Archives For California

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.

Michelle Lefaoseu, also known as “Michelle Bennett,” “Michelle Lee” and “Michelle Page,” 42, Huntington Beach, California, was sentenced to 12 months and one day of imprisonment, followed by one year of supervised release, for participating in an extensive mortgage loan modification scheme.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Lefaoseu worked at a California-based company that falsely purported to provide home mortgage loan modifications and other consumer debt relief services to numerous homeowners in Connecticut and across the United States in exchange for upfront fees. The company did business, at various times, as “First Choice Financial Group, Inc.,” “First Choice Financial,” “First Choice Debt,” “Legal Modification Firm,” “National Freedom Group,” “Home Care Alliance Group,” “Home Protection Firm,” “Hardship Center,” “Network Solutions Center, Inc.,” “Premiere Financial Center,” “Premiere Financial,” “Rescue Firm,” “International Research Group LLC,” “Hardship Solutions,” “American Loan Center,” “Loan Retention Firm,” “Clear Vision Financial,” “Green Tree Financial Group,” “Green Tree Financial,” “Enigma Fund, Inc.,” “National Aid Group,” “Southern Chapman Group LLC,” “Save Point Financial,” “Best Rate Financial Solutions,” “Best Rate Financial Solution,” “Best Rate Financial,” “Best Rate Finance Group,” and “Nation Star Financial.”

Aria Maleki presided over the entire structure of this scheme, and Lefaoseu was head of the processing department. Acting as representatives of the above-named entities, members of Maleki’s sales team cold-called homeowners and offered to provide mortgage loan modification services to those who were having difficulty repaying their home mortgage loans. Homeowners were charged fees that typically ranged from approximately $2,500 to $4,300 for the services. To induce homeowners to pay these fees, scheme participants falsely represented that the homeowners already had been approved for mortgage loan modifications on extremely favorable terms; the mortgage loan modifications already had been negotiated with the homeowners’ lenders; the homeowners qualified for and would receive financial assistance under various government mortgage relief programs, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Home Affordable Modification Program; and if for some reason the mortgage loan modifications fell through, the homeowners would be entitled to a full refund of their fees.

In fact, the homeowners had not been preapproved for mortgage loan modifications with lenders, mortgage loan modifications had not been negotiated with the lenders, homeowners had not qualified for and did not receive any financial assistance through government mortgage relief programs, and homeowners did not receive a refund of their fees upon request. Few homeowners ever received any type of mortgage loan modification through the defendants’ company, and few homeowners received refunds of their fees.

Participants in the scheme used pseudonyms and periodically changed their business and operating names to evade detection. They also directed homeowners to mail their checks to addresses and mail boxes that Maleki and others had set up in states other than California.

After members of the sales team fraudulently induced homeowners to pay for the company’s services, the homeowners’ files were transferred to Lefaoseu and the junior processors working under her supervision. Lefaoseu was fully aware of her co-workers’ lies and, during her contact with victims, repeatedly helped to cover up those lies.

As a result of this scheme, more than 1,000 homeowners suffered losses totaling more than $3 million.

On January 21, 2016, a grand jury in New Haven returned an indictment charging Maleki, Lefaoseu and five other California residents with conspiracy and fraud offenses related to this scheme. The defendants were arrested on January 26.

On July 11, 2016, Lefaoseu pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony.

On March 22, 2016, Maleki pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and, on July 18, 2016, he was sentenced to 112 months of imprisonment. He also forfeited approximately $350,000 that investigators seized from various bank accounts, approximately $362,000 sized from a Bitcoin account, a $100,000 cashier’s check, and a 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia.

The other five defendants, all of whom were members of Maleki’s sales team, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 18 months to 58 months.

All seven defendants have been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,390,496.59.

U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport, Connecticut, sentenced Lefaoseu and Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut made the announcement. The matter was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Avi M.

Yun Soon Matsuba, aka Dorothy Matsuba, 65, Chatsworth, California; Thomas Matsuba, 64, Chatsworth, California; Jane Matsuba Garcia, 40, Chatsworth, California; and Jamie Matsuba, 31, Chatsworth, California, and Young Park, 53, Koreatown, California, were indicted for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to defraud banks and homeowners and were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, make false statements and commit identity theft.  In addition, the 18-count indictment charges Dorothy Matsuba with five counts of wire fraud, five counts of making false statements and six counts of aggravated identity theft; Jane Matsuba Garcia with one count of wire fraud, two counts of making false statements and one count of aggravated identify theft; and Jamie Matsuba with one count of making a false statement.

Dorothy Matsuba is the alleged architect of a $30 million mortgage relief fraud scheme and the other four defendants are former employees of a purported mortgage relief company.

Dorothy Matsuba, Thomas Matsuba, Jane Matsuba Garcia and Jamie Matsuba were all arrested; Park remains a fugitive.  Thomas Matsuba is Dorothy Matsuba’s husband and Jane Matsuba Garcia and Jamie Matsuba are Dorothy Matsuba’s daughters.  Young Park is Dorothy Matsuba’s brother.

The indictment alleges that from 2005 to 2014, the defendants operated an interlocking web of companies, primarily under the names of Ownership Management Service LLC and Trust Holding Service LLC, which purported to help homeowners obtain relief from high mortgage debt through short sales, in which lenders agree to sell a mortgaged property for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.  In a scheme to defraud both the banks and the homeowners the defendants allegedly convinced homeowners to deed their property to trusts set up and controlled by the Matsubas and also promised to pay their mortgages while negotiating with banks to short sell those properties.  In the interim, the homeowners either remained in their properties or were relocated to another Matsuba-controlled property.  Instead of performing short sales as promised, Dorothy Matsuba and the other defendants failed to make mortgage payments and submitted false and fraudulent short sale purchase offers to the banks in an effort to delay foreclosure and maximize the time period over which the Matsubas could collect rent from the homeowners and other third parties placed in the properties by the Matsubas, the indictment alleges.  The Matsubas also routinely forged signatures, used false and stolen identities and filed fraudulent bankruptcy petitions—all in a scheme to delay foreclosure and maximize their profits at the expense of the homeowners and banks, the indictment alleges.

The scheme allegedly netted the defendants more than $30 million in rent during the conspiracy period.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California, Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike of the FBI’s Los Angeles Division, Acting Special Agent in Charge Charge Anthony J. Orlando of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Los Angeles Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Leslie P. DeMarco of the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Office of Inspector General’s (FHFA-OIG) Western Region and Sheriff Jim McDonnell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made the announcement.

The FBI’s Los Angeles Division, IRS-CI’s Los Angeles Field Office, FHFA-OIG’s Western Region and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Real Estate Fraud Unit investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Niall O’Donnell and Senior Litigation Counsel David A. Bybee of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.  Senior Trial Attorney Nicholas Acker previously worked on the investigation.

Daniel Deaibes was sentenced today to 24 months for his role in a scheme to steal title to Southern California homes and then “sell” the properties to unsuspecting buyers – before the buyers realized who the true owners were.

From September 2012 through their arrest in November 2014, Deaibes and his co-conspirators, including co-defendants Mazen Alzoubi and Mohamed Daoud, fraudulently sold or attempted to sell at least 15 homes worth more than $3.6 million that actually never belonged to them. On at least 10 occasions, they were successful—earning illicit proceeds of nearly $2.2 million.

Deaibes pleaded guilty in March 2015 to participating in the fraud and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant. As part of this plea, Deaibes admitted that he used aliases to deceive escrow and title officers into believing that he was “John Moran,” and that he was the true owner of property that was being marketed for sale. In fact, “John Moran” did not exist, and Deaibes and his co-conspirators planned to fraudulently sell the properties, divert the proceeds to their own bank accounts, and then quickly disburse the money overseas.  On at least three occasions, Deaibes, posing as “Moran” and presenting a fake driver’s license, appeared before notaries to sign title documents and property deeds.

To make it appear that they owned these properties, the co-conspirators generated forged deeds that made it appear the true property owner had sold his or her home to a sham real estate “investment” business the co-conspirators controlled. They forged the true owners’ signatures on the deeds, and used forged notary stamps to make them appear legitimate. In reality, though, the true owners were entirely unaware of the pretend sales. Once the fraudulent documents were recorded in the chain of title, Alzoubi (using aliases and stolen identities) listed the properties for sale, posing to buyers, escrow companies, and title officers as the new owner.  In this way, the co-conspirators collected all the proceeds of the sale, and the true owners were left with nothing.

Alzoubi, the ringleader of the fraudulent scheme, assumed multiple fake identities to keep the scheme going.  He also posed as real people, pretending on one occasion that he was an attorney for one of the true owners.  (Unbeknownst to Alzoubi at the time, he was talking to an undercover federal agent.)  As a result of his greater role in the scheme, Alzoubi was charged with, and in January 2016 pleaded guilty to, aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison in addition to his sentence for the fraud and money laundering.  His sentencing is scheduled for November 7, 2016, at 9:00 am, before Judge Bashant.

Mohamed Daoud also pleaded guilty, in July 2015, admitting that he helped Alzoubi launder the proceeds of the scheme. They used Daoud’s company, “Norway LLC,” to pretend to acquire title to some of the properties. Daoud received approximately $270,000 in proceeds. In December 2015, before he was sentenced, Daoud fled the country and is now a fugitive.

Most of the properties the co-conspirators “sold” were post-foreclosure properties owned by banks or institutions such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Schemes like this one undermine the public’s confidence in their most personal and important investment, their homes,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “I am committed to prosecuting people who continue to prey on the victims of the devastating mortgage meltdown, and sending those criminals to prison.”

This scheme was designed to literally rip home ownership right out of the hands of innocent victims, and for those victims the costs were far greater than a title to a house,” said Leslie P. DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge, Western Region. “This scheme is callous and the perpetrators deserve the punishment set out for them. FHFA-OIG remains committed to our relentless pursuit of individuals who try to profit from the aftermath of the housing crisis.”

Fraud targeting a family’s home, the heart of a family’s financial investment, has a ripple effect through our nation’s economy,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum.  “The FBI is committed to investigate and uncover schemes by those who defraud homeowners.”

In addition to his jail sentence, Deaibes was ordered to pay $1,819,591 in restitution to the victims of the fraud.

DEFENDANT:

Daniel Deaibes, 14CR3325-BAS                 Age: 38           Rancho Cucamonga, CA     

COUNT ONE: Mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341

Maximum Penalties: 20 years’ imprisonment, $250,000 fine or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, $100 special assessment, restitution.

CO-DEFENDANTS:

Mazen Alzoubi, 14CR3325-BAS                 Age: 33           Rancho Cucamonga, CA     

COUNT ONE: Conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349.

Maximum Penalties: 20 years’ imprisonment, $250,000 fine or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, $100 special assessment, restitution, and forfeiture.

COUNT TWO: Mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

Maximum Penalties: 20 years’ imprisonment, $250,000 fine or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, $100 special assessment, restitution.

COUNTS THREE AND FOUR: Aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A.

Maximum Penalties: mandatory 2 years’ imprisonment, consecutive to any other term of imprisonment, $250,000 fine, $100 special assessment, restitution.

COUNT FIVE: Conspiracy to launder money, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h).

Maximum Penalties: 20 years’ imprisonment, $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, $100 special assessment, restitution, and forfeiture.

Mohamed Daoud, 14CR3326-BAS             Age: 53           Norway

COUNT ONE: Conspiracy to launder money, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h)

Maximum Penalties: 20 years’ imprisonment, $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, $100 special assessment, restitution, and forfeiture.

AGENCIES

Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Lillian Marquez, 41, Stockton, California was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez to three years and one month in prison for conspiring to commit mortgage fraud.

Marquez pleaded guilty on June 14, 2016. On September 20, 2016, co-defendant Michael Keatts, 59, Stockton, California was also sentenced to three years and one month in prison for his role in the conspiracy. Both Marquez and Keatts were ordered to pay $193,134 in restitution to financial institutions harmed by their scheme.

According to court documents, from February of 2006, through at least August of 2012, Marquez and Keatts operated Colonial Home and Business Services in Stockton, California. Both defendants were licensed real estate agents who assisted clients in purchasing and selling homes. They both participated in supplying false information to mortgage lending institutions indicating that clients were employed by various businesses that the defendants set up and controlled. In fact, these clients were not employed by those businesses and their actual income from their true employment was far less than what was represented to lending institutions. To support these false claims, the defendants created and submitted fraudulent paystubs and tax documents falsely stating that their clients were so employed.

In addition, both defendants engaged in short sale fraud, in which they assisted clients facing default on their current loans to arrange for short sales of their properties. Unbeknownst to the lending institutions, the defendants arranged for the properties to be sold to straw buyers. The original owners would remain in the properties, and enjoy the benefits of the new loans that the lenders assumed were made to other individuals.

Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced the sentence.  The case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Assistant United States Attorney Philip Ferrari prosecuted the case.

Kowit Yuktanon, also known as “Eric Cannon” and “Aaron Brock,” 32, Huntington Beach, California, and Cuong Huy King, also known as “James Nolan” and “Jimmy“, 32, Westminster, California, have each been sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to 18 months of imprisonment, followed by one year of supervised release, for participating in an extensive mortgage loan modification scheme.  Judge Underhill also ordered both defendants to pay restitution in the amount of $2,390,496.59.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Yuktanon and King worked at a California-based company that falsely purported to provide home mortgage loan modifications and other consumer debt relief services to numerous homeowners in Connecticut and across the United States in exchange for upfront fees.  The company did business, at various times, as “First Choice Financial Group, Inc.,”  “First Choice Financial,” “First Choice Debt,” “Legal Modification Firm,” “National Freedom Group,” “Home Care Alliance Group,” “Home Protection Firm,” “Hardship Center,” “Network Solutions Center, Inc.,” “Premiere Financial Center,” “Premiere Financial,” “Rescue Firm,” “International Research Group LLC,” “Hardship Solutions,” “American Loan Center,” “Loan Retention Firm,” “Clear Vision Financial,” “Green Tree Financial Group,” “Green Tree Financial,” “Enigma Fund, Inc.,” “National Aid Group,” “Southern Chapman Group LLC,” “Save Point Financial,” “Best Rate Financial Solutions,” “Best Rate Financial Solution,” “Best Rate Financial,” “Best Rate Finance Group,” and “Nation Star Financial.”

Aria Maleki presided over the entire structure of this scheme, and Yuktanon and King were junior members of the sales team.  Acting as representatives of the above-named entities, Yuktanon, King and others cold-called homeowners and offered to provide mortgage loan modification services to those who were having difficulty repaying their home mortgage loans.  The defendants charged homeowners fees that typically ranged from approximately $2,500 to $4,300 for their services.  To induce homeowners to pay these fees, the defendants falsely represented that the homeowners already had been approved for mortgage loan modifications on extremely favorable terms; the mortgage loan modifications already had been negotiated with the homeowners’ lenders; the homeowners qualified for and would receive financial assistance under various government mortgage relief programs, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Home Affordable Modification Program; and if for some reason the mortgage loan modifications fell through, the homeowners would be entitled to a full refund of their fees.

In fact, the homeowners had not been preapproved for mortgage loan modifications with lenders, mortgage loan modifications had not been negotiated with the lenders, homeowners had not qualified for and did not receive any financial assistance through government mortgage relief programs, and homeowners did not receive a refund of their fees upon request.  Few homeowners ever received any type of mortgage loan modification through the defendants’ company, and few homeowners received refunds of their fees.

Participants in the scheme used pseudonyms and periodically changed their business and operating names to evade detection.  The defendants also directed homeowners to mail their checks to addresses and mail boxes that Maleki and others had set up in states other than California.

As a result of this scheme, more than 1,000 homeowners suffered losses totaling more than $3 million.

On January 21, 2016, a grand jury in New Haven returned an indictment charging Maleki, Yuktanon, King and four other California residents with conspiracy and fraud offenses related to this scheme.  The defendants were arrested on January 26.

YUKATANON and KING each pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony.

Maleki pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and, on July 18, 2016, he was sentenced to 112 months of imprisonment.  He also forfeited approximately $350,000 that investigators seized from various bank accounts, approximately $362,000 sized from a Bitcoin account, a $100,000 cashier’s check, and a 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia.

The sentence was announced by Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut.  The matter was been investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Avi M. Perry.

John Vescera, 60, Dana Point, California, was to 12 months and one day of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for false advertising and misusing a government seal in connection with the provision of mortgage modification services. On May 3, 2016, Vescera pleaded guilty to one count of misuse of a government seal and one count of false advertising.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Vescera was the President of First One Lending Corporation (“First One”) in San Juan Capistrano, California.  During the peak of the national mortgage crisis, Vescera and First One offered home mortgage loan modification assistance to homeowners across the United States, including in Connecticut, who were having difficulty repaying their mortgage loans.

From approximately February 2010 until approximately February 2012, Vescera and First One solicited clients through television advertisements and infomercials produced by National Media Connection of New London, Connecticut.  These advertisements touted the mortgage modification services of an entity known as the National Mortgage Help Center (“NMHC”).

Matthew Goldreich, of East Lyme, Connecticut, had incorporated NMHC approximately two months after the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would partner with financial institutions to reduce struggling homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments through a program called the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”).  HAMP consisted of a number of incentives to encourage homeowners and financial institutions to modify existing loans on owner-occupied primary residences in order to help keep these properties out of foreclosure.

NMHC advertisements misrepresented NMHC as being affiliated with or regulated by the U.S. government and falsely stated that NMHC “help[ed] thousands of homeowners every day.”  When viewers called the advertised telephone number, they were connected not to NMHC, which operated only as a front and did not provide mortgage modification services for any homeowners, but to clients of National Media Connection, including First One.

Vescera and First One used NMHC’s name and logo in First One’s promotional materials, application package and other documents.  Vescera also instructed First One employees to introduce themselves to prospective clients as “with the National Mortgage Help Center.”

First One also misrepresented its status with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).  First One employees were instructed to inform homeowners that “[w]e’re a HUD approved lender and we represent the government loan modification programs.”  In addition, certain of First One’s forms claimed that the company provided “HUD . . . Housing Counseling assistance” and bore HUD’s seal.  In truth, First One had no affiliation with the government mortgage loan assistance programs and was not licensed or approved by HUD for housing counseling or home mortgage loan modification services.

Through this scheme, 302 victims lost a total of $374,622.  Many of these victims were previously compensated after Vescera and First One paid approximately $1.5 million to the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America in March 2013 to resolve a federal lawsuit in the Central District of California.  As part of this criminal case, Vescera paid restitution of $30,320 to 24 of the victims who were not identified at the time the federal lawsuit was settled.

Goldreich previously pleaded guilty to one count of false advertising.  On November 5, 2015, he was sentenced to two years of probation, including three months of home confinement.  He also was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and $75,794 in restitution.

Vescera was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in New Haven, Connecticut.  Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut announced the sentence. The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, and Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Avi Perry and Liam Brennan.