 2011, Anton, with the assistance of a real estate agent who is not identified in the information, began trying to sell the property to get her out of the large loan.  Anton and the real estate agent devised a plan whereby Anton would short sell the property to a person who was related to both Anton and the real estate agent.  Anton was to provide all the funds for the relation to purchase the property and Anton would continue to live in the property.  This would allow Anton to stay in the property for half of the amount she originally paid.

Anton and the relation signed a purchase contract with a sales price of $340,000.

As part of the short sale process, they both also signed a “Purchaser Eligibility Certification” which provided that the transaction was arm’s length, that the buyers, sellers and real estate agent did not have a family or business relationship, and there were no agreements by which the seller would remain in the property as tenant or regain ownership.

Anton stated in the short sale package that she had $13,000 in retirement assets when, in fact, she had over $316,000 in retirement assets.

The short sale was approved and completed based on the information and certification submitted.

Anton continued to reside in the property and, less than three years after the short sale, Anton purchased the property from the relation for $340,000, an amount far below the market value of the property in June 2104. The relation received a wire from Anton via the title company for the net proceeds of this sale and, that same day, the real estate agent and relation wired all of the sales proceeds into Anton’s bank account.  Anton then wrote a check to the real estate agent for $90,000. The wires and checks formed the basis of the charges for conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions derived from specified unlawful activity.

Michael Gerard Camphor, 60, Baltimore, Maryland, was sentenced to 27 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release on charges arising from the fraudulent purchase of four properties in Baltimore, Maryland, using fraudulent loan documentation and straw purchasers, resulting in losses of over $735,000. Camphor was also ordered to pay restitution of $735,363.47 and to forfeit $962,274.95.

According to Camphor’s plea agreement and other court documents, since 2002, co-conspirator Andreas E. Tamaris, 46, Bel Air, Maryland, purchased, renovated, and then resold distressed row houses in Baltimore City, Maryland, primarily in the Highlandtown neighborhood. Camphor had worked as a real estate agent for a company and also operated a real estate consulting business called Ron Gerard LLC, a/k/a Ron Gerard & Associates.

From approximately February 2008 to July 2009, Camphor and his co-conspirators, including Cecil Sylvester Chester, 70, Mitchellville, Maryland, found buyers for Tamaris’ properties and for other property owners. They sought potential buyers who were inexperienced with residential real estate transactions to act as straw purchasers. Camphor and his co-conspirators advised these “straw purchasers,” who lacked the funds needed to pay the down payment and closing costs, that they didn’t need to contribute these funds to buy the properties. Because the straw purchasers also lacked the earnings to keep up the mortgage payments, the conspirators typically promised that they would place tenants in the properties whose rent payments would cover the monthly mortgage payments after the transactions closed. The conspirators promised to collect the rent and make the mortgage payments.

The government contended at sentencing that Camphor and his co-conspirators set the purchase price for the properties to exceed their actual fair market value, thereby generating excess proceeds from the transactions from which they could profit. The conspirators provided false information about the straw purchasers’ employment, income and financial assets to the mortgage loan brokers to enable the straw purchasers to qualify for home mortgage loans. The conspirators falsely indicated to the mortgage loan brokers that the straw purchasers each intended to use the property as their primary residence following the purchase. Tamaris and other individuals supplied the funds needed for the down payment and closing costs on each of the transactions, and were in turn reimbursed from the loan proceeds at settlement.

One of the conspirators brought the straw purchaser to the closing and then caused the straw purchaser to falsely sign certifications in the closing documents affirming that the property was to be used as the primary residence, and that no portion of the down payment and closing costs were borrowed. Following the settlement on each transaction in which they participated, Camphor and his co-conspirators received substantial payments drawn from the proceeds of the loan. Few, if any, payments were made towards the mortgages.

Camphor was integrally involved in the fraud scheme by which four of the properties handled by the conspirators were sold and financed: 126 S. Curley Street, Baltimore, Maryland; 1720 W. Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland; 322 S. Robinson Street, Baltimore, Maryland; and 8020 Gough Street, Baltimore, Maryland. All four properties went into foreclosure, resulting in a loss of at least $735,000.

Camphor has agreed to forfeit property retained or obtained as a result of the fraudulent conspiracy, including 1619 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Maryland; 2040 Linden Avenue, Unit A, Baltimore, Maryland; and 1610 N. Smallwood Street, Baltimore, Maryland.

Chester previously pleaded guilty to the same charges and was sentenced to two years in prison and was ordered to pay restitution of at least $1.483 million.

In related proceedings, Tamaris, Christopher A. Kwegan, 59, Randallstown, Maryland, and Alexander Sivels, II, 32, Baltimore, Maryland, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in this, or related mortgage fraud schemes. Tamaris was sentenced to 15 months in prison and was ordered to pay $1,229,206.28 in restitution. Sivels and Kwegan were each sentenced to 27 months in prison. Judge Bredar ordered Sivels to pay restitution of $1,317,314.35, and ordered Kwegan to pay restitution of $530,641.27.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar sentenced Camphor. The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Bertrand Nelson of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General; and Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service – Baltimore Field Office.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI, HUD OIG – Office of Investigations and the U.S. Secret Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Jefferson M. Gray, who prosecuted the case.

Freddy Orjuela, Sr., 49, Sarasota, Florida, was sentenced to two years in federal prison and to pay $960,020 in restitution for making false statements in a mortgage loan application to a federally insured financial institution. As part of the sentence, the Court also entered a money judgment in the amount of $1,475,950, the proceeds of the fraud.

A jury found Orjuela guilty on December 14, 2016, following a three- day trial.

According to court documents, Orjuela submitted a mortgage loan application to Century Bank on which he knowingly and willfully overstated his income, understated his liabilities, and falsely denied he had declared bankruptcy within the past seven years.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore sentenced Orjuela.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Callan Albritton and Bob Mosakowski.

George Heaton, 73, West Palm Beach, Florida, Deborah Dentry Baggett, 54, Greenville, Tennessee (formerly of Palm Beach County), and Eric Granitur, 59, Vero Beach, Florida were charged by a federal grand jury in a nine-count Superseding Indictment with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and various substantive bank fraud offenses. 

According to allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment:

From 2006 through 2009, defendants Heaton, Baggett, Granitur and others conspired to perpetrate a complex mortgage fraud scheme against various FDIC-insured lenders by concealing incentives offered and paid to buyers of condominium units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Club, Vero Beach, Florida, a luxury ocean-front condo-tel developed by Palm Beach County based real estate developer George Heaton.

The defendants and their coconspirators concealed and misrepresented the amount of seller paid incentives, including cash-to-close, cash rebates, and seller-provided cash deposits, and transferred incentive money through a Palm Beach County law firm’s bank account in order to conceal the fact that the funds were coming from the seller, and not the buyer, as was required by the mortgage lenders.

On several occasions, defendant Baggett took large sums of money, without permission, from the bank account of another client of her accounting business to use for deposit and down payment money for condo purchases. Defendant Baggett also forged client names on sale and purchase contracts, and provided the personal financial information of those other clients without their permission, all to give defendant Heaton’s commercial lender the false impression that he had obtained actual buyers for the units, in order to maintain construction financing.

The fraud scheme caused financial institutions to fund mortgage loans, totaling more than $20 million.

If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum term of 30 years’ imprisonment, a $1 million fine, and mandatory restitution, on each count in the indictment.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Timothy Mowery, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Housing Finance Agent, Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG), Southeast Region, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Division, made the announcement.

Mr. Ferrer commends the investigative efforts of the FHFA-OIG and FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Joseph A. Capone.

Alla Samchuk, 45, Roseville, California, was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for a mortgage fraud scheme and obstruction of justice.

A federal jury returned a verdict in August 2016 finding her guilty of six counts of bank fraud, six counts of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft. Samchuk was indicted on February 16, 2012.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from 2006 through 2008, Samchuk, a licensed real estate salesperson, orchestrated a mortgage fraud scheme involving three properties in the Sacramento area using straw buyers. Two of the houses were purchased so that Samchuk herself could occupy them. She lacked the ability to qualify for a loan, so she instead recruited straw buyers to apply for the loans in their names. Samchuk caused the submission of loan applications containing false representations of income, employment, assets, and a false indication that the straw buyers would occupy the homes as their primary residence.

A second objective of the scheme was to obtain HELOC (home equity line of credit) funds. According to evidence at trial, on two of the properties, Samchuk diverted or attempted to divert HELOC funds to her own benefit. Samchuk caused the HELOC loans to fund by submitting false statements and documents to the lender regarding the qualifications of the straw buyers.

The scheme involved two properties in Roseville and one in El Dorado Hills. In 2007, Samchuk filed an application for a HELOC on one of the properties without the straw buyer’s knowledge or consent. To obtain the HELOC, she forged the signature of the straw buyer on a short form deed of trust that she caused to be notarized and recorded. The stated purpose of the HELOC was home improvement, but once the line of credit was funded, Samchuk quickly diverted all of the funds to her own use, spending the proceeds on a Lexus and the repayment of a substantial personal debt.

According to the Government’s Sentencing Memorandum (GSR), Samchuck selected individuals within her Ukrainian church community who did not speak English and who were not familiar with the American mortgage system to act as straw buyer and Samchuck acted as the interpreter at critical meetings.  She falsified tax returns, bank statements, mutual fund statements, and pay stubs to create the illusion that the straw buyers were wealthy enough to qualify for the home loans.  She also used her own phone number on the documents where she knew there was a chance the lender would follow up. She also used a bank account in her minor daughter’s name to launder the proceeds of the scheme.  The GSR also states that Samchuk verbally threatened one of the straw buyers and indicated that she would retaliate if he reporter her criminal conduct by reporting his role in the offense as a straw buyer.  It was that straw buyer’s report that resulted in the investigation leading to her conviction. The GSR also states that, while perpetrating the indicted fraud scheme, Samchuk also committed welfare fraud in Sacramento County, falsifying documents and providing false information under penalty of perjury in order to obtain food stamps and other benefits. She lied about her place of residence to obtain the benefits, falsifying a document to indicate she had an address in Sacramento County, when in reality she was living in a Mt. Tamalpais property in El Dorado Hills. At trial, her defense was that she was so wealthy that she did not need to resort to mortgage fraud to afford the homes purchased in the names of the straw buyers.

In arguing that an abuse of position of trust or special skill enhancement should not be applied, Samchuck’s objection to the GSR argued:

“These mortgage fraud schemes were not that complicated and the same is true here. The addition should only apply if she did something no one else could do because she was a real estate agent and we do not see facts to support that application. Using straw buyers or getting Helocs were something any one could simply execute because lenders were throwing themselves at buyers.  These things were common knowledge among people involved in a real estate transaction. It does not require the “special skill” of a real estate agent to know such conduct is impermissible. This straw buyer/heloc plan was so commonplace in the mortgage fraud cases and your report reads as if it was somehow unique or unheard of at the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Most mortgage fraud cases involved straw buyers/helocs or cash outside of escrow and it does not take a real estate agent to know it was all wrong. The PSR reads as if only a real estate agent could have created this scenario and that is simply untrue. There are literally hundreds of defendants in the ED/CA who were prosecuted for mortgage fraud in the past 5-6 years doing the exact same thing. It was not novel. It was not unique and it did not take a real estate agent to execute it. The lenders were fine with it and the practice was encouraged. Therefore, the +2 levels added for Abuse of Trust should not be included.”

The court’s response?:

“The trial record evinces Samchuk abused her position of trust when she acted as Petro Telenko’s real estate agent and misused and misappropriated his identity information to obtain a HELOC loan without his knowledge or authority.”

Two of the straw buyers were granted immunity for their testimony.

Samchuk received a higher sentence because the district court found that she obstructed justice when she threatened a witness not to report the crime to federal authorities. The court found that Samchuk’s statements to the witness constituted a threat that Samchuk purposefully calculated to dissuade the witness from alerting law enforcement about the fraud. Senior U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. sentenced Samchuk.

The sentence was announced by  U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Audrey B. Hemesath and Andre M. Espinosa prosecuted the case.

CoreLogic reported that the National Mortgage Application Fraud Risk Index increased to 122 in the fourth quarter of 2016.  The trend shows increasing risk for the year overall from an index value of 115 in the Fourth Quarter of 2015.

Risks levels increased overall with the most significant increase being in purchase loans with LTVs of 80 or less.  This is actually surprising, generally the higher the LTV, the higher the risk.

Syracuse, New York had the largest index increase with a 204% quarter of quarter (Q3 2016 to Q4 2016) increase.  The application activity in Syracuse showed a trend of atypical transactions consistent with occupancy issues and reverse occupancy and investment scheme red flags.  South Florida still leads the list though, followed by New York-Newark-Jersey City.  Las Vegas is also on the list at number 10.

Based upon the current economic conditions and the fact that home prices are reaching those of late 2006, I expect to see a continuing increase in fraud, especially in occupancy, valuation and misrepresentations.  I also anticipate an uptick in investment fraud schemes, straw buyers and, of course, flipping.

Urmila Sri Thakur, also known as Urmila Buddhu-Thakur and Indro Buddhu-Thakur, 72, Wethersfield, Connecticut was charged in a nine-count grand jury indictment with conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering offenses related to a fraudulent debt elimination scheme.

According to court documents, from 2009 to June 2012, Thakur, her former husband, Deowraj “Deo” Buddhu and their daughter, Sunita Buddhu, sold a debt elimination “program” to vulnerable individuals through various businesses, including Paradise Consulting Service, Hema, Inc., and Secured Redemption. In exchange for substantial fees, Deo Buddhu told victims about a little-known government fund that could be used to pay off their mortgages and other debts. In fact, no such fund exists. Buddhu instructed his victims to stop making payments on their mortgages, credit cards and other debts, and to stop paying their property taxes. He also provided his victims with fictitious promissory notes, which he called “bonds,” as well as other frivolous documentation, and advised his victims to use them to pay their debts.

The indictment alleges that Thakur participated in the scheme by signing documents provided to victims as a witness, taking money from victims in exchange for their participation in the purported program, and managing payroll operations for the various businesses used for the purpose of selling and attempting to sell the program to the victims.

The indictment further alleges that, on June 12, 2012, the day after Deo Buddhu’s arrest, Thakur withdrew $75,000 from a certificate of deposit account that contained funds from the scheme. Thakur also obtained several cashier’s checks, including one for $50,000 made payable to Thakur, which she thereafter negotiated using accounts in the name of SDK SYS Solutions and TRK Consulting Services.

The indictment was returned on February 15, 2017. Thakur appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna F. Martinez in Hartford, Connecticut, entered a plea of not guilty to the charges, and was released on a $250,000 bond.

The indictment charges Thakur with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and seven counts of money laundering. If convicted, she faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for the conspiracy count, 20 years for the mail fraud count and 10 years on each count of money laundering.

Deo Buddhu and Sunita Buddhu were previously convicted in Hartford federal court.

Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut announced the indictment. The matter is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John T. Pierpont, Jr. and Liam Brennan.

Homayoon Daneshvar, 63, Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 18 months in prison.  The charges related to a $1.9 million real estate investment fraud scheme.

Danshevar was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, forfeit $1.945 million, and pay $926,020 in restitution.

Daneshvar pleaded guilty on October 24, 2016.

According to court documents,  Daneshvar engaged in a real estate investment fraud scheme from in or about April 2009 to January 2013.  Deneshvar lied and made false promises to eight victim investors to persuade them to give him approximately $1.9 million. Daneshvar told the victim investors the money would be used for bridge financing to purchase foreclosed property that would be “flipped,” or quickly resold for profit. Daneshvar promised the investors a monthly return on their investments.  In reality Daneshvar used the money to invest in the stock market, pay “returns” on the investments back to the investors, and to pay for his own personal expenses.

The victims of the real estate investment fraud included a 78-year old retiree who invested her retirement savings.  Another victim was a permanently disabled Marin Corps veteran who borrowed against his home, according to court documents.  When the victims became suspicious, Daneshvar them that their money was tied up in properties and that their investments had grown. Eventually, he confessed that he had been lying to the investors and running a Ponzi scheme.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Andrew W. Vale, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton. Assistant U.S. Attorney Grace L. Hill prosecuted the case.

Cristina Montijo was the subject of a complaint and arrest warrant issued in the Southern District of New York on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud in connection with fraudulent emails.  She was arrested in the Southern District of California.

According to the complaint, sworn to by a Detective with the New York City Police Department for the purpose of demonstrating probable cause for the issuance of the arrest warrant, on or about June 21, 2016 Victim-1 who was in the process of purchasing a home, received an email that purported to be from Victim-1’s attorney.  The fraudulent email instructed Victim-1 to wire $190,000 to a bank account at a San Diego Credit Union to be held in escrow for the home purchase.  A copy of the residential purchase contract for the property that Victim-1 was purchasing was included in the email. Victim-1 wired the money and then called the real estate attorney to confirm receipt of the wire and was told that the attorney had not requested the wire.  Victim-1 realized that the email address on the email received differed from the real estate attorney’s true email address by one character.  Victim-1 recalled the wire.

Victim-1 later received another email from the incorrect email address.  The new fraudulent email supplied an additional bank account number for Victim-1 to deposit funds into because the prior wire of funds had not been received.

According to the complaint, based on review of bank records, the detective learned that the bank account number in the first fraudulent email to Victim-1 was registered to Montijo.  The account was opened about June 16, 2016 and closed about June 23, 2016 due to suspected fraud.

The complaint also states that in or about November 3, 2015, Victim-2, an individual in Tennessee, received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-2’s real estate agent directing Victim-2 to wire approximately $181,000 to a bank account.  Victim-2 later realized the email address was different by one character from that of the actual real estate agent.  Victim-2 became suspicious and, after contacting the real estate agent, did not wire the funds. That account was also registered to Montijo and was opened about October 3, 2015.

On about November 24, 2015, Victim-3, an individual in Hawaii, received emails purportedly from Victim-3’s escrow officer and real estate agent but which were different from the actual email addresses by one character.  Based on the directives in these fraudulent emails, Victim-3 wired approximately $331,000 to a bank account. That bank account, opened on November 13, 2015, was registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC and was closed December 10, 2015 due to suspected fraud. Montijo was the sold registered agent of Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC and was registered to an address on Chamoune Avenue in San Diego at which Montijo resided since at least 1993. In November 2015, Montijo wired approximately $181,500 from that account to an account in Malaysia and approximately $118,200 to an account in South Africa.

In about April 2016, Victim-4, an individual in San Francisco, California, received a fraudulent email purporting to be from the real estate agent involved in a real estate transaction for Victim-4 and instructing Victim-4 to wire approximately $127,791 to be held in escrow in an identified bank account.  Victim-4 wired the funds and later discovered the email address was one character different from that of the real estate agent. That bank account was opened about March 31, 2016 and closed April 5, 2016 and was registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC.

On about April 28, 2016, Victim-5 received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-5’s attorney. Victim-5 later learned the attorney’s email account had been compromised or hacked.  At the direction of the fraudulent emails, one of which referenced the sender’s “account secretary Christina Montijo who is a trustee to the trust account” (the fraudulent emails were later traced to an originating IP address in South Africa), Victim-5 wired approximately $250,000 to a bank account. That bank account, opened about March 31, 2016 and closed about May 6 due to fraudulent activity, was registered to Montijo and Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC.   On about May 4, 2016, Montijo attempted to wire funds to another bank account that was jointly registered to Montijo and Albert Montijo (believed to be the name of Montijo’s deceased husband.)   Montijo was informed by bank employees that the wire was potentially fraudulent and Montijo claimed that she had been owed the funds from Victim-5 from a real estate transaction from several years prior and that she had business partners abroad.

On about June 30, 2016, Victim-6, an individual in the Southern District of New York, received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-6’s attorney, later learning the attorney’s emails had been compromised or hacked.  Victim-6 wired approximately $240,000 to a bank account, again registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC. Montijo attempted to wire a portion of these funds to an entity called “Refunds LLC” purportedly for a “refund owed” but actually sent to an account in the name of “Reofunds LLC.”

Montijo registered a company called “All Cover LLC” in the state of California for the purpose of “buying/selling real estate” On about July 14, 2016, Montijo attempted to cash four checks made out to All Cover totaling approximately $46,500.  From discussions with representatives of the three companies that issued the checks, the detective states that he learned that the checks were fraudulent and not written out to All Cover.  The indictment details additional allegedly fraudulent checks that Montijo attempted to cash and which were made out to herself, Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC and a person believe to be Montijo’s mother-in-law.