Aston Wood, 55, New Richmond, Wisconsin, has been charged today with four counts related to an alleged mortgage fraud scheme.

The indictment charges that Wood engaged in a scheme to defraud from September 2015 to July 2019.  He is charged with one count of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of bankruptcy fraud, and one count of criminal contempt of court.

The indictment alleges that Wood represented to owners of homes in foreclosure that he could help them stay in their home by obtaining refinancing or modification of their mortgage, and that he instructed customers to make monthly mortgage payments towards a new or modified loan in an amount he selected, payable to him or to a limited liability company of which he was the sole member.  The indictment alleges that rather than remit the payments to lenders as promised, Wood instead deposited the payments in bank accounts he controlled and used the funds for his own personal expenses.

The indictment further alleges that Wood offered to help some customers buy back their foreclosed property, and he continued to solicit and receive funds from customers or their families based on false representations that the funds would be used to repurchase the property.   In addition, the indictment alleges that Wood told some customers to file for bankruptcy to stall foreclosure proceedings, which allowed Wood to delay detection and continue collecting monthly mortgage payments from customers.

The fourth count of the indictment alleges that Wood disobeyed a lawful order of a Court of the United States, an injunction issued on October 24, 2017, by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine J. Furay in the Western District of Wisconsin, which permanently enjoined Wood from soliciting customers, offering to perform, and performing services related to mortgage foreclosure and debt relief.

If convicted, Wood faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on both the wire fraud charge and the mail fraud charge, and five years on the bankruptcy fraud charge.  The criminal contempt of court charge has no maximum penalty; the penalty is at the Court’s discretion.

You are advised that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The charges against Wood are the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office acknowledges the assistance of the Office of the U.S. Trustee.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Duchemin is handling the prosecution.

 

John Michael Gatchell, 55, Virginia Beach, Virginia was sentenced today to six years in prison for exploiting an elderly man’s for his money and property.

According to court documents,  Gatchell, facilitated a marriage between the elderly man and a woman with whom Gatchell had a long-term relationship in order to gain access to the elderly man’s money and property. Gatchell induced the elderly man to make a down payment on a Jaguar that Gatchell and a family member drove for about 10 months before it was repossessed by the lender when the loan went into default.

Gatchell also induced the elderly man to obtain two mortgage loans and then diverted most of the proceeds to the benefit of himself and others. He subsequently induced the elderly man to sell the property that secured the loans and again diverted most of the proceeds to himself and others. Gatchell used these monies that he fraudulently diverted to himself to purchase concert series tickets, pay delinquent bills, and make a security deposit for a house he leased, among other things.

Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, and Peter R. Rendina, Inspector in Charge of the Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Salsbury prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:19-cr-49.

 

Theodore Kurz, 70, New Orleans, Louisiana, pled guilty on September 12, 2019 to mortgage fraud.

According to court documents, Kurz obtained mortgages for three properties through the State of Louisiana, Division of Administration, Office of Community Development.  He then forged mortgage cancellations that he filed with the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court to falsely make it appear that the loans had been satisfied.  Kurz then obtained mortgages through a different lender, falsely claiming that there were no outstanding mortgages or liens on the properties.

Kurz faces 30 years of imprisonment, 5 years of supervised release and a $1,000,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for December 12, 2019.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Peter G. Strasser.

U.S. Attorney Strasser praised the work of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in investigating this matter.  The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U. S. Attorney G. Dall Kammer, Supervisor of General Crimes.

 

Neill Reed and Jeric Goodrum, North Little Rock, Arkansas have been indicted for violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Reed and Goodrum tried to manipulate Arkansas’s tax-delinquent property sale procedures by illegally filing forged deeds in order to steal property from rightful owners and then sell the property to unsuspecting consumers.

Defendants Reed and Goodrum begin the scam by locating publicly-listed tax-delinquent properties that were soon to be auctioned by the Commissioner of State Lands. Once they identify a particular tax-delinquent piece of property they want to acquire, and without the true owner’s knowledge or consent, they forge a quitclaim deed that indicates that the record owner of the property transferred their interests to Defendants. Defendants record the forged document in a county’s property records and then sell the stolen property for a price that may be thousands of dollars below the property’s actual value to unsuspecting third parties. The scam often goes unnoticed until the true owner tries to pay the taxes and reclaim the property.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed the charges.

These fraudulent actions are costly for their victims, and in some circumstances rob children, grandchildren and families of property that should be their rightful inheritance,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “These scams hurt hard-working Arkansans, and these fraudsters must be stopped.

The investigation was assisted by staff for the Commissioner of State Lands, Tommy Land. The suit seeks an injunction; an order imposing civil penalties; restitution for affected consumers; the suspension or forfeiture of franchises, corporate charters, licenses, permits and authorizations to do business in Arkansas and other relief against Reed and Goodrum.

Attorney General Rutledge is requesting restitution, civil penalties, and injunctive relief and demands a jury trial. Victims of these business practices should file a consumer complaint on ArkansasAG.gov or call (800) 482-8982.

An amicus brief has been filed today in support of a lawsuit brought by the City of Oakland against Wells Fargo. The City alleges that the bank engaged in predatory mortgage lending targeting minority communities.

The brief urged the court to affirm the district court’s denial of Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and highlighted the harmful effects of discriminatory lending practices in California.

In 2015, the City of Oakland filed a lawsuit alleging that, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Wells Fargo harmed the city through a pattern of illegal and discriminatory mortgage lending, heavily impacting minority community members. In particular, Oakland alleged that Wells Fargo steered minority borrowers there to loans with higher costs and risks, and refused to allow those borrowers to refinance, or would only refinance on less favorable terms compared to other similar loans, when they were no longer able to meet the terms of their original agreements. According to the first amended complaint, African-American and Latino borrowers were more than twice as likely to receive a high-cost or high-risk loan from Wells Fargo than similarly situated white customers. As a result, the city alleged, among other things, that these discriminatory practices suppressed property values in minority communities in Oakland, reduced property tax revenues, and increased the costs of providing municipal services. Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss the case was largely denied and the bank is currently seeking review before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra made the announcement.

Equal access to housing starts with equal and fair access to our financial institutions,” said Attorney General Becerra. “For many African-Americans and Latinos, the hardships of the mortgage crisis haven’t stopped. Our fight for economic justice continues and I’m proud to stand with the City of Oakland in this effort to combat predatory lending in our state.”

Wells Fargo’s racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices against African-Americans and Hispanics have devastated individuals, families, and communities in Oakland, throughout California, and across the country where Wells Fargo operates, dramatically increasing foreclosures and decreasing the Black and Latino middle class,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “Evidence shows that Wells Fargo systematically provided more expensive and higher risk loans to African-American and Hispanic borrowers in Oakland and other cities who qualified for the more favorable loans that the bank offered to white borrowers. We applaud Attorney General Becerra for standing with Oakland to hold Wells Fargo accountable and stop these racially discriminatory practices.”

Attorney General Becerra is committed to tackling housing inequity in the state and throughout the country. In March and October of 2018, the California Department of Justice submitted Attorney General Becerra is committed to tackling housing inequity in the state and throughout the country. In March and October of 2018, the California Department of Justice submitted comments opposing changes proposed by the Trump Administration that would revoke key tools used to overcome entrenched patterns of residential segregation and foster inclusive communities. In July of 2019, Attorney General Becerra urged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to withdraw a proposed rule on housing assistance eligibility, which would risk eviction for tens of thousands of Californians. Attorney General Becerra also joined a coalition of attorneys general seeking to protect federal rules allowing equal and consistent access to shelters for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.

A copy of the brief is available here.

 

Jordan Horsford, 29, East New York, Brooklyn was sentenced today to five months in jail and five years’ probation for stealing and attempting to sell the home of his 85-year-old neighbor, a diabetic man for whom the defendant was a part-time caretaker.

According to the investigation, in August 2016 the defendant, who was known to do odd jobs in the neighborhood, began helping the victim as needed, including carrying his wheelchair up steps and helping him get in and out of vehicles; he was paid for each task by the victim’s family.

In April 2017, the victim’s family began paying the defendant $400 a week to accept Meals on Wheels deliveries and set them out for the victim, to make sure he took his medicine and to check in on him at night.

Between June 19, 2017 and November 1, 2017, the defendant convinced the victim to sign away the deed to his home on Barbey Street, East New York, Brooklyn. The defendant told the victim he risked losing his home if he did not sign a document, and had the document notarized by a notary. The defendant then realized he needed another document notarized, but the notary refused so the defendant cut and pasted her original signature. He then recorded the deed, which had been signed over to him.

Finally, the defendant attempted to sell the house almost immediately after securing the deed, but a title company suspected foul play and refused to insure the home. The would-be purchaser then reached out to the 85-year-old victim’s family. At around the same time, the victim’s daughter, while going through her father’s mail, found a letter from the Department of Finance notifying them about documents filed relating to the property. The daughter pursued the matter with the DOF and the case was ultimately referred to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “With today’s sentencing this defendant is being held accountable for preying on his elderly neighbor and abusing his trust. I urge seniors and their family members to protect their homes, especially as property values continue to rise in Brooklyn, by taking care not to sign any documents pertaining to their properties without the advice of a reputable attorney. I remain committed to prosecuting deed thefts like this and assisting all homeowners whenever possible.”

The defendant pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny in June and consented to an order nullifying the fraudulent recorded deed. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Jordan+Horsford

The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Karen Turner of the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Gavin Miles, Counsel to the Frauds Bureau, and the overall supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.

 

Iskyo Aronov (also known as “Isaac Aronov”), 32, Miami, Florida, Michael Konstantinovskiy (also known as “Michael Kay”), 33, Rego Park, Queens, Tomer Dafna, 48, Great Neck, New York, Avraham Tarshish, 40, Queens Village, New York and Michael Herskowitz, 40, Brooklyn, New York have been indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and related wire fraud counts, in connection with a scheme to defraud mortgage lenders, including the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”) and borrowers.

According to the indictment, between December 2012 and January 2019, the defendants conspired to defraud mortgage lenders, misleading them into approving short sale transactions at fraudulently depressed prices.  In a short sale, with the approval of the mortgage lender or servicer, a mortgage loan borrower sells his or her property for less than the outstanding balance of the mortgage loan.  The proceeds from the short sale, less approved closing costs, are applied to the outstanding mortgage loan balance owed to the lender, who typically agrees to forgive the borrower’s remaining mortgage loan balance.  Here, the defendants fraudulently manipulated the short sale process by transferring properties for prices well above the short sale prices, and failing to disclose this to the mortgage lenders and servicers.  The defendants also took steps to preclude other prospective purchasers from making higher offers for properties by failing to market properties as required by the lenders, and by filing fraudulent liens on properties.

As a further part of the scheme, the defendants provided the mortgage lenders and servicers with false and misleading information in transaction documents and failed to disclose either payments made to the borrower and others related to short sale or contemporaneous agreements to transfer the properties at inflated prices.  Many of the affected mortgage loans were insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Robert Manchak, Special Agent-in-Charge, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region (FHFA-OIG), and Christina Scaringi, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General, Northeast Region (HUD-OIG), announced the charges.

As alleged, the defendants defrauded mortgage loan holders out of millions of dollars, with taxpayers saddled with much of the loss,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “This Office will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously prosecute those who commit mortgage fraud and enrich themselves at the expense of the financial institutions and government programs that insure or guarantee the loans.”  Mr. Donoghue thanked the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, New York Field Office (HSI), the HSI El Dorado Financial Crimes Task Force and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York, for their assistance in the ongoing investigation.

Together with our partners in law enforcement, we have disrupted a scheme to defraud Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As demonstrated by this indictment, FHFA-OIG will investigate and hold accountable those who seek to victimize the government-sponsored entities supervised and regulated by FHFA,” stated FHFA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Manchak.

These five individuals allegedly engaged in a scheme of wholesale deception when they provided false, misleading, and incomplete information to lending institutions, borrowers, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) causing millions of dollars in damages to the FHA, which typically results in higher premiums being charged to future first-time homeowners,” stated HUD-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Scaringi.  “What makes their alleged crimes even more egregious was their artificial devaluation of properties that, when resold or ‘flipped,’ resulted in large profits.  Many of these homes were located in economically challenged areas of New York where affordable housing is at a premium.”

Konstantinovskiy, Dafna, Tarshish and Herskowitz were arrested this morning in New York, and will be arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom.  Aronov was arrested in Florida, and will appear this afternoon for a removal hearing at the federal courthouse in Miami.

The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum of 30 years’ imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Business and Securities Fraud Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Shannon C. Jones is in charge of the prosecution.  Assistant United States Attorney Tanisha Payne of the Office’s Civil Division is handling forfeiture matters.

George Bussanich Sr., 60, Park Ridge, New Jersey, today admitted his role in a scheme with his son to use straw buyers and short sales on properties to defraud mortgage lenders out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and to avoid paying taxes on the proceeds of the scheme.

Bussanich Sr. pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in Newark federal court to a superseding information charging him with one count of bank fraud conspiracy and one count of tax evasion. His son, George Bussanich Jr., 39, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to tax evasion before Judge Cecchi in October 2017 and is scheduled to be sentenced September. 25, 2019.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Between 2009 and 2012, Bussanich Sr. and Bussanich Jr. conspired to defraud mortgage lenders through the sham short sales of two properties located on Jefferson Avenue, Emerson, New Jersey, and Lillian Street, Park Ridge, New Jersey.

Bussanich Sr. controlled various purported medical clinics and surgical centers in New Jersey. He recruited his business partner and an employee from a sleep clinic in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, to pose as legitimate, unrelated buyers of the properties. In order to conceal his involvement, Bussanich Sr. used a business entity he controlled to fund each short sale transaction and the subsequent repurchase of those properties. Bussanich Jr., the owner of record of both properties, negotiated the short sales with the lenders using materially false information that misrepresented the circumstances of the short sales, the relationships of the parties, and the source of funding for the transactions.

Approximately two years after the fraudulent short sales, Bussanich Sr. bought the properties back from the straw purchasers using money that he owed his business partner from an earlier venture.

Bussanich Sr. also failed to disclose on his tax returns hundreds of thousands of dollars in income that he received from his purported medical clinics and surgical centers. He used those funds to purchase high-end luxury vehicles worth a total of over $300,000, including two Land Rover sport utility vehicles and a Ferrari Spyder. He also used those funds to purchase official bank checks to fund the fraudulent short sales.

The bank fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a maximum potential fine of $1 million. The tax evasion charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a maximum potential $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 23, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito made the announcement.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark, and special agents of IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John R. Tafur, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ari B. Fontecchio of the Office’s Economic Crimes Unit, and Nicholas P. Grippo, Attorney in Charge of the Trenton Office.

Jason Alain Wu and Michael Andrew Kergosien were indicted in the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, on August 28, 2019 and charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud HUD and five counts of mail fraud, aiding and abetting.

According to the indictment:

Wu was the owner of American Home Free Mortgage, LLC (“AHFM”), a company that assisted homebuyers with obtaining financing, including interim financing, to construct and purchase a manufactured home.  Kergosien was employed by AHFM as a loan officer, director of sales, and director of operations.  MK Financial Services, LLC (“MK Financial”) and 1X Funding, LLC (“1X Funding”) were shell “third party companies” set up at the direction of Wu or Kergosien to receive fraudulent construction management fees as a means to recoup AHFM’s costs associated with interim financing without disclosing the true nature of the fees to the borrowers or HUD or obtaining the borrower’s agreement to pay the fees. Under HUD’s Construction to Permanent Loan Program, lenders who provide interim financing during the construction of a home are prohibited from charging a borrower additional fees unless the borrower signs a separate agreement specifically agreeing to pay the fees.

In or about November 2010 through at least September 2016, Wu and Kergosien caused AHFM employees to submit false invoices to title companies, on behalf of MK Financial and 1X Funding, that fraudulently charged a “construction management fee” and that concealed that the true purpose of the fee was to pay for undisclosed AHFM costs, including warehouse line fees on construction loans.  The MK Financial invoices stated “[m]ake all checks payable to MK Construction” which falsely represented the funds would be used for construction related costs. They also caused false entries on the HUD-1’s making it appear that the housing manufacturer was paying the construction management fee outside of the closing when the fee was actually included in the borrower’s purchase price and ultimately rolled into the loan. These invoices and false statements were concealed from HUD and the borrowers.

Between July 6, 2011 and September 10, 2014, Kergosien and Wu caused title companies to issue checks to MK Financial/MK Construction resulting in fraudulent payments of approximately $1,117,581 on approximately 126 FHA insured loans for over $12M; and, between July 15, 2014 and September 10, 2015, to issue checks to 1X Funding, LLC resulting in fraudulent payments of approximately $1,062,416 on approximately 99 FHA insured loans for at least $3.8M.

On August 10, 2015, Housing Wire reported that HUD’s Mortgage Review Board had settled allegations that American Home Free Mortgage had artificially increased mortgage costs by an average of $12,000 per loan through illegitimate fees paid to a company owned and operated by its sales manager.  In that settlement, AHFM did not admit fault or liability but agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $169,419 along with the permanent withdrawal of its FHA approval.

Yelp’s page for American Home Free Mortgage reflects that the company is closed. It received only one review – 5 stars.

Brannon Rue, real estate agent, 47, Oviedo, Florida, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to a financial institution. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

According to the plea agreement, Rue executed a scheme to influence financial institutions to approve short sales of real estate at a loss by making false statements on various documents. In furtherance of his scheme, Rue formed and controlled Hatley Partners, which he used to mask his role as the true purchaser of short-sale properties and to profit from the subsequent sale of the properties. Continue Reading…