Archives For California

Karim Akil, also known as Scott Kinney, 50, Vallejo, California, was sentenced to 120 months in prison for conspiracy to commit mortgage fraud and money laundering.  Akil pled guilty on July 10, 2012, admitting his role as the organizer and leader of a mortgage fraud scheme.

According to Akil’s plea agreement, he knowingly conspired with others to commit wire fraud, involving the purchase of properties located in the Northern and Eastern Districts of California.  Akil acknowledged he directed co-defendants to create and submit loan applications that contained materially false information to financial institutions.  Akil acknowledged that the conspiracy involved using the names of fictitious persons and straw buyers, the creation of purchase contracts that reflected inflated sale properties above the original sales price, and the submission of fraudulent loan applications for 100 percent financing based upon the properties’ inflated purchase prices.  Akil agreed that more than 18 properties were involved in the conspiracy to defraud, and agreed that he was an organizer and leader of five or more participants in the conspiracy.  Akil directed an escrow officer to distribute “profits” to co-conspirators and to businesses that he owned or controlled, including Hiddenbrooke Mortgage and Marsh Group.

Mr. Akil enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, with outrageous expenditures,” said Michael T. Batdorf, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-CI. “Akil left a path of destruction, from properties that went into default and foreclosure, to straw buyers whose credit was ruined, to an escrow company that went out of business.  Although this sentence cannot reverse the damage caused by Akil and his co-conspirators, it highlights the ongoing commitment of IRS-CI and our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those involved in these types of crimes.”

On October 29, 2009, a federal grand jury indicted Akil and six co-conspirators, for their alleged roles in this extensive scheme.  For his part, Akil was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, 34 counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, and 16 counts of money laundering, in violation of 18. U.S.C. § 1957(a).  On July 10, 2012, Akil pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and one count of money laundering.

While out on pretrial release, between late 2012 and early 2013, Akil became involved in a series of new acts, which involved violating the terms of his plea agreement.  During the sentencing hearing, the Honorable Phyllis J. Hamilton, Chief U.S. District Judge, found that Akil breached his plea agreement in seven different ways.  These acts constituting breaches of the plea agreement included convincing a San Francisco property owner to take out a loan against a valuable property she had inherited.  The lender foreclosed on the property after Akil received $493,514 in net proceeds from the loan and loan payments were not made.  In a second alleged scheme, Akil also defrauded a victim in Southern California by promising to provide a $1.1 million stand-by letter of credit.  Akil received $197,600 in fraudulent proceeds from that victim.  That victim never received a legitimate letter of credit and never got his money back from Akil or anyone else involved in the alleged scheme.  In a third alleged scheme, Akil also forged numerous documents to gain control of a Southern California property and did a cash-out finance without the owner’s knowledge or permission.  Akil channeled almost $270,000 in net proceeds from the alleged fraudulent activity in that scheme through his other financial accounts, and spent all the money.

Judge Hamilton emphasized at the sentencing hearing that “individuals’ lives [  ] are ruined or significantly impacted by people who are gaming the system in some way, who are gaming the individuals.” Judge Hamilton found Akil’s “behavior to be entirely disturbing and suggestive of not only a failure to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct but a level of incorrigibility.”   The judge also stated, “I ponder whether or not any sentence will deter Mr. Akil.”  Judge Hamilton voice her concern that Akil’s statements to the Court during the sentencing hearing did not reflect true remorse for having ruined people’s financial lives.

In additional to the prison term, Judge Hamilton ordered Akil to serve a three-year period of supervised release, and ordered him to submit his person, residence and any property under his control to a search by Probation Officers or law enforcement officers at any time, with or without cause.  Akil will begin serving the sentence immediately.  The restitution hearing, scheduled for July 12, 2017, will determine the amounts Akil will be ordered to pay to the victims of his crimes.

Co-defendants Amy Schloemann (Akil’s former wife), Darnell Thomas, and Louisa Wonda Kidd each pleaded guilty to related crimes and were sentenced for their respective roles in the scheme.  On June 12, 2013, Schloeman was sentenced to 36 months for her role in the scheme and on November 7, 2012, Thomas was sentenced to 36 months of imprisonment for his role in the scheme.  On November 20, 2013, Kidd received a sentence of 36 months of probation for her role.  Co-defendants Michelle McGuire and Kashka Clay have entered guilty pleas and are scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, 2017.

U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), Special Agent in Charge Michael T. Batdorf made the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina McCall prosecuted the case with the assistance of Allen Williams, Noble Hughes, Vanessa Vargas, and Kathleen Turner.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by IRS-CI with the assistance of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Sammy Araya, 41, Santa Ana, California, Michael Henderson, 49,Costa Mesa, California, and Jen Seko, 36, Anaheim, California, were convicted by a federal jury in connection with their operation of a nationwide, multi-year “home mortgage modification” fraud that scammed hundreds of victims out of at least $10 million.

This is the same scheme that Kristen Ayala, whose sentence I wrote about in Comment on Sentencing of Kristen Ayala was involved with.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Araya, Henderson, and Seko operated a large-scale “home mortgage modification” scam that victimized vulnerable individuals and families across the country for several years. The conspirators sent targeted mass mailers to homeowners facing foreclosure through Seko’s company, Seko Direct Marketing. The mailers referenced real federal programs designed to help struggling homeowners, such as the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), and were titled “Notice of HUD Relief,” “Notice of Mortgage Relief,” and “New HAMP Benefits,” among other misleading titles. The mailers listed various toll-free telephone numbers for the homeowners to call for assistance. When a victim homeowner who had been solicited via a mass mailing called the toll-free number listed on the mailer, a member of the conspiracy posing as a “customer service representative” would answer the phone and collect financial information from the victim, as well as inquire about the victim’s mortgage and how far behind the victim was on his or her mortgage payments. The victims were told the information would be reviewed to determine if they qualified for a mortgage modification. Instead, the information was used by the conspirators to determine how much money could be stolen from the victim. Henderson served as one of the purported “customer service representatives” and helped to distribute the money collected by the scam, while Araya was the mastermind and principal beneficiary of the entire fraudulent operation.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, after being contacted by another member of the conspiracy and told that their mortgage modification had been approved, the victim homeowner would be told that their lender required a “reinstatement fee,” usually in the amount of thousands of dollars. Victims were also told that they were required to make several “trial” mortgage modification payments. After these so-called “trial payments” were completed, their modification would be complete and their new lower mortgage payment would become permanent for the life of the loan.

Throughout this process, the members of the conspiracy represented themselves to homeowners in mass mailings, phone calls, emails, and other communications using a laundry list of aliases and fictitious entity names. Some of those fictitious entities included “Equity Restoration Group,” “Neighborhood Counseling Services of America,” and “Home Retention Center,” among many others. The conspirators changed their aliases and entity names regularly, in an effort to evade detection by law enforcement. The conspirators also falsely represented themselves as a “non-profit” organization or as affiliated with the federal government or the victims’ lenders, and they directed the victims to make their checks and money orders payable to other fake entities, such as “Payment Processing Services,” “Default Servicing,” and “Trust Funding.” They then opened bank accounts using those false entity names, and used those bank accounts to briefly deposit victim payments before withdrawing the funds and distributing the proceeds among the members of the conspiracy.

The victims of this scheme dutifully sent their payments to the fraudulent entities as instructed by the conspirators, only to discover that they had not been granted a mortgage modification by their lenders. When victims confronted the members of the conspiracy about this fact, the conspirators would make lulling statements designed to reassure the victims, such as telling them that the mortgage modification process takes time, and that they were dealing with individuals at a higher level at the bank than the lender representatives with whom the victims had spoken. In reality, however, the members of the conspiracy were simply diverting the victims’ payments for their own personal benefit, without doing anything to assist in modifying the victims’ mortgages. Araya, the ringleader of the scheme, used the proceeds of the fraud to purchase expensive vehicles, a racehorse, and a variety of luxury goods, as well as to fund his personal travel and a reality television show he produced called “Make It Rain.TV.”

This scheme had devastating consequences for the victim homeowners, all of whom were already in a precarious financial position. Many victims suffered substantially greater financial hardship after falling victim to this conspiracy than they were already facing when they entered into the bogus agreements with the conspirators. In many cases, the lenders ultimately foreclosed on the victims’ homes, after the victims had been induced to make their “trial” mortgage payments to the members of the conspiracy rather than to their lenders.

These defendants scammed hundreds of individuals and families who were trying desperately to save their homes,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Their crimes were rooted in dishonesty and greed, and they shamelessly enriched themselves at their victims’ expense. I am very pleased with the convictions and want to commend the efforts of the Assistant United States Attorneys and our investigative partners for their terrific work on this important and complex case.”

Twelve defendants have been convicted in the Eastern District of Virginia in this case and a related case. They include the following individuals:

Name, Age

Hometown

Result

Sentencing

Sammy Araya, 41

Santa Ana, California

Convicted on Counts 1-11 of superseding indictment at trial todayFaces maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of conviction
Michael Henderson, 49

Costa Mesa, California

Convicted on Counts 1-6 and 9-11 of superseding indictment at trial todayFaces maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of conviction
Jen Seko, 36

Anaheim, California

Convicted on Counts 1-6 and 9-11 of superseding indictment at trial todayFaces maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of conviction
Roscoe Umali, 38

Santa Ana, California

Pleaded guilty March 22, 2016220 months in prison on Aug. 18, 2016
Joshua Sanchez, 37

Las Vegas, Nevada

Pleaded guilty July 8, 2015 in case 1:15cr147151 months in prison on Oct. 29, 2015
Kristen Ayala, 32

Las Vegas, Nevada

Pleaded guilty August 4, 2015 in case 1:15cr147135 months in prison on Oct. 29, 2015
Isaac Perez, 33

Los Angeles

Pleaded guilty March 30, 2016130 months in prison on Sept. 1, 2016
Joshua Johnson, 36

Huntington Beach, California

Pleaded guilty March 30, 2016121 months in prison on July 7, 2016
Jefferson Maniscan, 34

Los Angeles

Pleaded guilty March 29, 2016120 months in prison on Aug. 18, 2016
Raymund Dacanay, 47

Newport Beach, California

Pleaded guilty March 29, 201660 months in prison on July 21, 2016
Nicholas Estilow, 34

Mission Viejo, California

Pleaded guilty January 18, 2017Faces maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on June 1.
Sabrina Rafo, 24

Garden Grove, California

Pleaded guilty January 19, 2017Faces maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on June 1.

 

Araya faces a maximum penalty of 220 years in prison, and Henderson and Seko each faces a maximum penalty of 180 years in prison when sentenced on July 19.

Today justice was served to three scam artists who preyed upon hundreds of desperate homeowners taking money in exchange for empty promises of admission into the HAMP program,” said Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). “This was a scheme of deception and thievery: the defendants pocketed the homeowner dollars but did nothing to help their victims. I thank U.S. Attorney Boente and his team for their hard work and commitment protecting homeowners getting help through HAMP.”

“These defendants preyed upon innocent homeowners when they were at their most vulnerable, and simply trying to save their homes,” said Leslie DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge, Western Region, Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General. “These egregious schemes victimize homeowners and entire communities, and today a jury held them accountable for their actions. We are proud to work with our law enforcement partners on this case, and will continue to work with them to bring to justice all individuals who attempt to defraud unwitting victims.”

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP); William Hedrick, Acting Inspector in Charge of the Los Angeles Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Leslie DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA-OIG); and James Todak, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Los Angeles Field Office, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris accepted the verdict. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samantha P. Bateman and Ryan S. Faulconer are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zach Terwilliger and James Gillis formerly prosecuted the case.

Sanjiv Kakkar, 55, Saratoga, California, was sentenced to 48 months in prison and ordered to pay $4,208,565.36 in restitution to the victim for wire fraud and making misstatements to a bank.  Kakkar was concited after a twelve-day jury trial ending with a guilty verdict on all counts.

The evidence at trial demonstrated Kakkar presented false information to a bank in connection with refinancing a hotel property he owned in Boulder Creek, California.  In November of 2008, Kakkar sought to secure a $6 million loan to refinance the Brookdale Inn and Spa.  In connection with the loan, he submitted bogus documents to a bank, including falsified income information and tax returns, which overstated his business income.  Kakkar also did not comply with his continuing obligation under the terms of the loan to provide the bank with updated financial records and further tax documents.  Further, between January and June 2009, Kakkar submitted false and fraudulent documents to an escrow company.  Kakkar induced the escrow company to advance hundreds of thousands of dollars in wire progress payments that were earmarked for reimbursement of construction costs.

A federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment against Kakkar on June 2, 2016, charging him with one count of making misstatements to a bank, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1014, and six counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343.  On November 8, 2016, a jury found Kakkar guilty of all the charges presented in the superseding indictment.

In addition to the prison term, and restitution, Kakkar was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine and to serve three years of supervised release.  Kakkar currently is released on bond and has been ordered to surrender on or before June 22, 2017, to begin serving his sentence.

The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Edward J. Davila, U.S. District Judge.  U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Jill Snyder announced the sentence.Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amie Rooney and Maia Perez are prosecuting the case with assistance from Nina Burney and Elise Etter.  The case is the result of an investigation by the ATF.

Dianna Woods, 60, Citrus Heights, California, was sentenced to three years in prison for four counts of making false statements on loan applications.

According to evidence presented at her four-day trial in December 2016, Woods was a licensed real estate salesperson who worked at a company called VLD Realty, doing business as Trade House USA, in the Sacramento area. VLD built and sold houses in residential developments in Sacramento, Carmichael, and Copperopolis, Caifornia. As the housing market began to weaken from 2006 through 2008, VLD sought to sell the houses by offering money to buyers in the form of paying the down payment or giving the buyers money after the transaction, neither of which was disclosed to the lenders.

For her part, Woods purchased two houses based on the undisclosed kickbacks. Further, for the purpose of obtaining mortgage loans to purchase the properties, Woods also signed and submitted loan applications and other documents that contained false statements as to Woods’s income, employment, assets, the purpose of the property, the sales price, and whether the down payment was borrowed. Woods also assisted another buyer in making false statements to the lenders to get loans for the purchase of two properties in the housing developments and falsely verified his employment. The banks suffered nearly $2 million in losses with respect to fraudulent transactions in which Woods was involved.

Woods was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb. The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert and the case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shelley Weger and Todd Pickles prosecuted the case.

Martin Calzada, 29, Norwalk, California was found guilty by a federal jury after a four-day trial, of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and eight counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution.

According to evidence presented at trial, Calzada conspired to defraud homeowners facing foreclosure. Calzada and other employees of Star Reliable Mortgage, which had offices in Bakersfield, Visalia, and Salinas, California, targeted distressed homeowners with a fraudulent “loan elimination” scheme. Between approximately August 2010 and October 2011, Star Reliable charged clients an upfront fee for its services – ranging from $2,500 up to $4,500 – as well as monthly fees, based on false promises that the clients could own their homes “free and clear” as a result of Star Reliable’s services. Clients paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Star Reliable and at least $300,000 was transferred from Star Reliable into Calzada’s bank accounts. In furtherance of the scheme, Calzada and other employees at Star Reliable filed at county recorders’ offices fraudulent documents on behalf of the homeowner-clients, which purported to replace the legitimate property trustees with fictitious trusts affiliated with the defendant and Star Reliable, all in an effort to “cloud title” and halt or stall the foreclosure process. Additionally, Calzada, and other employees working at his direction told Star Reliable clients to stop paying their mortgages. They also falsely represented that Star Reliable clients had one million dollars in a U.S. government account that could be used to pay-off a homeowner’s mortgage.

Calzada was remanded into custody following the announcement of the verdict. In a related case in December 2014, co-conspirators Juan Ramon Curiel, 38, Visalia, California and Santiago Palacios-Hernandez, 47, Salinas, California, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Curiel additionally pleaded guilty to one count of bankruptcy fraud. They are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge O’Neill on April 10, 2017.

Calzada is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge O’Neill on June 5, 2017. Calzada faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced the verdict. The trial was held before United States Chief District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Christopher D. Baker and Patrick J. Suter are prosecuting the case.

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.

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.

Dianna F. Woods, 59, Citrus Heights, California, was found guilty after a four–day trial, a federal jury found day of four counts of making false statements on loan applications.

According to evidence presented at trial, Woods was a licensed real estate salesperson who worked at a company called VLD Realty, doing business as Trade House USA, in the Sacramento, California, area. VLD built and sold houses in residential developments in Sacramento, Carmichael, and Copperopolis, California. As the housing market began to weaken from 2006 through 2008, VLD sought to sell the houses by offering incentives to buyers. VLD offered to pay the down payment or offered to give the buyers money after the sale, neither of which was disclosed to the lenders. For her part, Woods purchased two houses based on the undisclosed kickbacks. Further, for the purpose of obtaining loans to purchase the properties, Woods signed and submitted loan applications and other documents that contained false statements as to Woods’s income, employment, assets, the purpose of the property, the sales price, and whether the down payment was borrowed. Woods also assisted another buyer in making false statements to the lenders to get loans for the purchase of two properties in the housing developments and falsely verified his employment.

To date, six other defendants have been found guilty or have pleaded guilty in three related cases.

Woods is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge William B. Shubb on February 27, 2017. Woods faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine on each count.

The verdict was announced United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.  This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Shelley Weger and Todd Pickles are prosecuting the case.

Mark F. Friend, 62, Stockton, California was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. to two years and four months in prison and ordered to pay $1,889,379 in restitution for conspiracy to commit bank fraud in relation to a mortgage fraud scheme.

According to court documents, between September 2006 and March 2007, while working for National City Mortgage, then a division of National City Bank, in Stockton, Friend arranged loans for borrowers that contained numerous falsehoods. He submitted false loan applications and other documents, and he made down payments on behalf of borrowers who did not have enough money, and then was repaid out of escrow after the loans were funded. The borrowers eventually stopped making payments on the loans, and National City Bank and other entities sustained losses amounting to $1,889,379.

Judge Burrell ordered Friend to self-surrender and begin his incarceration on January 13, 2017.

The plea was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.  The case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney John K. Vincent prosecuted the case.

Aleksandr Kovalev, 53, Rocklin, California, pleaded guilty to wire fraud involving financial institutions in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme involving the purchase of at least 31 properties.

According to court documents, Kovalev was in the business of developing, building and selling property in Sacramento, Fairfield and Stockton, California. As the real estate market began to weaken, Kovalev offered to make incentive payments to purchasers, through “down payment assistance” or by making other payments to the buyers to be used in whatever manner the buyers wanted. Most of the payments to the buyers were out of escrow and were often paid through intermediaries, originating in Kovalev’s bank account. These payments were not disclosed to the lenders, and had the effect of substantially reducing the actual sales price below that was represented to the lenders. At least 31 properties were involved in Kovalev’s mortgage fraud scheme with substantial losses to the lenders.

To date, five co-defendants have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced: Jannice Riddick, 34, Sacramento, California (two years and 11 months in prison); Florence Francisco, 65, Houston, Texas (one year in prison); Adil Qayyum, 34, Rosele, Illinois (three years of probation); Elsie Pamela Fuller, 41, Richmond, California (one year and nine months in prison); and Leona Yeargin, 49, San Pablo, California (18 months in prison). Charges are pending against co-defendant Arthur Menefee, 45, Stockton, California.

Two other defendants were charged separately for their involvement in the scheme. Valeriy Vasilevitsky, charged in U.S. v. Vasilevitsky, 2:12-cr-344 KJM, and Ruth Willis, charged in U.S. v. Willis, 2:13-cr-228 MCE, have also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

Kovalev is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. on February 9, 2017. Kovalev faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million or twice the gross loss or gain.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd A. Pickles is prosecuting the case. The guilty plea was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.