Archives For California

Kevin Frank Rasher, 45, Orange County, California, was sentenced to 97 months in federal prison Friday for fraudulently taking $2.2 million from distressed homeowners based on false promises that he could help them avoid foreclosure by obtaining modifications to their mortgages.   Rasher, who has been in custody since his arrest at his Coto de Caza residence over a year ago, pled guilty to 12 counts of mail fraud in May. Rasher was sentenced by United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton who also ordered him to pay $2.24 million in restitution to his victims.

According to court documents, Rasher admitted that, between 2011 and March 2016, he falsely told distressed homeowners that he was an employee of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and/or an attorney, and that the homeowners had been approved for a reduced mortgage payment or interest rate. Rasher then instructed the homeowners to mail their mortgage payments to one of his businesses, claiming that he would forward the money to the homeowners’ mortgage lenders. Instead of forwarding the money to the mortgage lenders, Rasher deposited the money into his bank accounts and used it to pay his own personal expenses.

Rasher admitted that he fraudulently obtained approximately $2.24 million from more than 500 victims.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General; the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP); the United States Postal Inspection Service; the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of the Inspector General; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case against Rasher was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Rosalind Wang and Robert J. Keenan of the Santa Ana Branch Office.

Celia Nipper, aka Celia Arrand, 61, Dublin, California pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud, bank fraud, and filing false tax returns in connection with a scheme to embezzle funds from a real estate technology company.

Nipper admitted in the plea agreement that in June of 2008, on two separate occasions she overstated her income in connection with fraudulent mortgage loan applications.

According to the plea agreement, Nipper admitted that while employed as an office manager, she used her position of financial control at a technology company to redirect funds intended for her employer to accounts that she controlled.  According to the plea agreement, from 2005 to 2011, while Nipper managed her company’s accounts payable and accounts receivable, invoicing, and bill paying she opened bank accounts in the name of her employer without disclosing the existence of the accounts.  She then directed customer payments to those accounts.  Nipper also admitted as part of the plea agreement that she misappropriated funds from her employer’s legitimate corporate bank accounts.  Nipper also admitted she used money belonging to her employer to pay for her own personal expenses and deposited employer funds into her personal bank accounts.  Nipper further acknowledged that her scheme defrauded the company of more than $2 million.

Further, nipper admitted that she filed false U.S. Income Tax Returns for the tax years 2009, 2010, and 2011.  In each case, she understated her income, resulting in a failure to report more than $1 million and a tax loss to the United States of at least $290,000.

On April 7, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Nipper by superseding indictment, charging her with three counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; two counts of bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(2); and three counts of filing a false tax return, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1).  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Nipper pleaded guilty to all seven counts.

Judge Gilliam has scheduled Nipper’s sentencing for February 5, 2018.    The maximum statutory penalties for wire fraud and bank fraud is 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and 3 years of supervised release.  The maximum statutory penalty for filing a false tax return is 3 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 1 year of supervised release.  Additional fines, forfeitures, and special assessments also may be imposed.

The plea was announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Michael T. Batdorf.  The plea was accepted by the Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., U.S. District Judge.  The prosecution was the result of an investigation by the FBI and IRS, Criminal Investigation.

Sean David Morton, 59, Hermosa, Beach, California was sentenced to six years in federal prison and his wife, Melissa Ann Morton, 51, Hermosa Beach, California, was sentenced to two years in federal prison for using bogus financial instruments in an attempt to pay off debt and for filing fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service that sought millions of dollars in refunds.  The Mortons were each ordered to pay $480,322 in restitution to the IRS.

Sean Morton’s sentencing follows a four-day trial in April in which he was found guilty by a federal jury of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of filing false claims against the United States, and 26 counts of passing false or fictitious financial instruments. Sean Morton was originally scheduled to be sentenced in June, but he failed to appear for that hearing and was a fugitive for over two months. Melissa Morton was convicted of conspiracy, two counts filing false claims and 25 counts of passing false or fictitious financial instruments

The Mortons operated a “redemption” scheme, which is the most common scheme used across the nation by tax defiers and “sovereign citizens.” Proponents of this scheme falsely claim that the United States government controls bank accounts – often referred to as “U.S. Treasury Direct Accounts” – for U.S. citizens that can be accessed by submitting paperwork with state and federal authorities. Individuals promoting this scam frequently cite bogus legal theories and may refer to the scheme as “Redemption” or “Strawman.” This scheme, which repeatedly has been rejected by courts, predominately uses fraudulent financial documents that appear to be legitimate.

The Mortons sold the bond scheme to others who were in debt to governmental organizations, such as the IRS and the State of California, and private bank institutions for mortgage or credit card debt. The Mortons charged their clients thousands of dollars to prepare and file useless UCC-1 documents declaring their clients’ “strawman” status, and to prepare and send false bonds to the government or banks which purported to pay off the clients’ debt. “The total amounts of the check/bonds [the Mortons] made and passed are astronomical – the principal amounts of said instruments range from $50,000 to $10 million,” according to court documents.

In sentencing briefs filed with the court, prosecutors said Sean Morton “touted he was a ‘paper terrorist’ when giving seminars regarding his schemes,” and he harassed and burdened the “courts with mountains of frivolous paperwork…in an effort to degrade the court system over time and make it more difficult to efficiently resolve cases, especially tax cases.”

The evidence presented at trial also showed that the Mortons filed income tax returns with the IRS that falsely claimed they had income from various banking institutions reported on Forms 1099-OID. As part of the scheme, the Mortons falsely reported large withholdings and claimed they were owed refunds from the IRS.

As a result of the scheme, the IRS erroneously issued a refund of $480,322.55 to Sean Morton for a 2008 income tax return. On the same day the refund was deposited into the Mortons’ joint bank account, the couple took immediate steps to conceal the money, which included opening two new accounts, transferring over $360,000 to the two new accounts, and withdrawing $70,000 in cash.

When the IRS took steps to collect the erroneous refund, the Mortons began a campaign to thwart the government’s collection efforts. Specifically, when the IRS placed a levy on the couple’s joint bank account, the couple repeatedly sent letters to the IRS that falsely claimed it was Melissa Morton’s sole and separate account.

When the IRS attempted to collect the erroneous refund from the Mortons, the Mortons presented to the IRS various “coupons” and “bonds” that purported to pay off their debt with the IRS. The Mortons created and submitted these bogus documents to the IRS, instructing the agency to draw upon funds with the United States Treasury to satisfy their debt.

While sentencing Sean Morton, Judge Wilson said his conduct “caused a serious disruption” to the tax system and “caused others to engage in fraudulent conduct.”

“The scheme, while outrageous, was also calculated,” Judge Wilson said.

Sean Morton was originally scheduled to be sentenced on June 19, but he failed to appear in court and was a fugitive for 61 days. During that time, Sean Morton “flagrantly flouted the law, appeared on social media, his radio program, and YouTube to brag about his status as a fugitive,” according to court papers filed by prosecutors. Soon after her husband fled, Melissa Morton was ordered not to have any contact with her husband.

The Mortons were arrested on August 21, 2017 while observing the solar eclipse poolside at a hotel in Desert Hot Springs. The following day, a United States Magistrate Judge found that they had violated the terms of their release on bond and ordered them detained.

This is a case where the defendants clearly engaged in a systematic effort to impede the tax system, undermine the efforts of prosecutors, and, in the case of Sean Morton, avoid sentencing after being convicted by a jury of his peers,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “This case sends a clear message that we will spare no effort to preserve the integrity of this nation’s institutions. The lengthy sentences also demonstrate that illegal efforts to use bogus legal theories in an effort to defraud fellow taxpayers will not be tolerated.”

The Mortons’ blatant disrespect for the law will now cost them years of valuable freedom,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe. “Today’s sentencing shows how seriously the courts take those individuals who attempt to lead others down a perilous financial and legal path, in addition to devising illegal tax schemes to obtain refunds to which they are not entitled.”

Morton was sentenced by and by United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.

The investigation of the Mortons was conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Valerie Makarewicz and James C. Hughes of the Tax Division.

Hooshang Noori, a loan broker who operated Finance for Americans, Corp, doing business as Pacific Realty, Lake Forest, California, was indicted on one count of wire fraud in the Central District of California.

According to the indictment, Noori submitted loan applications to Lone Oak Fund LLC, on behalf of his purported client M.G. and M.G.’s company, Noble Investments, LLC, to borrow $4 million for the purpose of buying commercial property in Los Angeles, California to be secured by a first deed of trust on a residence owned by M.G.  Noori, or a co-scheme, purporting to be M.G., directed the escrow company to distribute the loan funds to Noori’s company.  After escrow company representatives informed Noori that the funds could only be distributed to Noble Investments, Noori registered  “Noble Investments LLC” in Delaware and opened an account in the company’s name which he solely controlled.  Escrow was then directed to distribute loan funds to this account.

The funds were used to purchase a Mercedes Benz, pay off the lien on Noori’s residence, pay business expenses, among other things, and $3.6 million of the funds were transferred to a Emirates NBD bank account in the name of Four Directions Electronics, LLC.

 

Robert Jacobsen, 69, formerly of Lafayette, California, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges in connection with a scheme to use sham companies and collusive lawsuits to create the appearance that mortgage liens had been invalidated. The plea was accepted by the Honorable Maxine M. Chesney, U.S. District Judge.

According to the plea agreement, Jacobsen admitted that from October 2012 through October 2013, he executed a scheme to sell homes to buyers who were duped into believing that the homes had clear title.  Jacobsen admitted that he identified homes with mortgage deeds of trust that were recorded for the benefit of an entity called “American Brokers Conduit” (ABC).  Jacobsen also admitted that he registered a separate entity in New York called “American Brokers Conduit Corporation” (ABC Corp.).  Jacobsen then hired an attorney to file lawsuits against his phony ABC Corp., claiming that mortgages that had been originated by the real ABC were invalid.  Controlling both sides of the lawsuits, Jacobsen caused the attorneys to enter into stipulated judgments, agreeing that the mortgage deeds of trust were invalid.  The courts then entered judgment based on these fraudulent agreements, which Jacobsen recorded with county recorder’s offices.  The result created the impression that the deeds of trust had been legitimately invalidated by federal or state courts.

Jacobsen admitted that two homes that were the subjects of such lawsuits were in Danville, California, and San Francisco, California.  Jacobsen admitted that, after obtaining fraudulent judgments, he sold the Danville home for $540,000 and the San Francisco home for $1.2 million.  Jacobsen admitted that in both cases, his representations regarding the fraudulent court judgments had a natural tendency to influence the buyers to purchase the homes.

As part of his plea agreement, Jacobsen further admitted that proceeds from the sale of the Danville and San Francisco homes were used to pay for a 54’ Hylas sailboat that the government seized at a marina in Beaufort, North Carolina on November 18, 2015.  Jacobsen agreed that his interest in this sailboat was subject to forfeiture.

On December 5, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Jacobsen charging him with 13 counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 and 9 counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity (money laundering), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957.  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Jacobsen pleaded guilty to one count of each crime.

Jacobsen’s sentencing is scheduled for November 15, 2017.  Jacobsen faces a maximum sentence of 20 years of imprisonment, and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for the wire fraud count and a maximum sentence of 10 years of imprisonment, and a fine of $250,000, for the money laundering count.

The plea was announced by United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Michael T. Batdorf.  Assistant United States Attorneys Benjamin Kingsley, Meredith Osborn, and Gregg Lowder are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Beth Margen and Bridget Kilkenny.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and IRS-CI.

Martin Calzada, 30, Norwalk, California, was sentenced to nine years in prison; Juan Curiel, 38, Visalia, California was sentenced to three years and five months in prison; and Santiago Palacios-Hernandez, 48, Salinas, California, was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison, in connection with their roles in a mortgage elimination scam in Bakersfield, Visalia and Salinas, California.

On March 10, 2017, Calzada was convicted by a jury of one count of conspiracy and eight counts of mail fraud affecting a financial institution. In December 2014, Curiel and Palacios-Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud

According to evidence presented during Calzada’s four-day trial, the defendants conspired to defraud homeowners facing foreclosure. The three men operated Star Reliable Mortgage, which had offices in Bakersfield, Visalia, and Salinas, and 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, for ostensibly helping the clients own their homes “free and clear.” 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.

To advance the scheme, Calzada, Curiel, and Palacios-Hernandez filed fraudulent documents at county recorders’ offices on behalf of the homeowner-clients. The fraudulent documents purported to replace the legitimate property trustees with fictitious trusts, all in an effort to “cloud title” and halt or stall the foreclosure process. The defendants and other employees working at their direction told Star Reliable clients to stop paying their mortgages. They also falsely represented that Star Reliable clients had $1 million in a U.S. government account that could be used to pay off a homeowner’s mortgage.

As part of their sentences, the defendants were ordered to pay more than $1.1 million dollars in restitution to former Star Reliable clients and mortgage loan owners Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which suffered financial losses upon the foreclosure of several clients’ homes.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill handed down the sentences.  U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert made the announcement.These cases were the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher D. Baker and Patrick J. Suter prosecuted the cases.

Ronald Rodis, 52, Long Beach, California was sentenced to 41 months in prison, and Charles Wayne Farris, 56, Aliso Viejo, California, was sentenced to serve 47 months in prison for their roles in a multi-million dollar fraudulent mortgage modification scheme posing as a successful law firm.  Each of the men previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. In addition to the terms of prison imposed by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, Judge Carter ordered Farris to pay $3,534,927.43 in restitution and ordered Rodis to pay $3,826,947.95 in restitution.

Both defendants previously admitted that, between October 2008 and June 2009, they participated in a scheme to induce homeowners to pay between $3,500 and $5,500 for the services of the Rodis Law Group. These defendants and their co-conspirators made numerous misrepresentations regarding RLG’s ability to negotiate loan modifications from the homeowners’ mortgage lenders. They hid the involvement of Bryan D’Antonio, the true owner of the scheme. D’Antonio was a convicted felon and subject to a permanent injunction prohibiting him from having any involvement with any business that engaged in telemarketing or misrepresented the services it would provide.

These defendants played key roles in a scheme that victimized homeowners facing foreclosure during the mortgage crisis,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The defendants promised homeowners assistance saving their homes and modifying their mortgages, yet took their money knowing the promised benefits would never be realized.”

These two defendants used their legal knowledge and expertise to coerce and victimize vulnerable homeowners,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown of the Central District of California. “Rather than help these individuals as promised, their fraudulent scheme cost the victims millions of dollars.”

Rodis was a licensed California attorney who allowed his name to be used to lend legitimacy to the scheme. He recorded radio advertisements encouraging struggling homeowners to call RLG. In the ads, Rodis falsely claimed that RLG consisted of “a team of experienced attorneys” who were “highly skilled in negotiating lower interest rates and even lowering your principal balance.” In fact, RLG was a telemarketing operation that never had a team of experienced attorneys and rarely achieved any of the promised results for homeowners. During much of the scheme, Rodis was the only attorney at RLG. After his involvement with the RLG scheme, Rodis surrendered his law license.

Farris supervised a sales force of dozens of telemarketers who fielded calls from struggling homeowners. At Farris’s direction and using scripts that he helped create, the telemarketers made numerous misrepresentations regarding the companies’ ability to negotiate loan modifications from the homeowners’ mortgage lenders. For example, the telemarketers stated that RLG and America’s Law Group – a successor to RLG – had been in business for 11 years when in fact the company had only opened in October 2008. They falsely stated that RLG and ALG routinely obtained positive results for homeowners, including lower monthly payments, reductions in principal balance and lower interest rates. In fact, positive results were rarely achieved for any RLG or ALG clients. Telemarketers also falsely reiterated that homeowners would have a team of attorneys and real estate professionals assigned to their case.

On April 10, Bryan D’Antonio, the leader of the scheme, was sentenced to 97 months in prison followed by 12 months in a halfway house and was ordered to pay $3,826,977.95 in restitution.

This case was investigated by the FBI Los Angeles Field Office and prosecuted by Trial Attorney John W. Burke of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph T. McNally of the Central District of California.

MichaelMickey” Henschel, 68, Van Nuys, California was indicted on an 11-counts for his alleged role as the mastermind of a foreclosure-avoidance scam that targeted distressed homeowner.  He was arrested on federal charges that he orchestrated a bankruptcy fraud scheme that brought in more than $7 million from victims. Henschel was ordered detained pending trial.

According to the indictment unsealed after his arrest, Henschel owned a Van Nuys-based company he operated under several names, including Valueline. Henschel and several co-conspirators marketed illegal foreclosure- and eviction-delay services to homeowners who had defaulted on their mortgages and renters who were facing eviction. As part of the scheme, Henschel and the others allegedly convinced homeowners to sign fake grant deeds that purported to show the homeowners had conveyed an interest in their properties to fictional third parties.

Henschel and his co-conspirators allegedly filed bankruptcies in the names of fictional persons and entities to trigger the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code, which meant that foreclosure sales were stalled.

Henschel allegedly delayed evictions in a similar way, filing fraudulent documents in state eviction actions and sending similar documents to sheriff’s offices.

Henschel allegedly charged some homeowners large fees before agreeing to clear title to their properties, in addition to the monthly fees paid for the illegal services. During the course of the scheme, from October 2010 through July 2013, Henschel and his co-conspirators collected more than $7 million, according to the indictment.

The indictment charges Henschel with one count of conspiracy, eight counts of bankruptcy fraud and two counts of wire fraud.

Following his arrest, Henschel was arraigned on the indictment. He entered a not guilty plea, and a trial was scheduled for August 8, 2017.

If he is convicted of the charges in the indictment, Henschel would face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for each of the conspiracy bankruptcy fraud counts. The two wire fraud counts carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.

The case against Henschel is the result of an investigation by the FBI and FHFA-OIG, which received assistance from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the United States Trustee’s Office for the Central District of California.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kerry L. Quinn of the Major Frauds Section.

Sergey Shchirskiy, 41, Sacramento, California, was sentenced to seven years and 10 months in prison for his participation in two mortgage fraud schemes and one tax fraud scheme.

According to court documents, Shchirskiy pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in each of the two mortgage fraud cases, as well as one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of aggravated identity theft in the third tax fraud case.

According to the plea agreement, Shchirskiy was a loan processor in one mortgage fraud scheme (2:11-cr-514). Between April 2007 and November 2007, the co-conspirators used straw buyers to buy properties and then take out Home Equity Lines of Credit on the houses using fraudulent documents and statements. Shchirskiy helped to create the fraudulent supporting documents. All of the properties were foreclosed on, resulting in at least $1.5 million in losses to lenders.

According to the plea agreement in the second mortgage fraud scheme (2:12-cr-060), in April 2007, Shchirskiy recruited straw buyers to purchase a houses based on fraudulent loan applications. The applications gave false information about the buyer’s employment, income, assets, and intention to occupy the properties. The properties were foreclosed upon and resulted in a loss of more than $1.2 million to lenders.

According to the plea agreement in the tax fraud scheme (2:14-cr-198), between March 2011 and April 2011, Shchirskiy conspired with others to obtain false tax refunds by submitting fraudulent claims using the identities of various individuals, at least eight of which were stolen. Shchirskiy claimed Earned Income Tax Credit based on false claims of employment from California’s In-Home Supportive Services program. Shchirskiy and his co-conspirators made approximately 80 attempts to file fraudulent tax returns, attempting to receive $661,286 in fraudulent returns from the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS ultimately issued approximately $88,728 in fraudulent refunds.

U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced the sentenced and U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley presided.  The cases were the product of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heiko Coppola and Michele Beckwith prosecuted the cases.

Kevin Frank Rasher, 45, Coto de Caza, California, plead guilty to 12 counts of mail fraud relating to his operation of a fraud scheme that took $2.2 million from distressed homeowners through false promises that he could help them avoid foreclosure by obtaining modifications to their mortgages. Rasher has been in custody since his arrest one year ago.

In a plea agreement filed in federal court, Rasher admitted that, between 2011 and March 2016, he falsely told distressed homeowners that he was an employee of HUD and/or an attorney, and that the homeowners had been approved for a reduced mortgage payment or interest rate. Rasher then instructed the homeowners to mail their mortgage payments to one of his businesses, claiming that he would forward the money to the homeowners’ mortgage lenders. Instead of forwarding the money to the mortgage lenders, Rasher deposited the money into his bank accounts and used it for his own personal expenses.

Rasher admitted that he fraudulently obtained approximately $2.24 million from more than 500 victims.

Rasher pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who is scheduled to sentence the defendant on September 29. Rasher faces a statutory maximum sentence of 240 years in federal prison.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General; the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP); the United States Postal Inspection Service; the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of the Inspector General; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case against Rasher is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Rosalind Wang and Robert J. Keenan of the Santa Ana Branch Office.