Archives For Florida

Brian Roy Lozito, Jacksonville, Florida, has been charged today for deceptively marketing and selling mortgage and foreclosure relief services to consumers throughout the United States, defrauding consumers out of more than $160,000.

Lozito, while doing business as American Investigative Services, LLC allegedly deceived more than 150 consumers by claiming to provide services in return for payments upfront.

According to the complaint, American Investigative Services solicited upfront payments from consumers promising to conduct a forensic audit of consumers’ mortgage documentation in order to uncover evidence of improper robosigning, or improper notarization, assignment, or recording of the mortgage documents, or other technical deficiencies. The defendants told consumers that if these purported legal deficiencies were uncovered in mortgage documents, the lender would be unable to foreclose on the consumer’s mortgage, and the consumer would thereby own the home free and clear, even if the consumer stopped making mortgage payments to the lender. The defendants even claimed that consumers could recover mortgage payments the consumers had previously made to mortgage companies.

The complaint also alleges that the defendants performed none of the promised services, and instead used the money obtained from consumers to pay Lozito’s personal expenses. The complaint alleges violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and seeks permanent injunctive relief, restitution, civil penalties and fees.

Attorney General Pam Bondi made the announcement.

Consumers who paid fees to the above-named entity or individual can file a complaint by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or file online at MyFloridaLegal.com

To view the complaint, click here.

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.

 

Three men were sentenced to prison Tuesday in a scheme that involved lying to lenders about the sale of luxury condos in Vero Beach, federal prosecutors said. Federal investigators said Vero attorney Eric Granitur, hotel developer George Heaton and buyer Stephen McKenzie conspired to lure prospective buyers to the condo units at Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. Investigators said the men lied to bankers about incentive programs, including cash-to-close rebates. Court records show that banks lost about $3.3 million after providing more than $20 million in mortgage funds.

Source: Three sentenced in Vero condo mortgage fraud scheme | All News, Featured News Secondary, News | conspiracy, fraud, prison, sentencing, vero attorney, vero buyer, Vero News, vero property developer | Vero News

Daniel Cardenas, 37, Tampa, Florida, was sentenced today to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to court documents, from as early as October 2007 through May 2008, Cardenas and others conspired to execute a wire fraud scheme affecting financial institutions. The goal of the scheme was to sell condominium units at The Preserve at Temple Terrace, a 392-unit condominium complex in Tampa, Florida. To entice buyers to purchase the units, the conspirators offered cash payments to buyers, either before or after closing. Payment of the funds to the individual buyers was neither known to nor approved by the mortgage lenders.

The conspirators made material false statements on loan documents, such as purchase and sale agreements, loan applications, and HUD-1 settlement statements, to induce mortgage lenders to approve loans for otherwise unqualified borrowers. The conspirators used several entities to conceal the payments to buyers from the mortgage lenders.

Cardenas’s role in the conspiracy, as a loan officer at Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, Florida included but was not limited to preparing, signing, and certifying false and fraudulent loan applications submitted to lenders in order to induce the institutions to provide funding for buyers. The false representations submitted to and relied upon by the mortgage lenders included representations concerning occupancy, income, source of funds, and assets.  Cardenas’s participation in the mortgage fraud conspiracy caused approximately $710,000 in losses to the victim mortgage lenders.

Cardenas pleaded guilty on April 24, 2018.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Chris Poor and Assistant United States Attorney Jay Hoffer.

 

Christopher Graeve, Florida, a real estate investor, pleaded guilty today in connection with an ongoing investigation into bid rigging at online public foreclosure auctions in Florida. Graeve is the second real estate investor to plead guilty in this investigation.

According to court documents, from around January 2012 through around June 2015, Graeve conspired with others to rig bids during online foreclosure auctions in Palm Beach County, Florida.

The primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at online foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices.  When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with any remaining proceeds available to the homeowner.  According to court documents, the conspiracy artificially lowered the price paid at auction for such homes. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Christopher+Graeve

Felony charges of bid rigging were filed against Graeve on November 2, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Department of Justice made the announcement.

In the past several years, the Division and its law enforcement partners have secured convictions of more than 100 individuals for rigging public mortgage foreclosure auctions in six different states, including Florida.

Real estate investors who deal in foreclosed properties should be on notice that the Division will not tolerate the subversion of competition in foreclosure auctions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division will continue to prosecute antitrust violations that occur at these auctions, and will hold individuals who engage in this conduct accountable.”

Real estate investors who think they can swindle the system to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains beware,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI Miami’s Field Office. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will vigorously investigate such schemes.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section and the FBI’s Miami Division – West Palm Beach Resident Agency.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal I Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-307-6694, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.

 

Geo Geovanni, 49, and Elizabeth Longerbone, 39, both of Moultrie, Georgia, have been charged today with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and four counts of bank fraud.

According to the indictment, Geovanni and Longerbone devised and executed a mortgage fraud scheme involving “The Landing,” a condominium conversion of a former apartment complex located in Altamonte Springs, Florida. The scheme involved providing the cash-to-close funds on behalf of the buyers, guarantying tenants and rental payments to the buyers, as well as paying post-closing kickbacks of mortgage proceeds to buyers and co-conspirators through entities that Geovanni and Longerbone controlled. None of the incentives or kickbacks were disclosed to the financial institutions that had approved and funded the mortgage loans.

If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison for each count.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General and the FBI. It will be prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Chris Poor.

Hollie Darlene Dustin, 60, Punta Gorda, Florida has pleaded guilty to wire fraud. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

According to the plea agreement, Dustin, a licensed real estate broker, owned Home Choice Real Estate (HCRE), a company that contracted with the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) to manage and perform preservation services on various Fannie Mae foreclosed properties and potentially list those properties for sale. As part of a Master Listing Agreement with Fannie Mae, Dustin’s company was prohibited from using any vendors that she controlled or with which she had a conflict of interest to perform preservation services on Fannie Mae properties. Dustin fraudulently used ProPreserve, a company that she controlled, to perform preservation services on the properties without Fannie Mae’s knowledge or consent. Dustin submitted approximately 550 fraudulent ProPreserve invoices to Fannie Mae requesting approximately $146,280.46, which Fannie Mae paid to HCRE.

Dustin also created inflated ProPreserve invoices for work already performed by other vendors, then submitted those false invoices to Fannie Mae for payment.  Dustin used interstate wires to submit the fraudulent invoices to Fannie Mae.

Dustin’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 17, 2018.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey F. Michelland.

Michael Rubino, 59, Clearwater, Florida, was sentenced today to 13 months in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and equity skimming.

According to court documents, Rubino devised a scheme to defraud mortgage lenders that were holding recorded mortgage notes, as well as the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) and the Federal Housing Agency (“FHA”), which guaranteed the mortgage notes. In furtherance of his scheme, Rubino searched Pinellas County Clerk of Court records to find properties in various stages of foreclosure. He then contacted distressed homeowners who had already defaulted on their mortgages and had vacated their properties. Rubino offered to take control of, manage, and rent the properties to new tenants. Rubino told the homeowners that he would use the rental income he obtained to pay the mortgages and, in some instances, pay the homeowner a portion of the rent he collected. At no time did Rubino hold any legal or equitable interest in these properties, or have authorization from the mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae, or FHA, to rent out the properties. Further, he failed to remit any of the collected rent monies to FHA, as required by law.

Additionally, in order to prevent Fannie Mae and the mortgage lenders from lawfully foreclosing on properties secured by mortgage notes, Rubino engaged in a bankruptcy fraud scheme whereby he filed fraudulent bankruptcy petitions in the names of the distressed homeowners, without their knowledge or consent, just prior to the scheduled foreclosure sale. These fraudulent bankruptcies triggered the automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy code, preventing the mortgage note holders from conducting the foreclosure sale. The fraudulent bankruptcy petitions filed by Rubino allowed him to continue to collect rent monies to which he was not entitled.

Rubino had pleaded guilty on January 31, 2018.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General. The Office of the U.S. Trustee for the Middle District of Florida also provided substantial assistance. It was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Chris Poor.

Christopher Coburn, 33, Winter Garden, Florida was indicted today on six counts of bankruptcy fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison.

According to the indictment, Coburn solicited homeowners whose mortgages were in default and offered to rescue their homes from foreclosure. In order to prevent the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) and multiple financial institutions holding mortgages from lawfully foreclosing on homeowners’ properties, Coburn engaged in a bankruptcy fraud scheme whereby he filed or caused to be filed fraudulent bankruptcy petitions in the name of homeowners, without their knowledge or consent, just prior to the scheduled foreclosure sale dates. These fraudulent bankruptcies triggered the automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy code, preventing Fannie Mae and the financial institutions from conducting lawful foreclosure sales and obtaining title to the properties. The fraudulent petitions enabled Coburn to collect fees and allowed him to refer the properties to real estate agents in order to obtain ill-gotten referral fees.

United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez made the announcement.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General. The Office of the United States Trustee for the Middle District of Florida (Orlando Division) also provided substantial assistance. It will be prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Chris Poor.

 

Alejandro Tobon, 35, Orlando, Florida has been sentenced to 37 months and Carlos Escarria, 61, Largo, Florida has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. They pleaded guilty on June 9, 2017.

According to court documents, from as early as October 2007 through May 2008, Tobon, Escarria, and others conspired to execute a bank and wire fraud scheme. The goal of the fraud scheme was to sell condominium units at The Preserve at Temple Terrace, a 392-unit condominium complex in Tampa, Florida. To entice buyers to purchase the units, the conspirators offered cash payments to buyers, either before or after closing. The mortgage lenders were not made aware of these payments. The conspirators used several entities to conceal from the mortgage lenders the cash payments to buyers.

The conspirators made false statements on loan documents, such as purchase and sale agreements and loan applications, and on HUD-1 settlement statements, to induce mortgage lenders to approve loans for otherwise unqualified borrowers for the condo unit purchases.

Tobon was the manager of Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, Florida and he was also the President of Tobon Marketing and Consultant. His role in the conspiracy included submitting false and fraudulent loan applications to financial institutions to induce them to provide funding for buyers to purchase Preserve units. He also marketed units to buyers with undisclosed incentives and transferred funds he had received from the developer through Tobon Marketing and Consultant to borrowers’ bank accounts who needed money to close on the purchases. The money was then used to provide the down payment and cash to close requirements.

Escarria worked as a loan officer at Transcontinental Lending Group’s branch in Tampa, Florida. He signed false and fraudulent loan applications to induce financial institutions into providing funding for buyers to purchase condo units. The false representations submitted to and relied upon by the mortgage lenders included occupancy, income, source of funds, and assets.

The mortgage lenders’ total losses resulting from Tobon’s and Escarria’s role in the mortgage fraud conspiracy are approximately $5.8 million.

Tobon and Escarria were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew.

This case was investigated by Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Chris Poor and Assistant United States Attorney Jay Hoffer.