Archives For California

Robert Farrace, 54, Modesto, California was sentenced today to two years in prison for a fraudulent short-sale scheme.

On November 14, 2017, a jury found Farrace guilty of three counts of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. According to court documents, Farrace, an attorney specializing in real estate law and the former president of the Stanislaus County Bar Association, owned two properties in Modesto, California with substantial mortgage loans. By early 2010, Farrace was in default and received foreclosure notices for the two properties. In order to keep the properties and avoid foreclosure, Farrace formed an entity called “Dignitas LLC” to purchase the properties.

According to evidence presented at trial, Farrace controlled Dignitas, but listed a friend’s name on the paperwork as a nominal manager because he knew the bank would not sell the property to a related party. Farrace then submitted short sale offers to the bank that serviced the loans on both properties, listing Dignitas and the nominee manager as the purchaser. Farrace misrepresented his relationship to Dignitas to induce the bank to approve the short sale. Because the servicing bank did not know of the true relationship, it went forward and completed one of the short sales. The short sale on the second property was stopped after law enforcement informed the bank of Farrace’s scheme.

U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott made the announcement.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Housing Finance Agency–Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael G. Tierney and Shelley D. Weger prosecuted the case.

Maher Obagi, 32, Huntington Beach, California was sentenced on Tuesday to 78 months in prison and ordered to pay just over $10 million in restitution.  A second defendant, Mohamed Salah, 43, Mission Viejo, California was sentenced to 57 months in prison and was ordered to pay just over $7 million in restitution.    Obagi and Salah were sentenced to federal prison for participating in a “builder bailout” mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in the fraudulent purchase of more than 100 condominium units around the country, causing more than $10 million in losses when the properties went into foreclosure.

Obagi and Salah, along with several co-conspirators http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Maher+Obagi , operated the scheme through Excel Investments and related companies that were based in Santa Ana and then Irvine, California. The scheme involved kickbacks from condominium builders during the 2008 financial crisis, kickbacks that were hidden from lenders to convince them to fund loans in excess of actual purchase price.

During the course of the scheme, co-conspirators identified condominium developments around the country in which the builders were struggling to sell units and then arranged with the builders to purchase multiple units at a discount. The builders benefited by making it appear that their condos were selling and maintaining their value, while members of the conspiracy obtained the kickbacks.

The co-conspirators negotiated with condominium builders in California, Florida and Arizona for discount units. The defendants bought units for themselves, their relatives, and on behalf of “straw buyers” whom they brought into the scheme. They identified straw buyers by looking for individuals with good credit scores and then recruited them into the scheme by giving them an upfront payment for their participation and by presenting the scheme as an investment opportunity that required no down payment and would generate income through rental payments.

To obtain mortgages for the properties, Obagi and other co-conspirators prepared loan applications with false information about the straw buyers – including fake employment, income and assets, as well as fabricated W2s, pay stubs and bank statements. The mortgage applications also included false information about the terms of the transactions, such as concealing the large kickbacks from lenders through false and misleading HUD-1 forms. As a result of the false statements in the fraudulent loan applications, mortgage lenders provided over $21 million in financing to purchase more than 100 properties.

Many of these loans went into default, and mortgage lenders lost more than $10 million after foreclosing on the properties. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) purchased dozens of these loans on the secondary mortgage market and suffered losses of at least $1.3 million as a result of defaults and foreclosures on the properties.

Both defendants were sentenced by United States District Judge Andrew Guilford.

Following a trial in 2015, Obagi was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud. Salah was found guilty by the same federal jury of one count of conspiracy.

Several other defendants were charged in connection with the same scheme. They are:

  • Ali Khatib, 53, Newport Coast, California who pleaded guilty in a related case and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 16;
  • Momoud Aref Abaji, 37, Huntington Beach, California who was convicted at trial and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 14;
  • Jacqueline Burchell, 57, Orange, California who pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 16;
  • Wajieh Tbakhi, 53, who is a fugitive; and
  • Mohamed El Tahir, who is now deceased.

This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Inspector General; and IRS Criminal Investigation.

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

Abolghasseni “Abe” Alizadeh, 59, Granite Bay, California was sentenced today to four years and eight months in prison.  Alizadeh pleaded guilty on January 12, 2018 to wire fraud, bank fraud and making false statements to a federally insured financial institution.

According to court documents, Alizadeh, a Sacramento-area commercial real estate developer, restaurateur and owner of Kobra Properties, came up with a scheme to fraudulently purchase land that he planned to develop. Banks usually loan up to 60 to 65 percent of the loan to-value ratio (LTV) on undeveloped commercial property. (LTV ratio is the comparison between the amount of the loan and the value of the property.) To circumvent the banks and fraudulently get a higher level of financing, Alizadeh submitted altered purchase contracts to the banks that greatly inflated the purported purchase price. The banks, which competed for Alizadeh’s business, were unaware that the purchase prices were inflated and sometimes loaned well in excess of the loan-to-value ratio. By concealing the true purchase price from the banks, Alizadeh received substantial amounts of cash, sometimes millions of dollars, at the close of escrow and avoided making the full down payment or, in some instances, any down payment.

Alizadeh was assisted in this scheme by co-defendant Mary Sue Weaver, 64, currently of Scottsdale, Arizona and formerly of Lincoln, California, who was employed at a local title company. According to the plea agreement, Alizadeh would write checks for the down payment, but because he lacked funds to cover the checks, he would call Weaver and ask her to delay depositing the checks until after escrow closed. Once escrow closed, Weaver disbursed funds from the title company’s escrow trust account to Kobra Properties. Kobra Properties then used those funds to cover its down payment and other costs. In this way, it appeared as though Alizadeh was making a substantial down payment when in fact he was not.

On April 29, 2005, Alizadeh submitted a fraudulent purchase contract to Central Pacific Bank, which induced the bank to lend him nearly $4 million for the purchase of 10.3 acres of property. This loan represented over 96 percent loan-to-value ratio. Similarly, on October 21, 2005, Alizadeh received over $22 million in funding and loans to purchase the Turtle Island property, when in actuality, the original purchase price was $10 million. In March 2006, Alizadeh also falsely claimed to Bank of Sacramento that he was paying $36 per square foot for a piece of property where he intended to build a TGI Friday’s restaurant. In reality, Alizadeh was paying only $21 per square foot. This resulted in a $650,000 inflation of the true purchase price. Alizadeh’s entire scheme, involving no fewer than six properties in the Sacramento area, resulted in a loss to various financial institutions of over $22 million.

U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. also ordered Alizadeh to pay $15,879,945 in restitution to the victims of his crimes.

On December 15, 2017, Weaver pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud and is scheduled for sentencing on June 22, 2018. She faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison on each count and a $1 million 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.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott.

The defendant used his reputation as a local business leader to perpetrate a complex fraud scheme to enrich himself at the expense of others,” stated U.S. Attorney Scott. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work diligently with its law enforcement partners to expose schemes like this and bring criminals like the defendant to justice.

The scope of the fraud is staggering,” said Michael T. Batdorf, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “As a well-known real-estate developer, title companies and banks competed for Mr. Alizadeh’s business. He submitted altered purchase contracts that greatly inflated the purchase price. This scheme cost financial institutions over $22 million. While this sentence cannot reverse the damage caused by Alizadeh and his co-defendant, it highlights the ongoing commitment of IRS-CI to hold accountable those involved in these types of crimes.

Today’s sentencing holds defendant Alizadeh accountable for causing more than $22 million in losses to the financial institutions, by corruptly inflating the value of property to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent bank loans,” stated FDIC Inspector General Jay N. Lerner. “This case is a powerful example of law enforcement cooperation to combat fraud and bring such swindlers to justice.”

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Anderson and Heiko P. Coppola are prosecuting the case.

Aleksandr Kovalev, 54, Rocklin, California, was sentenced to three years and ten months in prison for wire fraud involving financial institutions,

According to court documents, Kovalev was in the business of developing, building and selling real 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 sales price below what was represented to the lenders.

Dozens of properties were involved in Kovalev’s mortgage fraud scheme, with several million dollars of losses to the lenders. Kovalev is the last to be sentenced out of nine individuals who were prosecuted as part of this mortgage fraud scheme. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/down-payment-assistance-results-in-guilty-plea

Kovalev was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr.

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the IRS Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd A. Pickles prosecuted the case. The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott.

Andrew Valles, Jemal Lilly, Mark Bellinger and Arnold Millman were indicted by a grand jury in the San Diego Superior Court on 194 criminal felony counts for allegedly operating a mortgage fraud scheme throughout Southern California. The scheme resulted in a loss of approximately $2 million for 40 victims who were seeking loans to help pay off their mortgages. Many of the victims lost their homes and life savings.

According to the indictment, between 2012 and 2017, the defendants conspired using a fake insurance company, “SafeCare,” which promised to provide home loan services at a low monthly price to primarily Latino and African American families. During this time, the defendants would delay foreclosures and eviction actions by filing false bankruptcy and other court documents under fictitious names. They would instruct victims to deposit illegal advance fees and other large payments into a bank account controlled by the defendants and, when the promised loan did not come through, would proceed with the fabricated filings. One of the defendants allegedly committed identity theft by posing as an attorney purporting to assist the victims. The victims were charged additional fees for the false “attorney services.” The scheme took place in San Diego, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties in California.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the indictment of the four individuals.

The perpetrators of this mortgage fraud stole the life savings of decent Californians,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It’s too common a story with all-too-common tactics. I hope today’s arrests and indictments break the stride of those who prey on hard working Americans and betray their trust. This case demonstrates the potency of multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agencies collaborating to fight fraud.”

These individuals are alleged to have played a role in this scheme by promising distressed homeowners new financing only to turn around and deliver bad credit. These actions not only cost the government sponsored enterprises and financial institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they harmed consumers who were trying to do the right thing. FHFA-OIG thanks its law enforcement partners for their efforts,” said Rene Febles, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations for the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of the Inspector General.

This case is evidence that insurance fraud is not a victimless crime,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “These suspects allegedly deceived dozens of victims to the tune of over $2 million, leaving them uninsured and at great financial risk. Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners, we were able to work together to unravel this case and stop this criminal enterprise.”

Two of defendants, Jemal Lilly and Mark Bellinger were arrested on January 30, 2018; they pled not guilty at their arraignments on February 2 and February 13, 2018. Defendants Andrew Valles and Arnold Millman have not been arrested and are currently at large and out of custody.

The arrests were the product of a joint investigation by the California Department of Justice, the California Department of Insurance, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of the Inspector General (FHFA-OIG). The United States Trustee Program assisted in providing a grand jury witness.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting Californians from criminal fraudsters. If you are a homeowner who believes you may have been targeted by SafeCare, please contact the California Department of Justice. For those located in California, please call: 1-800-952-5225. For those located outside of California, please call: 1-916-322-3360.

It is important to note that a criminal indictment contains charges that must be proven in a court of law. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Maria Santa, 41, Sacramento, California, was sentenced today to one year and one day in prison for failing to surrender for service of her sentence.

According to court documents, Maria Santa was previously sentenced to 20 months in prison for mortgage fraud and was ordered to begin serving her sentence in February 2014. When her motion for bail pending appeal was denied, she fled the jurisdiction and left a note at her residence that made it appear that she had committed suicide.

On August 26, 2016, Maria Santa was arrested in Sacramento, California as a passenger in a vehicle her husband Virgil Santa was driving. She was found in possession of an identification document belonging to her twin sister.

Virgil Santa, 43, Sacramento, California is charged with harboring a fugitive in relation to Maria Santa’s offense. The charge is only an allegation, he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller ordered today’s sentence to be served consecutive to Santa’s original sentence.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jared C. Dolan and Amanda Beck are prosecuting the case.

 

Abolghasseni “Abe” Alizadeh, 59, Granite Bay, California, pleaded guilty  to wire fraud, bank fraud and making false statements to a federally insured financial institution.

According to court documents, Alizadeh, a Sacramento-area commercial real estate developer, restaurateur and owner of Kobra Properties, came up with a scheme to fraudulently purchase land that he planned to develop. Banks usually loan up to 60–65 percent of the loan-to-value ratio (LTV) on undeveloped commercial property. (LTV ratio is the comparison between the amount of the loan and the value of the property.) To circumvent the banks and fraudulently get a higher level of financing, Alizadeh submitted altered purchase contracts to the banks that greatly inflated the purported purchase price. The banks, which competed for Alizadeh’s business, were unaware that the purchase prices were inflated and sometimes loaned well in excess of the loan-to-value ratio. By concealing the true purchase price from the banks, Alizadeh received substantial amounts of cash, sometimes millions of dollars, at the close of escrow and avoided making the full down payment or, in some instances, any down payment.

Alizadeh was assisted in this scheme by co-defendant Mary Sue Weaver, 64, currently of Scottsdale, Arizona and formerly of Lincoln, California, who was employed at a local title company. According to the plea agreement, Alizadeh would write checks for the down payment, but because he lacked funds to cover the checks, he would call Weaver and ask her to delay depositing the checks until after escrow closed. Once escrow closed, Weaver disbursed funds from the title company’s escrow trust account to Kobra Properties. Kobra Properties then used those funds to cover its down payment and other costs. In this way, it appeared as though Alizadeh was making a substantial down payment when in fact he was not.

On April 29, 2005, Alizadeh submitted a fraudulent purchase contract to Central Pacific Bank, which induced the bank to lend him nearly $4 million for the purchase of 10.3 acres of property. This loan represented over 96 percent loan-to-value ratio. Similarly, on October 21, 2005, Alizadeh received over $22 million in funding and loans to purchase the Turtle Island property, when in actuality, the original purchase price was $10 million. In March 2006, Alizadeh also falsely claimed to Bank of Sacramento that he was paying $36 per square foot for a piece of property where he intended to build a TGI Friday’s restaurant. In reality, Alizadeh was paying only $21 per square foot. This resulted in a $650,000 inflation of the true purchase price. Alizadeh’s entire scheme, involving no fewer than six properties in the Sacramento area, resulted in a loss to various financial institutions of over $22 million.

Alizadeh is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on March 30, 2018. Co-defendant Weaver pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud on December 15, 2017, and is scheduled for sentencing on March 23, 2018. Alizadeh and Weaver face a maximum statutory penalty of thirty years in prison on each count and a $1 million fine.

U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced the plea. The case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Anderson and Heiko P. Coppola are prosecuting the case.

Sergio Roman Barrientos, 64, Poway, California pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud.

According to court documents, from about September 2004 through February 2008, Barrientos and co-conspirators Zalathiel Aguila and Omar Anabo operated an entity named Capital Access LLC, in Vallejo, California. They preyed on homeowners nearing foreclosure, convinced them to sign away title in their homes, spent any equity those homeowners had saved, and used straw buyers to defraud federally insured financial institutions out of millions of dollars in home loans obtained under false pretenses. The equity stripped from the distressed homeowners’ properties was then used for operational expenses of the scheme and personal expenses of Barrientos and his coconspirators. Vulnerable homeowners across California lost their homes and savings as a result of the scheme, and lenders lost an estimated $10.47 million from the fraud.

Co-defendant Zalathiel Aguila remains out of custody awaiting trial. Omar Anabo, charged elsewhere, is set for sentencing on April 27.

Barrientos is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on April 6, 2018. Barrientos faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott. The case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew M. Yelovich and Todd A. Pickles are prosecuting the case.

Michael Paul Paquette, 34, San Juan Capistrano, California; Allan Jessie Chance, 34, Temecula, California; and Dennis Edward Lake, 59, Costa Mesa, California, were indicted on federal mail fraud charges that allege they solicited homeowners on the verge of foreclosure with bogus promises of loan modifications with interest rates as low as 2 percent.

The three men were arrested pursuant to an eight-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on December 20, 2017

Paquette, Chance and Lake were arraigned on the indictment in United States District Court, where they all entered not guilty pleas and were ordered to stand trial on March 6, 2018. All three defendants were released on $15,000 bonds.

According to the indictment, Paquette and Chance operated under aliases and told distressed homeowners that they worked for the Laguna Hills-based HAMP Services – which sounded similar to the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), a legitimate government program which permanently reduced mortgage payments to affordable levels for qualifying buyers.

Paquette and Chance told victims that they were approved for a government-affiliated loan modification, but they needed to make three “trial payments” before the loan would be modified, according to the indictment. They also falsely told the victims that their money would be held in a trust or escrow account. Chance falsely claimed that he had experience in getting home loans modified because he had worked at Bank of America.

After victims began making “trial payments,” their files were referred to Lake, who ran a Newport Beach-based business called JD United. The indictment alleges that Lake and his employees told victims that they were working on loan modifications, furthering hope that the loan modifications promised by Paquette and Chance were coming and that there was no need to contact law enforcement about the “trial payments” that had been paid.

When being pitched on the loan modification service, the victims were never told that $800 of the “trial payments” went to JD United, and that Paquette and Chance received commission payments taken directly from the accounts where the “trial payments” were deposited. The indictment further alleges that none of the victim money went to the lenders or a government agency for a loan modification.

Investigators believe that over 500 victims nationwide paid at least $2.5 million dollars to the defendants and others in “trial payments.”

The scheme allegedly ran from the beginning of 2014 through April 2015.  Paquette and others originally started soliciting victims claiming that they worked for Hope Services. After victims made many complaints about Hope Services, new victims were solicited using the name HAMP Services starting in late 2014.

Two other defendants involved in the scheme have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are pending sentencing.

Paquette, Chance, and Lake are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Additionally, Paquette is charged in three substantive mail fraud counts, Chance in four mail fraud counts, and Lake in six mail fraud counts. If they were to be convicted, each defendant would face a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for each count.

The case against Paquette, Chance and Lake is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP). The Federal Trade Commission provided substantial assistance.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Vibhav Mittal of the Santa Ana Branch Office.

Jamie Matsuba, 33, Chatsworth, California and her father, Thomas Matsuba, 67, Chatsworth, California, managers of foreclosure rescue companies, were both convicted today for their roles in a foreclosure rescue scheme.

They were convicted after a one-week trial of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements to federally insured banks and committing identity theft. In addition, both defendants were convicted of one count of making false statements to federally insured banks.

According to evidence presented at trial, from January 2005 to August 2014, Jamie Matsuba, Thomas Matsuba and others engaged in a scheme to defraud financially distressed homeowners by offering to prevent foreclosure on their properties through short sales. Instead, the conspirators rented out the properties to third parties, did not pay the mortgages on the properties, and submitted false and fraudulent documents to mortgage lenders and servicers to delay foreclosure. The evidence further established that the conspirators obtained mortgages in the names of stolen identities. In addition, the defendants used additional tactics, including filing bankruptcy in the names of distressed homeowners without their knowledge and fabricating liens on the distressed properties, the evidence showed.

Sentencing has been scheduled for May 14, 2018 at 10 a.m., before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who presided over the trial.

Three other defendants have been charged in this matter. Defendant Dorothy Matsuba, 66, Chatsworth, California, who is the mother of Jamie Matsuba and wife of Thomas Matsuba, and her daughter, Jane Matsuba-Garcia, 41, Camarillo, California, previously pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Defendant Young Park, Los Angeles, California, is a fugitive. In addition, in related cases, Jason Hong, 36, Chatsworth, California and Ryu Goeku, 47, Canoga Park, California, previously pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Jamie+Matsuba

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director in Charge Paul D. Delacourt of the FBI’s Los Angeles Division, Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Los Angeles Field Office, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Rene Febles of the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG), and Sheriff Jim McDonnell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department made the announcement.

This case was investigated by the FBI, IRS-CI, FHFA-OIG and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Trial Attorney Niall M. O’Donnell, Senior Litigation Counsel David A. Bybee and Trial Attorney Jennifer L. Farer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. Senior Trial Attorney Nicholas Acker previously worked on the

Individuals who believe that they may be a victim in this case should visit the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness website for more information.