Archives For Connecticut

Urmila Sri Thakur, also known as Urmila Buddhu-Thakur and Indro Buddhu-Thakur, 72, Wethersfield, Connecticut was charged in a nine-count grand jury indictment with conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering offenses related to a fraudulent debt elimination scheme.

According to court documents, from 2009 to June 2012, Thakur, her former husband, Deowraj “Deo” Buddhu and their daughter, Sunita Buddhu, sold a debt elimination “program” to vulnerable individuals through various businesses, including Paradise Consulting Service, Hema, Inc., and Secured Redemption. In exchange for substantial fees, Deo Buddhu told victims about a little-known government fund that could be used to pay off their mortgages and other debts. In fact, no such fund exists. Buddhu instructed his victims to stop making payments on their mortgages, credit cards and other debts, and to stop paying their property taxes. He also provided his victims with fictitious promissory notes, which he called “bonds,” as well as other frivolous documentation, and advised his victims to use them to pay their debts.

The indictment alleges that Thakur participated in the scheme by signing documents provided to victims as a witness, taking money from victims in exchange for their participation in the purported program, and managing payroll operations for the various businesses used for the purpose of selling and attempting to sell the program to the victims.

The indictment further alleges that, on June 12, 2012, the day after Deo Buddhu’s arrest, Thakur withdrew $75,000 from a certificate of deposit account that contained funds from the scheme. Thakur also obtained several cashier’s checks, including one for $50,000 made payable to Thakur, which she thereafter negotiated using accounts in the name of SDK SYS Solutions and TRK Consulting Services.

The indictment was returned on February 15, 2017. Thakur appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna F. Martinez in Hartford, Connecticut, entered a plea of not guilty to the charges, and was released on a $250,000 bond.

The indictment charges Thakur with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and seven counts of money laundering. If convicted, she faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for the conspiracy count, 20 years for the mail fraud count and 10 years on each count of money laundering.

Deo Buddhu and Sunita Buddhu were previously convicted in Hartford federal court.

Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut announced the indictment. The matter is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John T. Pierpont, Jr. and Liam Brennan.

Timothy W. Burke, also known as “Bill Burke,” “William Burke,” “Kerry Saunders,” “Pat Riley,” “Jim Caldwell,” “Jim Saunders,” “Tom Morrisey,” “Jimmy,” “Phil Burke,” “Phil,” “Burt,” “James Burke,” and “M. Soler,” 65, formerly of Easton, Connecticut, plead guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea in Hartford, Connecticut, to fraud and tax evasion offenses stemming from a long-running fraud scheme that targeted distressed homeowners.

According to court documents and statements made in court, between approximately 2010 and November 2015, Burke engaged in a scheme to defraud individuals, mortgage lenders and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by falsely representing to homeowners who were in, or facing, foreclosure on their homes that he would purchase their homes and pay off their mortgages. The distressed homeowners agreed to sign various documents, including quitclaim deeds, indemnification agreements, management agreements and third party authorization letters, which Burke presented to them on the understanding that, by signing the documents, they would be able to walk away from their homes without the burdens of their mortgage or other costs associated with home ownership. Burke also told homeowners that the process of negotiating with the lenders can take time and that, in the meantime, to ignore any notices regarding foreclosure. After he gained control of these houses, Burke rented out the properties to tenants by advertising the properties on craigslist.com and other means and falsely representing to tenants that Burke owned the property.

Burke or one of his agents then collected rent from tenants, in person, and Burke used the funds for his own benefit. Burke failed to negotiate with the homeowners’ mortgage lender or pay expenses associated with the home, including the homeowner’s mortgages and property taxes, and he failed to pay any rental income he was collecting to the homeowners. Many of the properties Burke purportedly purchased were ultimately foreclosed upon by the mortgage lender.

Burke undertook extensive efforts to disguise his true identity, and hide his criminal past, from his victims through the use of multiple aliases and business entities, and to conceal the sources of and expenditures from his criminal proceeds. Burke has been associated with multiple entities, including Quality Asset Management Services, LLC; Birmingham Investments, LLC; the Birmingham Group of Companies; Saunders Associates; New Haven Investments; Realty Partners Group; Preston Associates II; Landlord Maintenance Services, LLC; Turnkey Construction Services LLC; The Complete Handyman, LLC; and Woodbridge Associates.

In addition, between 1994 and 2012, Burke evaded paying approximately $403,726 in federal taxes.

In 2002, Burke was indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, and equity skimming. Burke subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit both equity skimming and mail fraud, and he was sentenced to 60 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Burke was released from federal custody in approximately August 2007 and began his federal supervised release at that time. One of the special conditions of Burke’s supervised release was that he refrain from employment in the real estate business or mortgage industry. Based on his motion for early termination of his supervised release, the New Jersey federal court terminated his supervised release approximately one year early in August 2009.

Burke pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years, and one count of tax evasion, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years. Judge Shea scheduled sentencing for April 18, 2017.

Burke has been detained since his arrest on November 19, 2015.

The guilty plea was announced by Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut. The matter is being investigated by Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with the critical assistance of the Middletown, Plainville, Easton and Coventry Police Departments, the Connecticut State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David T. Huang and Sarah P. Karwan.

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.

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.

Mehdi Moarefian, also known as “Michael Miller,” 37, Irvine, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to 52 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for participating in an extensive mortgage loan modification scheme. Moarefian also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,390,496.59.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Aria Maleki, Moarefian and others jointly operated a series of California-based companies 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 defendants 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,” “Nation Star Financial,” and “Nation Star Fin Group.”

Maleki presided over the entire structure of this scheme, and Moarefian was a senior member of the sales team. Acting as representatives of the above-named entities, Moarefian and other co-conspirators 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’ companies, 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 the defendants and their co-conspirators 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.

The investigation revealed that the top tier of salesmen, including Moarefian, were paid based on commission and typically earned 45 percent to 50 percent of the final fee, after $750 to $1,000 was taken by Maleki for administrative costs.

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

On February 17, 2016, Moarefian pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Maleki pleaded guilty to the same charge and, on July 18, 2016, 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.

Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, made the announcement. The matter was 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.

Serj Geutssoyan, also known as “Anthony Kirk,” 34, Santa Ana, California was sentenced to 52 months of imprisonment, and Daniel Shiau, also known as “Scott Decker,” 30, Irvine, California, was sentenced to 58 months of imprisonment for their role in an extensive mortgage loan modification scheme. Geutssoyan and Shiau also were ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay restitution in the amount of $2,390,496.59.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Aria Maleki, Geutssoyan, Shiau and others jointly operated a series of California-based companies 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 defendants 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,” “Nation Star Financial,” and “Nation Star Fin Group.”

Maleki presided over the entire structure of this scheme, and Geutssoyan and Shiau were senior members of the sales team. Acting as representatives of the above-named entities, Geutssoyan, Shiau and other co-conspirators 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’ companies, 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 the defendants and their co-conspirators 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.

The investigation revealed that the top tier of salesmen, including Geutssoyan and Shiau, were paid based on commission and typically earned 45 percent to 50 percent of the final fee, after $750 to $1,000 was taken by Maleki for administrative costs.

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

Maleki, Geutssoyan and Shiau each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

On July 18, 2016, Maleki 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 four defendants also have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

The announcement was made by Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut. The sentencing judge was U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Avi M. Perry. The matter is being 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.

 

Aria Maleki, 33, Santa Ana, California, was sentenced to 112 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for heading a mortgage loan modification scheme that defrauded more than 1,000 struggling homeowners across the United States.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Maleki and others jointly operated a series of California-based companies 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 defendants 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,” “Nation Star Financial,” and “Nation Star Fin Group.”

Acting as representatives of these entities, Maleki and his co-conspirators 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 pre-approved 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’ companies, 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 the defendants and their co-conspirators had set up in states other than California.

Maleki presided over the entire structure of this scheme.  As a result, more than 1,000 homeowners suffered losses totaling more than $3 million.

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

On March 22, 2016, Maleki pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.  The other six defendants also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

Maleki has 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.

Maleki was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill who stated that a restitution order will be entered at a later date.

This defendant presided over a scheme that preyed on struggling homeowners in Connecticut and across the United States, falsely offering mortgage relief in exchange for thousands of dollars that the victims clearly could not afford to spend,” said Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut.  “The investigation revealed that the participants in this scheme specifically targeted homeowners who were behind on their mortgage payments, whose homes were ‘under water,’ or who had recently experienced a financial hardship, such as a lost job.  This is an appropriate sentence for a defendant who profited handsomely from such heartless, criminal conduct.  I thank our federal and state law enforcement partners in New England, New Jersey, California and Oklahoma for investigating this matter, shutting down this scam and bringing those responsible to justice.”

This sentence should serve as a strong warning about the consequences awaiting those engaged in large-scale financial fraud,” said Terence Opiola, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Newark.  “The organization identified in this case was responsible for harming countless innocent victims.  Working with its enforcement partners, HSI will continue to aggressively target thieves to ensure the perpetrators face the full weight of the law.”

Aria Maleki took advantage of the national mortgage crisis,” said Shelly A. Binkowski, Postal Inspector in Charge for the Boston Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.  “This sentencing clearly demonstrates that those who target hardworking homeowners in today’s challenging economy will be held accountable and prosecutedThese arrests clearly demonstrate that those who target hardworking homeowners in today’s challenging economy will be held accountable.   I commend the hard work and countless hours put forth by all of the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation.  The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to investigate these crimes to protect consumers and our nation’s mail system from being used for illegal or dangerous purposes.”

Aria Maleki stole millions by lying that his companies had ties to HAMP and could offer relief to homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure,” said Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  “Every single victim was left worse off; many lost thousands of dollars and some, after promised modifications failed to materialize, lost their homes.  Homeowners should be wary of any business charging up-front fees, advertising pre-approval at rates more favorable than industry norms, or offering money-back guarantees.”

Mr. Maleki, along with his opportunistic criminal cohorts, facilitated a scheme to unjustly enrich themselves through the victimization of hardworking and vulnerable homeowners,” said Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge, HUD OIG, Northeast Region.  “The sentencing today is a testament to the unwavering dedication exhibited by law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure a swift dose of justice awaits anyone who engages in this kind of unforgivable deception to our homeowners, HUD’s Federal Housing Administration, and mortgage lending institutions.  I applaud and commend the hard work and long hours put forth by our law enforcement partners.”

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

Mr. Maleki’s fate, based on his involvement in financial fraud, has been sealed by the court,” said Patricia M. Ferrick, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  “We in Connecticut are very thankful of the incredible work done on this case by law enforcement from across the country.”

This matter is being 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.

Victor Cuevas, 52, Bristol, Connecticut, was charged by information and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in New Haven, Connecticut, to conspiring with others to commit bank fraud in connection with his home mortgage loan applications.

According to court documents and statements made in court, in the summer of 2013, Cuevas, a City of Waterbury employee and, at that time, the elected state representative for the 75th assembly District to the State of Connecticut General Assembly, wanted to purchase a residence at 13 Jefferson Avenue, Bristol, Connecticut with an FHA loan.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides mortgage insurance on loans made through its FHA program and mortgages offered through the program are subject to certain restrictions, including restrictions on the funds that may be used to purchase properties.

Cuevas, with the assistance of others, represented to the mortgage bank that he was using gifted funds to purchase the property when, in fact, the money was not gifted but was instead loaned to Cuevas for the purpose of purchasing the property.

Specifically, Cuevas first represented to the mortgage bank that an individual who he identified as his nephew but, in fact, was a subordinate employee from the City of Waterbury, was providing him with cash to purchase the property as a gift.  When the mortgage lender asked for the “nephew’s” bank account statements to prove that he had the money to gift to Cuevas, Cuevas withdrew the mortgage application.  A few weeks later, Cuevas had a different Waterbury employee, who Cuevas identified as his “cousin,” “gift” him the $7,000.  Both individuals signed a HUD statement under oath that the funds were, indeed, a “gift” and that no repayment of the monies was expected.  However, as soon as the mortgage closed, Cuevas re-paid the employee the $7,000.

Cuevas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.  Judge Meyer scheduled sentencing for September 21, 2016.

Cuevas resigned from the Connecticut General Assembly in March 2016.

The matter is being investigated by the Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force, notably the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Task Force also includes members from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Karwan.

Ryan Geddes, 44, Litchfield, Connecticut was sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for participating in multiple conspiracies involving a series of real estate transactions intended to shield assets from creditors.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Geddes had accrued a series of debts as of late 2005, and was the subject of various lawsuits and collection efforts for the next several years.  A bank fraud conspiracy commenced in November 2005 when Geddes sold a lakefront home located at 27 Palmer Road, Morris Connecticut to Thomas Provenzano.  Lacking the funds to qualify for the $923,000 mortgage, Provenzano nonetheless obtained the loan based on an application that falsely listed his income as $20,000 per month, or $240,000 annually, and falsely listed Provenzano as having worked for several years as the Operations Manager for one of Geddes’s construction companies.  Provenzano had not worked in that capacity, and had earned substantially less.  The loan application also listed Geddes’s company as having verified Provenzano’s employment.  In November 2006, Provenzano refinanced the loan, obtaining a $936,000 mortgage from a federally insured bank.  The new loan application, like the prior one, falsely listed Provenzano as employed by Geddes’s construction company, and falsely listed his monthly income as $28,000, or $336,000 annually.  The application again listed Geddes’s company as having verified Provenzano’s employment.  The loan is now in default, and the 27 Palmer Road property is in foreclosure. Continue Reading…