Archives For Escrow Fraud

Christopher Castle, 57, formerly of Petaluma, California was found guilty on Monday of 35 counts in a bank fraud scheme that sought to fraudulently eliminate home mortgages and then profit on the subsequent home sales.

According to court documents, between April 22, 2010, and November 18, 2011, Castle was the leader of a conspiracy that ran a “mortgage elimination program” that purported to help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure. The conspirators fraudulently altered the chain of title on residential properties, sold the properties, and received the sales proceeds.

As a requirement for participation in the “mortgage elimination program,” the conspirators enrolled homeowners as members in a Nevada City-based church named Shon-te-East-a, Walks With Spirit, or its successor entity Pillow Foundation. The conspirators told the homeowners that these entities would offer protection against the banks.

Castle directed other co-conspirators in all aspects of the mortgage elimination program, including recruiting homeowners into the scheme, marshaling the necessary recorded documents, and guiding the homes through sale. Once the homeowner enrolled with Shon-te-East-a or Pillow Foundation, Castle would cause a sham deed of trust to be created and recorded, giving the impression that the homeowner had refinanced the mortgage loan with a new lender. In reality, the new lender was a fake entity controlled by the conspirators, and the homeowner owed no money to the purported new lender.

The next step in the process was also a recorded document. The conspirators caused a fake deed of reconveyance to be recorded, giving the appearance that the true mortgage loan had been discharged and that the true lienholder no longer had a security interest in the home.

With title appearing to be clear, the conspirators caused the sale of the home and split the proceeds between the co-conspirators and the homeowners.

In total, 37 properties were sold through the Shon-te-East-a conspiracy. The conspirators recorded fraudulent documents on an additional approximately 100 homes but were unable to sell these before the scheme unraveled.

In May 2020, Castle was extradited to the United States from Australia. Castle had fled to New Zealand and then Australia in 2011 when it became clear that his scheme was unraveling. After a three-year extradition process, Castle was transported back to the United States by the U.S. Marshals Service to stand trial in the United States.

The U.S. Marshals Service successfully conducted this extradition during the height of the pandemic,” said Acting U.S. Marshal Lasha R. Boyden for the Eastern District of California. “To minimize exposure, the extradition was conducted expeditiously with minimal time on the ground. All safety precautions were implemented, and Mr. Castle was extradited back to the United States without incident.

This was the first jury trial in the Eastern District of California since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert made the announcement.

Castle decided to game the system so that he could profit in the midst of the then looming financial crisis, to which his actions contributed,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Talbert. “We are gratified by the jury’s verdict for this significant fraud scheme.

Mortgage fraud is not a victimless crime. Identifying and investigating those who abuse the system for their own personal gain ensures the mortgage system is safer and fairer for everyone. The FBI affirms our commitment to pursuing those who leverage false statements made to financial institutions to enrich themselves while threatening the stability of the banking system and taking advantage of distressed homeowners desperate to retain their homes or start anew without significant losses,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “We thank our domestic and international law enforcement partners for their continued efforts to ensure fugitives will face justice regardless of the distance traveled or time that has elapsed.”

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Audrey B. Hemesath and Tanya B. Syed are prosecuting the case.

Three other co-defendants have previously entered guilty pleas. On April 21, 2017, Remus A. Kirkpatrick, formerly of Oceanside, California pleaded guilty to one count of falsely making writings of lending associations. On May 26, 2017, Michael Romano, Benicia, California pleaded guilty to conspiracy. On July 14, 2017, Laura Pezzi, Roseville, California pleaded guilty to falsely making writings of lending associations.

In related cases, on September 4, 2015, Tisha Trites and Todd Smith, both of San Diego, California pleaded guilty to related charges.

Two other co-defendants, George B. Larsen and Larry Todt, were convicted of conspiracy and bank fraud following a jury trial in December 2017.

Co-defendant John Michael DiChiara passed away on Aug. 24, 2019, while awaiting trial.

Castle is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. on October 28, 2021, at which time he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine for bank fraud, 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for falsely making documents of a lending association, and five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy. 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.

Tammy Hamrin, formerly known as Tammy A. Cheek, 58, Virginia Beach, Virginia, the former president of an escrow and title company was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for misappropriating $715,000 of closing funds in connection with 48 real estate transactions for which she served as the settlement agent.

According to court documents, Hamrin was a licensed title and settlement agent and was the president, secretary, and treasurer of Preferred Escrow and Title, Inc. During 48 real estate transactions between January 2018 and approximately February 2018, Hamrin misappropriated $715,000 of closing funds that had been deposited by various lenders and individual buyers into the company’s escrow account. She did so by making seven unauthorized wire transfers of funds from the escrow account to certain entities at the request of a person with whom Hamrin had an online personal relationship.

During this period, Hamrin partially replenished the funds that she had misappropriated by depositing approximately $199,000 of her own money into the escrow account, resulting in a remaining shortage of approximately $516,000. As a result, all 48 closings were affected. Among others, losses were sustained by sellers, buyers, business entities, financial institutions, various lienholders, municipal clerks of court and treasurer offices, and a title insurance company.

Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Salsbury prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:21-cr-2.

Ronald J. Mccord, 70, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma pleaded guilty yesterday to defrauding two locally-based banks, Fannie Mae, and others through a broad range of fraudulent conduct over the course of three years.

McCord was the Chairman and founder of First Mortgage Company, LLC (“FMC”), an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma based mortgage lending and loan servicing company.

According to court documents and yesterday’s plea hearing, McCord admitted to defrauding Spirit Bank (“Spirit”) and Citizens State Bank (“Citizens”)—two state-chartered financial institutions—as well as their respective residential mortgage subsidiaries, American Southwest Mortgage Corporation (“Mortgage Corp.”) and American Southwest Mortgage Funding Corporation (“Funding Corp.”).  An independent audit discovered that McCord had sold more than $14,100,000.00 in Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp. loans “out of trust” by failing to repay Spirit/Mortgage Corp. when certain Spirit/Mortgage Corp.-initiated loans were refinanced or otherwise paid off.  At the time of this discovery, FMC carried outstanding balances of about $200,000,000.00 and $140,000,000.00 on the Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp. lines of credit, respectively.

Upon learning of McCord’s conduct, Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp. terminated future warehouse lending to FMC, and instituted new notification requirements that required McCord to assign FMC-funded mortgages to Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp., to ensure the title companies handling those mortgages sent payoffs directly to the banks.  McCord admitted at yesterday’s plea hearing that he filed the assignments as required, but then caused the mortgages to be released on two properties—in Leland and Denver, North Carolina—after collecting the mortgage payoffs.

Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp.’s refusal to fund new FMC mortgages prompted McCord to seek out a new warehouse lender.  In early 2017, McCord began negotiating with CapLOC, LLC, a North Carolina-based mortgage lending business, and offered to sell FMC’s mortgage lending business in exchange for quick funding from CapLOC.  At yesterday’s plea hearing, McCord admitted that he made a materially false statement and representation to CapLOC in the course of those negotiations, in order to influence CapLOC’s actions.

Finally, in 2017, FMC serviced approximately 12,000 loans worth a total of approximately $1,800,000,000.00 for the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”).  McCord admitted at the plea hearing that he defrauded Fannie Mae by diverting escrow monies intended to pay homeowners’ taxes and insurance premiums to cover FMC’s operating expenses.  McCord also admitted that he then laundered the proceeds by causing a wire transfer from FMC’s operating account to a custom home builder, as payment towards construction of McCord’s home in Colorado.

At sentencing, which is currently scheduled for August 9, 2021, McCord faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000.00 on each count of bank fraud and false statement to a financial institution.  He also faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine on the money laundering count.  Per the terms of his plea agreement, the government agreed not to advocate at sentencing for a sentence above 104 months.  Under the plea agreement, McCord will be ordered to pay restitution to the victims of his conduct in amounts to be determined by the court at the time of sentencing.  McCord must also forfeit proceeds of the fraudulent schemes and property involved in the offenses.  Further, as part of the plea agreement, the government will dismiss at sentencing the remaining counts of the Indictment.

On June 3, 2020, a grand jury returned a 24-count Indictment against McCord.  The charges included bank fraud, money laundering, and making a false statement to a financial institution.

The announcement was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester.

This case is the result of investigations by the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of the Inspector General, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia E. Barry is prosecuting the case.

Reference is made to court filings for further information.

 

Stephen Sharkey, 51, Swedesboro, New Jersey, was sentenced to four years and one month in prison, three years of supervised release, for stealing down payments for homes from two different families.

In September 2020, the defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft and, one count of money laundering in connection with three brazen and predatory frauds which greatly harmed innocent victims and netted the defendant more than $385,000. Sharkey engaged in two mortgage-closing schemes to defraud potential home buyers – stealing money that the victims had intended to use to purchase residences for themselves and their families. In the third scheme, the defendant stole all of the proceeds of the sale of a house by secretly going to closing without telling the seller.

Sharkey and his associate, Antonio Ambrosio, convinced their victims to provide Sharkey with the down payment funds in advance of the dates set for the real estate closings, with the promise that Sharkey would provide full financing for the purchases. Rather than finance the deals, Sharkey and Ambrosio simply stole the down payment money supplied by the victims and made excuses when the deals did not close. As part of the scam, Sharkey and Ambrosio even defrauded Ambrosio’s own brother-in-law out of $208,000. After receiving this money, Sharkey immediately cut checks to ARMM Investments, LLC, a company owned by George Borgesi. Borgesi and Sharkey were both convicted in United States v. Merlino, et al., 99 CR 363, an early 2000s RICO case in which the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra was named as the enterprise. Borgesi was named as a capo of the Philadelphia LCN in that Indictment, and Sharkey was identified as a bookmaker for the mob.

After Sharkey and Ambrosio stole the down payment from Ambrosio’s brother-in-law, they proceeded to lure a second victim to use Sharkey to finance his mortgage, and the victim wired Sharkey $100,000, which Sharkey promptly converted to his own use. The deal for this property fell through, but Sharkey and Ambrosio induced the victim to send the seller an extra $25,000 to hold the deal open, claiming Sharkey would get the deal done. The victim sent the seller the $25,000, but Sharkey had already disposed of the earlier $100,000 and the deal never closed.

Finally, in the real estate fraud perpetrated on the seller victim, Sharkey promised the victim that Sharkey would sell the house belonging to the estate of the victim’s deceased parents and, after going to a closing the victim knew nothing about, Sharkey deposited all of the proceeds of the sale into his own bank account, stealing over $52,000 from the victim in the process.

Sharkey was ordered to pay $296,000 restitution and to forfeit the same amount of money.

Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams made the announcement.

Sharkey’s greed impacted the lives and security of multiple families, and his shameful actions had severe consequences for these innocent people,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “Not only did he and his associate steal mortgage down payments, but he also sold a different family’s house right out from underneath them and pocketed all of the cash. For his actions, he will now spend years in prison.

Real estate fraud was just the latest racket for Stephen Sharkey,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “He blatantly preyed on innocent victims here, destroying two families’ plans of buying homes and stealing a third person’s inherited property. A chunk of these fraudulent proceeds was diverted to a longtime Philadelphia mob figure, underscoring Sharkey’s continued association with organized crime. The FBI and our partners are going to keep investigating and locking up those committed to making money through illicit means.”     

This investigation once again reveals how members and associates of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra Organized Crime Family are constantly looking to make illicit financial gains by infiltrating legitimate business or exploiting regulatory rules as well as federal and state laws,” said Brandon Corby, Eastern Organized Crime Task Force Commander, Pennsylvania State Police. “The Pennsylvania State Police with our FBI partners are committed to eradicating this type of criminal behavior and hold those engaged in such activities accountable.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Organized Crime Task Force and the Pennsylvania State Police, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael T

 

Adolfo Schoneke, 43, Torrance, California and his sister, Bianca Gonzalez, a.k.a. Blanca Schoneke, 38, Walnut, California, a brother-and-sister team were arrested today on federal charges alleging they orchestrated a $6 million real estate fraud scam in which they listed homes without the owners’ consent and collected money from multiple would-be buyers for each of the not-for-sale homes.

According to the indictment, Schoneke and Gonzalez, with the help of co-conspirators, operated real estate and escrow companies based in Cerritos, La Palma and Long Beach, California under a variety of names, including MCR and West Coast. The indictment alleges Schoneke and Gonzalez found properties that they would list for sale – even though many, in fact, were not for sale, and they did not have authority to list them for sale – and they then marketed the properties as short sales providing opportunities for purchases at below-market prices.

Using other people’s broker’s licenses, Schoneke and Gonzalez allegedly listed the properties on real estate websites such as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). In some cases, the indictment alleges, the homes were marketed through open houses that co-conspirators were able to host after tricking homeowners into allowing their homes to be used.

As part of the alleged scheme, the co-conspirators accepted multiple offers for each of the not-for-sale properties, hiding this fact from the victims and instead leading each of the victims to believe that his or her offer was the only one accepted. The co-conspirators allegedly were able to string along the victims – sometimes for years – by telling them closings were being delayed because lenders needed to approve the purported short sales.

The indictment also alleges that Schoneke and Gonzalez directed office workers to open bank accounts in the office workers’ names. Those accounts were used to receive down payments on the homes and other payments from victims who were convinced to transfer the full “purchase price” to these bank accounts after receiving forged short sale approval letters. Schoneke and Gonzalez also allegedly directed the office workers to withdraw large amounts of cash from these accounts and give it to them – a procedure that allowed Schoneke and Gonzalez to take possession of the fraud proceeds while hiding their involvement in the scheme.

Investigators estimate that several hundred victims collectively lost more than $6 million during the scheme.

Each pleaded not guilty this afternoon to nine charges contained in an indictment unsealed after their arrests. The indictment charges Schoneke and Gonzalez with one count of conspiracy, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

During the arraignments this afternoon, a trial was scheduled for June 1, 2021. Both defendants will remain in custody at least until detention hearings scheduled for Friday for Schoneke and April 13, 2021 for Gonzalez.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted of all charges, Schoneke and Gonzalez each would face a statutory maximum sentence of 162 years in federal prison.

This matter was investigated by the FBI and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General. The investigation was initiated by numerous complaints to the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, both of which provided substantial assistance during the federal investigation.

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

Robert Pena, 69, the president and founder of a Falmouth mortgage company was sentenced yesterday in connection with defrauding the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) out of approximately $2.5 million.

The charges arise out of Pena’s scheme to defraud Ginnie Mae, a government-run corporation charged with making housing more affordable by injecting capital into the U.S. housing market. Ginnie Mae, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), guarantees the timely payment of principal and interest to investors in bonds backed by government-sponsored mortgage loans, such as those offered by the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

MSI contracted with Ginnie Mae to pool eligible residential mortgage loans and then sell Ginnie Mae-backed mortgage bonds to investors. MSI was responsible for servicing the loans in the pools it created, including collecting principal and interest payments from borrowers, as well as loan payoffs, and placing those funds into accounts held in trust by Ginnie Mae, which would ultimately pass them along to investors. Among other things, Ginnie Mae required issuers like MSI to provide regular reports to Ginnie Mae concerning the status of the loans in the pools.

Beginning in 2011, Pena began diverting money that borrowers were sending to MSI.  Specifically, Pena deposited high-dollar, loan-payoff checks into bank accounts unknown to Ginnie Mae and then used those funds for personal and business expenses. Pena also diverted borrowers’ escrow funds and mortgage-insurance premiums for his own use. In total, Pena took approximately $2.5 million, which Ginnie Mae then had to pay to investors whose investments it had guaranteed. Pena also attempted to cover up his scheme by providing false reports to Ginnie Mae about the status of the loans MSI was servicing. These false reports made it appear that the loans were still in repayment.

Pena’s co-conspirator, Gilda Andrade, who worked for Pena at MSI and helped Pena file false reports with Ginnie Mae, cooperated with the government’s investigation. Andrade pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making a false statement to HUD in December 2017, and was previously sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay $108,240 in restitution to Ginnie Mae.

Pena was sentenced to 32 months in prison, two years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution to Ginnie Mae. In October 2017, Pena pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Regional Office; and Joseph Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. The U.S. Attorney’s Office wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General; and the Falmouth Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian M. LaMacchia prosecuted the case.

Constantine Giannakos, 51, Hicksville, New York, a disbarred attorney, pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing $40,000 from a Hicksville couple selling their home.

In early 2017, a Hicksville homeowner and her ex-husband hired the defendant to represent them in the sale of their home. The complainants and their home purchasers entered a sales contract on February 4, 2017.

At the time of the contract signing, the buyers’ attorney provided a $40,000 down payment check made out to ‘Constantine Giannakos, as attorney’ that was deposited into Giannakos’ escrow account and held there until the closing.

Between February 4, 2017 and the scheduled closing date of September 27, 2017, the defendant and one of the complainants met at public locations including a Dunkin’ Donuts on Newbridge Road in Hicksville. The defendant claimed he had an office in Syosset, New York but in fact, did not.

Following the closing on September 27, 2017 the defendant was supposed to remit the $40,000 down payment to his clients but never did so. The complainants made several subsequent requests for the money via phone and text messages but never received the money.

The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office received the case on October 24, 2017, after receiving a complaint from the homeowners. A review of the escrow account showed Giannakos spent the $40,000 at Home Depot, on credit card payments, department stores, mortgage payments, and unrelated business expenses.

Giannakos pled guilty to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a D felony) before Judge Robert Bogle. If the defendant provides $40,000 restitution at the time of sentence on May 10, 2019 he is expected to be sentenced to five years’ probation; however, if the defendant does not pay restitution, he is expected to be sentenced to one to three years in prison.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas made the announcement.

Instead of faithfully representing his clients, this defendant stole $40,000 from them and spent it at the Home Depot and on personal credit card payments,” DA Singas said. “When an attorney abuses their client’s trust and steals from them, my office will hold them accountable for their crimes.”

Giannakos was disbarred for another matter on August 21, 2012.

Since 2012, the NCDA has prosecuted more than 20 attorneys for misconduct.

If you believe you may have been a victim of an unscrupulous attorney, please call the NCDA’s Tip Line at 516-571-7755. Anyone interested in hiring an attorney is encouraged to check that person’s standing and registration with the Office of Court Administration.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Contreras of DA Singas’ Financial Crimes Bureau is handling this case. Eric Franz, Esq. represents the defendant.

 

Christopher B.  Pitts, 48, Georgia, who was previously a practicing attorney in Montgomery, Alabama, received a 37-month sentence on November 6, 2018 for devising a scheme to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution.

According to court documents, between 2005 and 2008, Pitts served as a closing attorney for the sales of all homes owned by HUD in northern and central Alabama.  As the closing attorney, it was Pitts’ job to receive purchase money, pay closing costs, and transmit to HUD the remaining purchase money.  As Pitts admitted when he pleaded guilty, on numerous occasions, he did not actually remit payments to HUD.  As a result of Pitts’ fraud, HUD never received the money it was owed for the sale of HUD-owned houses.

United States District Judge L. Scott Coogler sentenced Pitts after he pleaded guilty to defrauding the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Coogler found that Pitts was responsible for causing a total loss to HUD of $1,090,888.53.  The judge ordered that Pitts make full restitution to HUD upon his release from prison.

This case was investigated by HUD’s Office of Inspector General.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan S. Ross prosecuted the case.

 

Eric Granitur, 60, Vero Beach, Florida, an attorney, George Heaton, 75, West Palm Beach, Florida, a property developer and Stephen McKenzie, 46, Melbourne, Florida, a condominium buyer were sentenced today to prison for participating in a criminal conspiracy and making false statements to a federally insured institution.

According to the court record, in 2009, Eric Granitur owned and operated Live Oak Title, which conducted two real estate closings for the purchase of five condominiums at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa.  The seller and developer of the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, George Heaton paid numerous incentives to buyer Stephen McKenzie to purchase the condominiums.  Heaton agreed to pay the “cash-to-close” amount that the buyer McKenzie was expected to bring to closing, and nearly $380,000 in additional cash after closing.

Granitur’s title company, Live Oak Title, conducted the closings for the sales of the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa condominium units sold to buyer McKenzie.  As an escrow agent, Granitur was required to truthfully and accurately prepare and distribute a settlement statement to the financial institutions, known as a “HUD-1,” in preliminary form for review by the financial institution, prior to the closing of escrow.   The closing statement was required to accurately reflect, among other information, the sales price, the closing funds provided by the borrower and all of the seller’s contributions.  As an escrow agent, Granitur was responsible for receiving and holding in trust, in an escrow account, the mortgage loan proceeds from the financial institutions that financed the purchase of the condominium units, and he was responsible for disbursing those loan proceeds only after final approval by the financial institutions.

On two occasions, involving Vero Beach Hotel and Club condo units sold by Heaton to McKenzie, Granitur knowingly caused a false closing statement to be transmitted to a federally insured financial institution.  The HUD-1 closing statements failed to truthfully disclose seller credits and incentives.  Additionally, the closing statements failed to disclose that the seller was paying the buyer’s “cash-to-close.”  The financial institutions relied upon the closing statement in authorizing the release of funds.

U.S. District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg sentenced Granitur, Heaton and McKenzie to prison today.

Granitur was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison, to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.  He was ordered to forfeit approximately $28,000.

Heaton, who pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government, was sentenced to 6 months in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and forfeited approximately $263,000.

McKenzie, who pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government, was sentenced to 4 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release.

Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; and Edwin Bonano, Special Agent in Charge, Tampa, Florida, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG) made the announcement.

Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and FHFA-OIG in this matter.  This case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph A. Capone and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel E. Funk.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

 

Lori Lynn Andrew, 49, Cashmere, Washington, the owner of Hartman Escrow, Inc., a real estate escrow firm was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for bank fraud.

Andrew stole more than $2.1 million through a variety of techniques, including making false entries in escrow closing documents, altering accounting records, and depositing checks into the general account instead of the trust account.

According to records in the case, beginning in about January 2011, and continuing until July 2012, Andrew used a variety of means to defraud financial institutions and individual home buyers and sellers who were involved in various real estate transactions.  Andrew made, or had others make, false settlement statements on closing transactions listing false or inflated fees and charges.  Andrew forged signatures on various statements and created false invoices, statements, and bills; she altered and deposited checks to her company account that should have gone to others; and she took client funds from her trust account and transferred them to her personal account for her own use.  Andrew used the money for casino payments, credit card bills, and other personal expenses.  Andrew defrauded individual customers, as well as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi Bank, Chase, and GMAC.  http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Lori+Lynn+Andrew

In all Andrew defrauded the financial institutions and other customers of $2.185 million.  In July 2012, the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions arranged for a receiver to take over the Tukwila, Washington, escrow company after finding evidence of fraud.  Andrew had her license to act as an escrow agent suspended in 2013, and her license has since been revoked. The receiver was able to recover some funds for unsecured claimants, but just over $1 million is still owed to defrauded clients.

U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes made the announcement.

This defendant chose to victimize people when they were buying or selling a home–often the most important financial transaction of their lives,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.  “Like all real estate escrow agents, the defendant was responsible for ensuring large amounts of money went where they belonged.  When she decided to line her own pockets rather than do her job, she crossed the line and earned the prison sentence that the court imposed today.”

At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said, “Every single time you had an opportunity to change your mind and say ‘this is wrong,’ you kept doing it.

The case was investigated by the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG).

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Hugo Torres. Mr. Torres is a King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor specially designated to prosecute financial fraud cases in federal court.