Archives For Loan Modification

Jason J. Keating, 38, Toledo, Ohio, was sentenced to nine years in prison and Christopher J. Howder, 40, Perrysburg, Ohio, was sentenced to seven years in prison in after  stealing more than $1.1 million from hundreds of people through a fraudulent loan-modification scheme,

Keating was ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution while Howder was ordered to pay $561,000 in restitution.

Both pleaded guilty last year to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and multiple counts of mail fraud and wire fraud.

Keating and Howder worked at Making Home Affordable USA (MHAUSA) from 120 10th Street, Toledo, Ohio where Keating was self-described president and Howder was the self-described underwriting manager.

According to court documents filed in the case:

The company used various names but homeowners were told MHAUSA had a very high rate of success and that customers could achieve modified interest rates as low as 2 percent.

Prospective participants were told there was a flat fee for service, generally between $495 and $795. Participants were told to stop making monthly mortgage payments to their lenders and instead to pay a percentage of their mortgage to MHAUSA.

Participants were told MHAUSA would hold these payments in a “stimulus reserve” account to demonstrate the participants could reliably make payments, and that once the loans were modified, the money would be turned over to the lenders.

The money obtained through the fraud was spent on concessions at professional sports venues, restaurants, cash withdrawals, gentlemen’s clubs, a tanning salon, a Las Vegas hotel, a jewelry store and a lingerie store.

These defendants took more than $1 million from people struggling to hold onto their homes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney David A. Sierleja for Ohio.

They used money obtained through fraud to pay for expensive restaurants and vacations,” said Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland office.

The investigating agency in this case is the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General. The case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Gene Crawford.

A recent comment from Brandon on the blog post Mortgage Mod Case Results in 10+ Year Sentences stated:

“Couple of small pawns in a much larger game.kristen is a 32 year old first time,non violent offender mother of three.sentanced to over 12 years.not sure how these so called heros sleep at night .Wake The @%*&  Up !!!”

Kristen Michelle Ayala was sentenced to 135 months – 11 years and 3 months –  in prison in connection with a mortgage modification scheme. She is not currently in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons but that site does confirm that she is 32 years old and that her anticipated release date is March 9, 2025.  In the federal prison system, a defendant must serve at least 85% of their sentence which means that Ms. Ayala will serve at least 114 months, over 9 years, in prison.

So, what is it about this particular “white collar” crime that resulted in such a long prison sentence?  I have been writing about these cases for many years and there are a number of factors that influence sentencing that may not be readily apparent to readers.  So, let’s look at Ms. Ayala’s case.

Ms. Ayala pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud which carries a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison. The maximum sentence is not, however, what the defendant will actually receive at sentencing.  The court works off sentencing guidelines which are advisory, not mandatory.  It uses these guidelines to add or subtract from the “base level” of the offense and then comes up with a “guideline range” and the sentence is generally within that range.

Many of the defendants that I have written about have either been convicted of or pled guilty to a significant number of counts and have been sentenced to less than ten years.  Ms. Ayala only pled guilty to one count so, again, what makes this situation different from those?

The sentencing process starts with a Presentence Investigation Report which is prepared by a probation officer.  The defendant is generally interviewed as part of this process. The Presentence Investigation report identifies the potentially applicable guidelines, calculates the offense level and criminal history category, identifies factors relevant to the appropriate kind of sentence or appropriate sentence within the guideline range and identifies any basis for departing from the applicable range (Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32).  It may also address the defendant’s history and characteristics along with the impact of the crime on the victim. The Presentence Investigation Report is generally sealed by the Court – which means we do not have access to it to review what the probation officer found or recommended.  In Ms. Ayala’s case, the Presentence Investigation Report was sealed and we do not have access to it.

The defendant can then submit an objection to the Presentence Investigation Report.  The objection might include arguments that the Presentence Investigation Report is incorrect, bring up items of information that were not included and that might reflect positively on the defendant or might argue with the recommended departures or guideline range conclusions or contain letters from character witnesses.  Ms. Ayala filed an objection to the Presentence Report but that document was sealed by the court so it is not possible for us to review the issues and arguments that she raised.

In this case, the government filed a “Position on Sentencing” which laid out its position on the sentence that should be imposed.  It is the only document that gives some insight into the sentence which is not sealed.  Although we cannot view the Presentence Investigation Report or Ms. Ayala’s objections, the Position on Sentencing addresses issues raised in both.

In its Position, the government refers to Ms. Ayala’s plea as related to a “ruthless and pervasive home mortgage modification scheme.” And goes on to state that Ms. Ayala’s actions “targeted extremely vulnerable individuals” and that the victims were “selected for the sole reason that they were in dire financial straits, desperate and literally on the verge of losing their homes.”   The Position states that the government had, at the time it filed the Position, identified 405 victims with a loss amount of approximately $3.8 million.  According to the Position, the victim impact statements showed that the scheme destroyed the lives of the victims, causing divorce, serious health issues and extreme despair to children, parents, combat veterans and people who were struggling.

The Position goes to state that Ayala and her co-conspirators analyzed the victims finances and arrived at a number that was designed to take their very last dollars. According to the Statement of Facts filed with the plea agreement, after the victim responded to a mass mailing that purported to be from a government related entity by calling a toll free telephone number and providing their financial information, another representative would call the homeowner back and tell them that their application for mortgage modification had been approved and that they needed to pay a “reinstatement fee” of thousands of dollars along with three trial payments.  These payments were diverted to the defendants.  No work was ever done to modify the mortgages.  The defendants also impersonated a legitimate federal program – HAMP, which was part of TARP and designed to help distressed homeowners. By doing so, they duped homeowners into thinking the program was legitimate.

The Position states “[w]e know from the investigation that Defendant and the co-conspirators would congratulate one another and demean the recently defrauded victims for their naiveté and stupidity in parting with their money.”

As to the history and characteristics of the defendant, the Position states that Ms. Ayala made poor choices in her early years but got her life together, gained an employable skill, started a family and lived a law abiding life.  However, when her marriage started to deteriorate, she started an affair with her co-defendant, Joshua Sanchez.  Once she was introduced to the scheme, she came on board as a full participant and was extremely helpful in convincing distressed homeowners that the scheme was legitimate.

The Position states that Ms. Ayala’s lack of a criminal history should be taken into account and therefore recommended a sentence of 160 months in prison – at the lower end of the guideline range.

Because the fraud scheme had a devastating effect on the lives of the victims, the Position also includes outtakes from some of the victim impact statements, some of which follow:

“My husband fought in two wars protecting all U.S. Citizens and assuring freedom remains in these United States, including for [Defendant]. He sacrificed his sight, most of his hearing and the ability to walk for this great Nation. I can’t find the words for the atrocities and the pain and suffering that [Defendant] have caused a man who already gave so much for all, even [Defendant].”

“They stole my money [and] I am 83 years old. I cannot many (sic) anymore income. My son & his family became homeless as a result of their actions & we lost the family property.”

“As a result of this crime, me and my children were homeless for a while…My daughter had to be admitted to a pediatric psychiatric unit for two weeks because she was affected when her friends saw all our belongings on the front lawn and we had no place to go….”

“Because of their actions, I went into a deep depression. I had to quit my job because of the stress I was going through….My marriage is not a marriage anymore, because my husband cannot forgive me for this. My family fell apart….The damage they did is unforgivable, I hope justice is done.”

The minute entry from the sentencing hearing indicates that Ms. Ayala requested a reduction for her minor role in the offense, requested a variance sentence of 12 months and 1 day, and requested the court take into account her background and history. The court rejected the request for a reduction based on a minor role and adopted the Presentence Investigation Report.  While Sanchez was sentenced to 151 months, Ms. Ayala received a sentence of 135 months.

In my years of reporting on mortgage fraud, I have discovered a few factors that really impact sentencing.  The first and probably most significant is the existence of real human victims whose lives were destroyed.  When the victim is a financial institution, unless the dollar amount is very high, there is a pattern of convictions or a wide-ranging scheme involving a lot of conspirators, the sentence is generally in the one to five year range.  And it seems, in those cases, that personal difficulties faced by the defendant have a significant impact on the sentence. Cooperation with authorities (pleading guilty, testifying against co-conspirators) also weighs heavily.

But where, as here, lives are permanently and irrevocably impacted as a result of an abuse of trust and confidence and the victims selected are vulnerable and in need of protection, the personal issues and prior ‘good character’ of the defendant seem to be given less weight.  Is it heartbreaking that a 32-year old mother of 3 will spend twelve and a half years in prison?  Yes.  But it is also heartbreaking to the victims.  In the end, it was Ms. Ayala’s decision to enrich herself by engaging with others to take over a million dollars from vulnerable homeowners who thought that they were applying for government assistance through HAMP.

When you stay with a company after you figure out that they are, in fact, a fraudulent scheme and are essentially stealing money from vulnerable people, you make a choice. At that point, you become part of a conspiracy to defraud and you become responsible for the results. It was this decision that ruined the lives of hundreds of people, whether she was doing it for the money, to impress her new boyfriend, because her “success” at her “job” felt good to her, because she needed her paycheck to live, or for any one of a hundred other reasons that people use to justify the purposeful decision to defraud others.  In the end, crime is a choice and Ms. Ayala made that choice.

What is the result when you place, on one side of the scales of justice, the weight of the result of her voluntary choice on her own life and, on the other side of the scales of justice, the weight of the effect of that choice on the 405 victims of her conduct?  Unfortunately for Ms. Ayala, the scales tip rather significantly toward eleven years.

*Ms. Ayala was also ordered to pay $1,217,411.45 in restitution to 404 victims.

 

Herzel Meiri, who was indicted on March 16, 2016, on fraud and money laundering charges in connection with a scheme to fraudulently induce distressed homeowners to sell their homes to a company he owned and controlled, was extradited from Ukraine. Meiri had been arrested by Ukrainian authorities on October 27, 2016. He will be arraigned in front of Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis. The case is assigned to United States District Judge Edgardo Ramos. Meiri was the seventh defendant to be indicted in connection with the scheme.

According to the allegations in the Fourth Superseding Indictment, which was unsealed in November 2016, as well as the Complaints previously filed in this action:

Since at least 2013, Meiri and his co-defendants defrauded distressed homeowners throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, New York. Meiri and others falsely represented to the homeowners – some of whom were elderly or in poor health – that they could assist them with a loan modification or similar relief from foreclosure that would allow the homeowners to save their homes. But rather than actually assisting the homeowners, the defendants deceived them into selling their homes to Launch Development LLC (“Launch Development”), a for-profit real estate company owned and controlled by Meiri.

Meiri and others lured victims through Homeowners Assistance Service of New York (“HASNY”), which purported to provide assistance to homeowners who were seeking to avoid foreclosure of their homes. As part of the scheme, Meiri directed employees of Launch Development to solicit owners of distressed properties and invite them to meet with HASNY representatives so that they could learn more about avoiding foreclosure and saving their homes.

When a homeowner arrived at the HASNY office, he or she met with a co-conspirator, who typically advised the homeowner that HASNY could assist him or her with a loan modification. In other cases, the homeowner was advised that a loan modification could not be completed, but that the homeowner could engage in a type of short sale in which the homeowner would sell the property to a third party, Launch Development, and then within approximately 90 days arrange for a relative of the homeowner to repurchase the property from Launch Development. Homeowners were typically advised that they could remain in their homes throughout the entire process. At the closing that followed, a homeowner who had been led to believe that he or she was about to receive a loan modification or transfer the property to a trusted relative was encouraged to sign documents presented by another co-conspirator, which in some cases were blank. Unbeknownst to the homeowners, by signing the documents, they were selling to Launch Development the homes they had hoped to save. Homeowners often were then forced to vacate their homes soon thereafter, and Launch Development re-sold many of the homes, which were purchased at fraudulently deflated prices, for an enormous profit.

In addition, Meiri and a co-conspirator transferred the proceeds of the home sales from Launch Development to other companies Meiri owned and controlled, falsely describing the transfers as, among other things, rent payments. The proceeds were ultimately transferred back to Launch Development or spent on luxury items for Meiri.

Meiri is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, each of which carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison. In addition, Meiri is charged with two counts of money laundering, one of which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison and one of which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.

Meiri will be arraigned in front of Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis. The case is assigned to United States District Judge Edgardo Ramos.

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“SIGTARP”), and Maria T. Vullo, Financial Services Superintendent for the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”), announced the extradition.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Herzel Meiri allegedly concocted a callous scheme to swindle desperate homeowners out of their homes. As alleged, Meiri lied to his victims, who thought that they were getting the financial help they needed but instead were being tricked into signing over their homes. Thanks to our law enforcement partners – the FBI, SIGTARP, and DFS – Meiri is now in U.S. custody and will have to answer for his alleged crimes.”

Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “When desperate homeowners fall prey to false relief schemes, their vulnerabilities are often exploited by those who seek to benefit from their misfortune. As alleged, Meiri’s behavior caused serious damage to struggling families who unknowingly funded his extravagant scheme. The FBI continues to support partnerships within the financial industry and law enforcement as we work together to combat this serious crime.”

Special Inspector General for TARP Christy Goldsmith Romero said: “Herzel Meiri is charged with preying on struggling homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure. Meiri and his co-conspirators allegedly promised victims mortgage modifications when in fact they were swindling them out of their homes. SIGTARP thanks U.S. Attorney Bharara, Superintendent Vullo, and the FBI for their commitment to protecting taxpayers from TARP-related crime.”

DFS Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo said: “These allegations paint the portrait of a con artist who cold-heartedly preyed on financially distressed homeowners – some of whom are among our most vulnerable – to satisfy his selfish greed. The Department of Financial Services is proud to have worked with our fellow law enforcement partners in helping to bring this defendant to justice.”

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding work of the FBI, SIGTARP, and DFS for their investigative efforts and ongoing support and assistance with the case.

The prosecution of this case is being overseen by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jaimie L. Nawaday and Andrew Thomas are in charge of the case.

 

David Gotterup, 37, Oceanside, New York, was sentenced at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, to 15 years in prison for leading a loan modification scheme that defrauded distressed homeowners. Gotterup pleaded guilty on June 16, 2016, to conspiring to commit wire, mail and bank fraud. In addition, as part of the sentence, the Court ordered Gotterup to pay $2,500,050 in forfeiture.

According to public filings, from 2008 to 2012, Gotterup and his co-conspirators made a series of false promises to convince more than a thousand distressed homeowners seeking relief through government mortgage modification programs to pay thousands of dollars each in advance fees to numerous companies owned or controlled by Gotterup, including Express Modifications, Express Home Solutions, True Credit Empire, LLC, Green Group Today, Inc., The Green Law Group, Inc., and JG Group. Among other things, Gotterup directed telemarketers and salespeople to lie to distressed homeowner victims by telling them that they were “preapproved” for loan modifications and that they were retaining a “law firm” and an “attorney” who would complete their mortgage relief applications and negotiate with the banks to modify the terms of their mortgages. Contrary to these representations, Gotterup and his co-conspirators did little or no work in connection with these fraudulently induced advanced fees. Gotterup was arrested in October 2015 and has been incarcerated since then.

The sentence was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI); David Montoya, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP).

In announcing the sentence, Mr. Capers extended his appreciation to the agencies that led the government’s investigation and thanked the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office for its assistance in the case.

The proceeding took place before United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Business and Securities Fraud Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sylvia Shweder and Bonni Perlin are in charge of the prosecution.

 

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.

 

Bryan D’Antonio, 50, Brea, California, pled guilty one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud related to his role as the owner and operator of a multi-million dollar fraudulent mortgage modification scheme that posed as a successful law firm to defraud struggling homeowners.  D’Antonio was the owner and operator of Rodis Law Group (RLG) and America’s Law Group (ALG).

D’Antonio pleaded guilty before United States District Judge David O. Carter, who is scheduled to sentence the defendant on January 30, 2017.

D’Antonio admitted that, between October 2008 and June 2009, he participated in a scheme that induced homeowners to pay as much as $5,500 for the services of RLG and its successor entity, ALG. RLG and ALG advertised on radio stations across the country and urging struggling homeowners to call a toll-free number. The companies purportedly consisted of “a team of experienced attorneys” who were “highly skilled in negotiating lower interest rates and even lowering your principal balance.”

In fact, RLG and ALG were telemarketing operations that never had teams of experienced attorneys. During much of the scheme, one man – co-defendant Ronald Rodis – was the only attorney at RLG.

In a plea agreement filed in federal court, D’Antonio admitted that the RLG and ALG schemes fraudulently obtained approximately $9 million from more than 1,500 victims.

D’Antonio was previously convicted of mail and wire fraud and sentenced to four years in federal prison for his participation in a medical billing scheme. He was also subject to a permanent injunction prohibiting him from having any involvement with any business that engaged in telemarketing or misrepresented the services it would provide.  In conjunction with his guilty plea in this case, D’Antonio admitted that he started RLG while he was still on supervised release from his prior conviction. In violation of D’Antonio’s permanent injunction, RLG and ALG sold their services through an extensive telemarketing operation and employees routinely misrepresented the services RLG and ALG would provide. The telemarketers did not disclose to homeowners that RLG and ALG were owned and operated by D’Antonio, who was prohibited from engaging in telemarketing

RLG and ALG telemarketers working for D’Antonio made numerous misrepresentations regarding the companies’ ability to negotiate loan modifications from the homeowners’ mortgage lenders. For example, the telemarketers stated that RLG and ALG had been in business for 11 years when in fact the company had only opened in October 2008. They falsely stated that RLG and ALG routinely obtained positive results for homeowners, including lower monthly payments, reductions in principal balance and lower interest rates. In fact, positive results were rarely achieved for any RLG or ALG clients. Telemarketers also falsely reiterated that homeowners would have a team of attorneys and real estate professionals assigned to their case.

D’Antonio’s co-defendants, Charles Wayne Farris and Ronald Rodis, both previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

D’Antonio preyed on vulnerable victims – struggling homeowners,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Pretending to offer legal assistance to their victims, D’Antonio and his cohorts actually offered nothing but false hopes and empty promises.  Now, he will be held accountable in federal court for the damage he has caused so many victims.”

At the height of the mortgage crisis, this defendant, a convicted felon who was prohibited from any business engaged in telemarketing, created two fake law firms that promised struggling homeowners assistance saving their homes and modifying their mortgages,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Despite the many promises, these were telemarketing sales operations that took homeowners’ money and provided no meaningful assistance.”

The case was investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph T. McNally and Trial Attorney John W. Burke of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.