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A disbarred lawyer, who previously admitted to taking part in a $66 million mortgage fraud scheme, was sentenced Monday to two years in federal prison, then pleaded guilty to separate charges in Westchester County Court less than 24 hours later.Multiple lawyers admit guilt in mortgage-related criminal cases ABA JournalWhite Plains Real Estate Lawyer Guilty in $2M Fraud The Daily Voiceall 5 news articles »

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Source: The Journal News | LoHud.com

Anthony J. Kassas, 35, Diamond Bar, California, state bar number 227647, accused of a massive loan modification scam that victimized more than 50 distressed homeowners is facing disbarment by default.

Kassas was the subject of the most extensive disciplinary charging document in recent State Bar history – 285 counts of misconduct involving 56 clients, contained within a 260-page notice of disciplinary charges filed April 6, 2012. The State Bar Court filed an order on September 11, 2012, entering Kassas‘ default and placing him on inactive status after he failed three times to appear to testify at his trial. Unless the default is set aside, Kassas‘ disbarment will be recommended to the California Supreme Court.

As previously reported by Mortgage Fraud Blog, Kassas was one of several southern California attorneys charged with misconduct as a result of joint investigation by the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel and the Attorney General’s office into law firms and marketing companies running so-called “mass joinder” scams. The scams tricked cash-strapped homeowners into thinking they were potential plaintiffs in a “national litigation settlement,” offering false promises including that their foreclosures would be stayed, their loan balances would be reduced or their homes would be free and clear of their mortgage.

Kassas is accused of improperly soliciting clients, collecting unlawful advance fees, failing to provide proper accounting of funds and aiding the unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyers. According to State Bar Court Judge Donald F. Miles’ recent order, Kassas was served a notice to appear to testify at his trial on September 5, 2012, but only his attorney showed up. The court issued an order that Kassas appear on Sept. 6 and another order on Sept. 10, but he failed to appear on either occasion. The court struck Kassas‘ responses to the charges and entered his default in the case.

Kassas has been ineligible to practice law since December 2011.

Stephen Lyster Siringoringo, Garden Grove, California, state bar number 264161, is the subject of disciplinary charges for allegedly taking illegal advanced fees from distressed homeowners and partnering with non-lawyers in a large-scale loan modification scheme.

Siringoringo has been charged with 25 counts of misconduct including collecting advance fees for loan modification services, forming a partnership with a non-lawyer, sharing fees with a non-lawyer, moral turpitude and aiding in the unauthorized practice of law.

Siringoringo heavily advertised his services in southern California, even though the state Legislature has prohibited the acceptance of advance fees for loan modification work.

According to the notice of disciplinary charges against him, Siringoringo, 31, first met his non-lawyer partners Alfred Clausen and Josh Cobb, the owners and operators of Clausen & Cobb Management, Inc. (CCMI), in December 2009. Soon after, Siringoringo agreed to allow them to open an office his name in Upland, in exchange for a share of the legal fees it brought in. The office, staffed by CCMI employees who operated independently, performed legal services and with met clients without Siringoringo‘s supervision. The operation generated enough money to open two other locations in Siringoringo‘s name – in Glendale and Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Filed October 10, 2012, the disciplinary notice lists at least 23 victims of the loan modification scam, some of them couples. It also accuses Siringoringo of “habitually” disregarding his loan modification practice and misleading his clients into believing he was actually in charge of their cases “when in truth and fact CCMI was in charge and operated the loan modification law practice known as Siringoringo Law Office or the Law Offices of Stephen L. Siringoringo.” The State Bar has placed a consumer alert on his online attorney profile page.

Siringoringo‘s case represents the latest in the State Bar’s ongoing efforts to combat loan modification fraud. Since February 2009, the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel has received thousands of complaints against attorneys regarding loan modification fraud. More than 100 attorneys have been disciplined so far, including 22 who have been disbarred.

“Mr. Siringoringo’s acceptance of advanced fees in disregard of California law is a stark reminder that almost three years after the passage of SB 94, loan modification abuses and fraud are alive and well and that some of the most financially distressed and vulnerable members of the public are still being victimized and exploited for financial gain,” said Ashod Mooradian, deputy trial counsel at the State Bar.

Nine defendants have been charged in the latest takedown in the Operation Wax House mortgage fraud investigation in the Western District of North Carolina.

A second superseding indictment in the Western District of North Carolina charging six defendants with federal offenses including mortgage fraud conspiracy, bank bribery conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and wire fraud was returned by a federal grand jury sitting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 19, 2012, in U.S. District Court. Three additional defendants were charged separately by criminal bills of information accompanied by plea agreements. Continue Reading…

Mark J. Bellotti, 56, Marlboro, New Jersey, a lawyer, was sentenced to prison for his role in a scheme to steal more than $2.6 million from lenders by filing fraudulent mortgage loan applications.

Also charged was an investment broker who was involved in the conspiracy, Jonathan P. Domash, 42, Marlboro, New Jersey, owner of Diversified Assets, LLC, was sentenced to three years of probation.  He pleaded guilty on February 21 to a charge of third-degree theft by deception.

The indictment charged Bellotti and Domash in connection with seven mortgage loans totaling $2,671,400.  A third defendant named in the indictment, Leonardo A. Hernandez, 41, Hillsborough, New Jersey, pleaded guilty on February 21 to an amended count of the indictment charging theft by deception as a disorderly persons offense.  He admitted that he submitted false information and documents in connection with several of the loans. Hernandez faces a sentence of probation.

Bellotti and Domash admitted that they conspired to falsify mortgage loan applications to cause banks to provide loans to unqualified home buyers.  The two men were charged in an April 11, 2011 state grand jury indictment stemming from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.  Deputy Attorney General Valerie A. Noto prosecuted the defendants and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice.

The investigation revealed that Domash, Bellotti and Hernandez falsified information about employment, earnings and bank account balances on mortgage loan applications so that home buyers could obtain loans for which they were not qualified.  They also falsified U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) settlement forms.

The investigation also revealed that Domash would find homeowners who were eager to sell, and then convince buyers to invest in the homes as income properties through his company, Diversified Assets, LLC.  He had buyers sign blank loan applications, so he and other defendants could falsify the buyers’ personal financial information.  Bellotti handled the closings for the home sales, performing separate closings with the buyers and sellers.  The defendants inflated the sales prices for the properties and took out huge fees at closing from the loan proceeds.  All of the homes ultimately fell into foreclosure, and some purchasers had their credit ruined.

The defendants submitted fraudulent loan applications and HUD documents between April 2006 and June 2007 to obtain mortgage loans in the following amounts for seven homes in these locations: Hillsborough ($540,000), Plainfield ($342,000), Marlboro ($339,150), Keansburg ($351,500), Asbury Park ($384,750), Asbury Park ($374,000), and Newark ($340,000), New Jersey.

Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa made the announcement.

Lawyers take an oath to uphold the law, but this one repeatedly betrayed his oath and broke the law to turn a quick profit,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “We’re aggressively investigating and prosecuting this type of mortgage fraud.”

This lawyer and his co-conspirators falsified mortgage applications so they could siphon away big closing fees, while leaving behind a trail of foreclosed properties and borrowers with ruined credit,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge people to contact us confidentially to report lawyers and other licensed professionals who commit fraud.”

Charges remain pending against three other individuals who were charged in the indictment for allegedly assisting Bellotti and Domash.

Bellotti was sentenced to five years in prison by Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.  Bellotti pleaded guilty on February 21 to second-degree charges of conspiracy and theft by deception.  His license to practice law in New Jersey has been revoked as a result of the charges

Deputy Attorney General Noto presented the case to the state grand jury.  The investigation was conducted and coordinated for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau by Detective Kimberly Allen, Deputy Attorney General Noto, and Supervising Deputy Attorney General Terrence Hull, Chief of the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.

Paul DiGiacomo, 46, Madison, New Jersey, a lawyer, was sentenced to prison for his role in a scheme to defraud a mortgage lender of $431,200 by filing a false loan application and purchasing a home in Newark, New Jersey in the name of a man who was deceased.

The leader of the scheme, Genilza R. Nunes, 38, Kearny, New Jersey, (aka Leticia Wilchez, Geny Silva, Gena Nunez and Genilza Borges), pleaded guilty on May 8 to second-degree money laundering.  She is scheduled to be sentenced on October 12, 2012. The state will recommend that she be sentenced to 10 years in state prison, including two years of parole ineligibility, and be ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.

DiGiacomo was sentenced to seven years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan in Morris County, New Jersey.  He was ordered to pay $42,404 in restitution and a fine of $150,000 for money laundering.  DiGiacomo pleaded guilty on May 21, 2012 to second-degree money laundering. He admitted that he laundered the stolen loan proceeds through his attorney trust account.  Deputy Attorney General Marysol Rosero prosecuted the case and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau.

Three other defendants pleaded guilty earlier this year:

Lillian Veras, 41, Kearny, New Jersey (aka Lillian Urena) pleaded guilty on May 14, 2012 before Judge Manahan to second-degree money laundering.  Veras, a real estate agent and notary, helped prepare false loan documents for the scheme and forged signatures.  She faces a recommended sentence of seven years in prison and a $150,000 fine.

Maureen R. Stillwell, 51, Somerville, New Jersey, an employee of Ideal Title Agency, LLC, who helped prepare false closing documents, pleaded guilty before Judge Salem Vincent Ahto on May 8, 2012 to second-degree money laundering.  She faces a sentence of up to seven years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Sheila Zullo, 46, Green Brook, New Jersey, the owner of Ideal Title Agency, LLC, pleaded guilty on May 7, 2012 before Judge Manahan to third-degree money laundering.  She admitted that she illegally distributed the loan funds as escrow agent. She faces a recommended sentence of up to three years in prison and a $150,000 fine.

Those three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on October 12, 2012 along with Nunes.

A sixth defendant, Nuno J. Sousa, 37, Union City, New Jersey agreed to be charged by accusation with third-degree securities fraud and was admitted by the court into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program in April.  All six defendants who have pleaded guilty or entered PTI are required to pay restitution to the lender, Provident Funding Associates.

Nunes, the mastermind of the scheme, acted as a principal of Leska Management, a bogus real estate management company. With Veras’ assistance, she arranged for the purchase of a home in Newark, New Jersey from a woman who had fallen behind in her mortgage payments. The seller owed $477,196 on her loan, but the holder of the mortgage, Kondaur Capital Corp., agreed to a “short sale” for $260,000 to a purported buyer identified by the defendants. A “short sale” is a pre-foreclosure sale where the mortgage holder agrees to permit the home to be sold for less than the amount due on the loan.

That sale was never completed. DiGiacomo, who held himself out as the attorney for both the buyer and Leska, told Kondaur the sale had fallen through.  He then negotiated with Kondaur to assign the mortgage to Leska at a discounted price of $219,877.  He never disclosed that, prior to assignment of the mortgage, the home was sold at an inflated price of $539,000 to a fictitious buyer created by the defendants.  Nunes, with assistance from Sousa, a mortgage broker, fraudulently applied to Provident Funding Associates for a $431,200 mortgage loan and purchased the home using the identity of a deceased man whose last name was “Benazi.”  Nunes created counterfeit bank records, employment records and false identification documents for Benazi for the loan application, and she had another man pose as Benazi at the closing. No payments were ever made to the lender on the loan.  The seller was never notified of the closing, and her signature was forged on the closing documents.

Stillwell handled the closing for Ideal Title and assisted in the creation of false closing documents used to deceive the lender.  She never collected monies due at closing from the buyer, and falsified HUD settlement statements to indicate that they had been collected and that the prior mortgage had been paid off.  In her role as escrow agent, Zullo, the owner of Ideal Title, misappropriated loan proceeds by wiring $376,032 to DiGiacomo’s attorney trust account at Nunes’ direction. DiGiacomo used $219,877 of the misappropriated funds to pay for the assignment of the mortgage and wired the balance of $156,155, representing the net illegal profits, into a bank account controlled by Nunes and Veras.  Stillwell, Zullo and DiGiacomo were all compensated for their participation in the scheme.

Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa made the announcement.

Lawyers take an oath to uphold the law and are expected to be honest stewards of the money entrusted to them as attorneys,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “When dishonest lawyers like this one take advantage of the trust placed in them, the potential for harm and loss is great. We will not tolerate lawyers who abuse their licenses and break the law.“

Home sales and mortgage loans are the biggest financial transactions most people undertake in their lifetimes, and the cost of mortgage fraud is proportionately high,” said Stephen J. Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “We’re working hard to protect lenders and all parties to these transactions by aggressively prosecuting mortgage fraud.”

Detective Sgt. Louis A. Matirko and Deputy Attorney General Rosero conducted the investigation and were assisted by Deputy Attorney General Michael Rappa, Special Agent Tanya Chavez, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Special Agent Robert Manchak, Office of Inspector General, Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Division of Criminal Justice Interns Andrew Davenport, Brittany Kieran and Cara Ogulin.

Mohamed Fouzi Haffar, 33, San Diego, California, California state bar number 235731, was disbarred June 21, 2012, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Haffar stipulated to 36 counts of misconduct in nine loan modification cases.

In the nine matters that resulted in admissions of wrongdoing, Haffar variously failed to provide competent legal services or refund unearned fees, he improperly solicited prospective clients with whom he had no family or prior professional relationship, he violated a state law that prohibits payment of advance fees in loan modification matters, and he helped non-lawyers engage in the unauthorized practice of law by allowing them to give legal advice.

In a typical matter, Haffar solicited the representation of a couple whom he said qualified for a home loan modification; his office, he said, could get their monthly payment lowered and obtain a 3 percent interest rate on their loan. The couple hired him and paid an advance fee of $3,500. Haffar did not obtain a loan modification and the clients demanded a refund. They were never able to speak directly with Haffar, who allowed the non-attorney staff to give them legal advice.

In mitigation, Haffar cooperated with the bar’s investigation and agreed to disbarment without a trial. Had he testified, he would have stated that he only started to practice law in 2008 and found himself overwhelmed by loan modification matters. He also had financial problems and as a condition of marrying his wife, had to obtain Syrian citizenship, requiring extensive travel and time-consuming appointments.

A federal jury in Brooklyn returned a verdict late yesterday convicting attorneys Matthew Burstein and Aaron Rabinowitz on ten felony counts for participating in a mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in over $25 million in fraudulently-obtained loans …Forest Hills Lawyers Busted in Mortgage Fraud Patch.com2 NY Lawyers Convicted in $25M Mortgage-Fraud Case ABA JournalConvicted of Mortgage Fraud, Two Lawyers to Seek New Trial New York Law Journal (registration)all 5 news articles »

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Source: Equities.com

CHICAGO (CN) – Two Chicago attorneys were sentenced to long prison terms and ordered to forfeit $4.7 million for a $5.5 million mortgage fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Charles Murphy, 65, of Chicago, was sentenced to 6 years in federal prison …Two Chicago Lawyers Among Four Defendants Sentenced to Prison for Roles in … Mortgage Dailyall 2 news articles »

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Source: Courthouse News Service

James Boyd Douglas, Jr., 42, who previously practiced law in Lee County, Alabama, was sentenced to 45 months in prison for engaging in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme.

As previously reported on Mortgage Fraud Blog, between January 2005 and September 23, 2011, Douglas handled numerous real estate closings and real estate refinancing transactions on behalf of his clients. As part of the real estate closings, Douglas received the proceeds of new mortgage loans. Douglas was supposed to use the proceeds from new mortgage loans to repay the old mortgage loans on the properties that were being sold or refinanced. But instead of using that money to repay the old loans, Douglas embezzled approximately $2.3 million from his clients’ real estate closings over approximately six years.

Testimony in the sentencing hearing revealed that Douglas stole this $2.3 million from people and mortgage companies in order to hide his gambling addiction. “Douglas was a lawyer, and lawyers who commit crimes must be held to the same standard as everyone else and must receive the same treatment as everyone else,“ stated Assistant United States Attorney, Jared Morris. “That is what we did in this case, and the sentence imposed on Mr. Douglas reflects that principle.”

Douglas was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller to 45 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution. A restitution hearing will be held at a later date.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jared Morris.