Archives For Fake Deeds

Jacqueline Graham, 53, formerly of Levittown, Pennsylvania was convicted at trial on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, of participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud in connection with a fraudulent debt-elimination scheme to defraud homeowners and banks.

According to the Indictment in the case and the evidence presented at trial:

From at least 2011 to at least 2012, Graham partnered with Bruce Lewis, 67, formerly of Alaska and Washington State and John Ruzza in operating the Valhalla, New York-based Terra Foundation (“Terra”) ,which was originally known as the Pillow Foundation, which held itself out as a business that would investigate and eliminate mortgage loans in exchange for fees, soliciting clients who were having difficulties making their mortgage payments.  In fact, however, Terra engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud clients, county clerks’ offices, and banks.

The fraudulent scheme, which was created by Graham and Lewis, involved Terra performing “audits” of clients’ mortgages, sending pseudo-legal paperwork to the banks and/or lenders holding the mortgages, and ultimately filing purported mortgage discharges with the relevant county clerks’ offices, which discharges were signed by Lewis or other co-conspirators, claiming falsely to represent the banks and/or mortgage lenders.  As a result, anyone doing a title search for one of Terra’s clients would see that the client’s mortgage had been satisfied.  The mortgages had not, however, been discharged, and the mortgages were eventually reinstated, after the clients paid their fees.

In order to effectuate the scheme, Graham, Lewis, and Ruzza involved others, including Rocco Cermele, 56, Yonkers, New York , who was Terra’s director of operations and who recruited clients, among other duties; Paula Guadagno, who did real estate title work for, and filed discharges on behalf of, Terra; and Anthony Vigna, 61, Thornwood, New York,  a lawyer and CPA who worked in Terra’s offices.

To profit from their scheme, Graham and her co-conspirators charged various fees to Terra’s clients.

In total, Graham and her co-conspirators filed over 60 fraudulent discharges in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York, and in Connecticut.  The fraudulent discharges claimed to discharge mortgages with a total loan principal of nearly $38 million.

Graham was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud.  The count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Lewis pled guilty to one count of wire fraud relating to the Terra scheme, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Vigna pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud relating to the Terra scheme, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Cermele pled guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and bank fraud, and one count of wire fraud, each relating to the Terra scheme, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison, and three additional counts of wire fraud relating to other crimes, each of which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

Graham was found guilty of the one count she faced after a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Román.

The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the court.

All defendants are awaiting sentencing.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made the announcement.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Jacqueline Graham preyed on vulnerable homeowners who could not afford their mortgage payments during a time of crisis in the housing market.  Because of her greed, these homeowners ended up financially worse off than when they found her.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who victimize the vulnerable.”

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Mr. Berman also thanked the Office of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their assistance in the case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys David Felton, Michael Maimin, and James McMahon are in charge of the prosecutions.

Blanche O’Neal, 49, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York , a former New York City police officer, has been sentenced today to six months in jail and five years’ probation for transferring the title from a neglected three-family house in Bedford-Stuyvesant to herself. The defendant filed a deed transferring the property from the deceased owner’s nephew to herself in 2012, only to see her scheme unravel when the nephew was approached by an actual potential buyer in 2014.

According to trial testimony, on September 12, 2012, the defendant, who was an NYPD officer, executed a deed that stated that she bought the property, 23A Vernon Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York from the nephew of the deceased homeowner, Lillian Hudson, who died in 1993. The nephew and several relatives inherited the property, though it sat vacant and neglected for many years.

The defendant, according to trial testimony, falsely indicated in her filings with the New York City Department of Finance, Office of the City Register, that she purchased the property for $10,000 from the nephew and the deed was purportedly signed by him. The Office of the City Register recorded the deed on October 11, 2012.

Furthermore, in connection with a burglary involving the property, the defendant falsely testified before a grand jury on September 29, 2014, that she owned the property.

In 2014, the nephew and the other heirs were approached by a buyer in the form of a business entity known as 23A Vernon LLC. That is when Lillian Hudson’s heirs discovered the 2012 deed that was filed by the defendant.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant has now been held accountable for this fraudulent real estate scheme. I will continue to protect Brooklyn homeowners whose valuable properties may be targeted by scam artists. I urge property owners to register their homes with ACRIS (Automated City Register Information System) so that they are automatically informed of changes made to documents associated with their property, such as occurred in this case.”

O’Neal was sentenced today to six months in jail and five years’ probation by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun. She was convicted of first-degree perjury, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing in February following a bench trial before Justice Chun.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Frank Dudis and Assistant District Attorney Ellen Koenig of the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Unit Chief, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.

 

Daniel Barraza Nevarez, Arizona, has been indicted on multiple felony counts of Fraudulent Schemes & Artifices, Money Laundering, Forgery, and Criminal Impersonation in connection with an alleged scam designed to defraud homeowners and lenders.

Nevarez allegedly filed a series of forged quitclaim deeds transferring ownership of at least 18 different homes to himself. The homeowners did not know Nevarez and were unaware the deeds to their homes had been transferred to him. The homes were located in different parts of Maricopa County, Arizona including Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.  One of the property deeds transferred is valued at approximately $3.5 million. Nevarez is then accused of contacting home equity lenders to try to take out cash loans on those same properties. To date, we believe Nevarez was unsuccessful in taking out a loan on those properties.

Nevarez was arrested during an undercover operation conducted by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Scottsdale Police Department.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich made the announcement.

Concerned homeowners can go to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office website to check to see what documents have been recorded in their name.

Assistant Attorney General Adam J. Schwartz is prosecuting this case.