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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.

 

Cristina Montijo was the subject of a complaint and arrest warrant issued in the Southern District of New York on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud in connection with fraudulent emails.  She was arrested in the Southern District of California.

According to the complaint, sworn to by a Detective with the New York City Police Department for the purpose of demonstrating probable cause for the issuance of the arrest warrant, on or about June 21, 2016 Victim-1 who was in the process of purchasing a home, received an email that purported to be from Victim-1’s attorney.  The fraudulent email instructed Victim-1 to wire $190,000 to a bank account at a San Diego Credit Union to be held in escrow for the home purchase.  A copy of the residential purchase contract for the property that Victim-1 was purchasing was included in the email. Victim-1 wired the money and then called the real estate attorney to confirm receipt of the wire and was told that the attorney had not requested the wire.  Victim-1 realized that the email address on the email received differed from the real estate attorney’s true email address by one character.  Victim-1 recalled the wire.

Victim-1 later received another email from the incorrect email address.  The new fraudulent email supplied an additional bank account number for Victim-1 to deposit funds into because the prior wire of funds had not been received.

According to the complaint, based on review of bank records, the detective learned that the bank account number in the first fraudulent email to Victim-1 was registered to Montijo.  The account was opened about June 16, 2016 and closed about June 23, 2016 due to suspected fraud.

The complaint also states that in or about November 3, 2015, Victim-2, an individual in Tennessee, received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-2’s real estate agent directing Victim-2 to wire approximately $181,000 to a bank account.  Victim-2 later realized the email address was different by one character from that of the actual real estate agent.  Victim-2 became suspicious and, after contacting the real estate agent, did not wire the funds. That account was also registered to Montijo and was opened about October 3, 2015.

On about November 24, 2015, Victim-3, an individual in Hawaii, received emails purportedly from Victim-3’s escrow officer and real estate agent but which were different from the actual email addresses by one character.  Based on the directives in these fraudulent emails, Victim-3 wired approximately $331,000 to a bank account. That bank account, opened on November 13, 2015, was registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC and was closed December 10, 2015 due to suspected fraud. Montijo was the sold registered agent of Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC and was registered to an address on Chamoune Avenue in San Diego at which Montijo resided since at least 1993. In November 2015, Montijo wired approximately $181,500 from that account to an account in Malaysia and approximately $118,200 to an account in South Africa.

In about April 2016, Victim-4, an individual in San Francisco, California, received a fraudulent email purporting to be from the real estate agent involved in a real estate transaction for Victim-4 and instructing Victim-4 to wire approximately $127,791 to be held in escrow in an identified bank account.  Victim-4 wired the funds and later discovered the email address was one character different from that of the real estate agent. That bank account was opened about March 31, 2016 and closed April 5, 2016 and was registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC.

On about April 28, 2016, Victim-5 received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-5’s attorney. Victim-5 later learned the attorney’s email account had been compromised or hacked.  At the direction of the fraudulent emails, one of which referenced the sender’s “account secretary Christina Montijo who is a trustee to the trust account” (the fraudulent emails were later traced to an originating IP address in South Africa), Victim-5 wired approximately $250,000 to a bank account. That bank account, opened about March 31, 2016 and closed about May 6 due to fraudulent activity, was registered to Montijo and Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC.   On about May 4, 2016, Montijo attempted to wire funds to another bank account that was jointly registered to Montijo and Albert Montijo (believed to be the name of Montijo’s deceased husband.)   Montijo was informed by bank employees that the wire was potentially fraudulent and Montijo claimed that she had been owed the funds from Victim-5 from a real estate transaction from several years prior and that she had business partners abroad.

On about June 30, 2016, Victim-6, an individual in the Southern District of New York, received a fraudulent email purportedly from Victim-6’s attorney, later learning the attorney’s emails had been compromised or hacked.  Victim-6 wired approximately $240,000 to a bank account, again registered to Fountain Co-Cooperative, LLC. Montijo attempted to wire a portion of these funds to an entity called “Refunds LLC” purportedly for a “refund owed” but actually sent to an account in the name of “Reofunds LLC.”

Montijo registered a company called “All Cover LLC” in the state of California for the purpose of “buying/selling real estate” On about July 14, 2016, Montijo attempted to cash four checks made out to All Cover totaling approximately $46,500.  From discussions with representatives of the three companies that issued the checks, the detective states that he learned that the checks were fraudulent and not written out to All Cover.  The indictment details additional allegedly fraudulent checks that Montijo attempted to cash and which were made out to herself, Fountain Co-Cooperative LLC and a person believe to be Montijo’s mother-in-law.

James Bayfield, 44, Queens, New York, a self-described mortgage specialist, was convicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on all four counts charging bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud for his role in defrauding mortgage lending institutions and large financial institutions, including Amtrust Bank (Amtrust), Bank of America N.A. (BOA) and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (Chase), in a multi-million-dollar mortgage fraud scheme. The jury’s verdict followed a two-week trial before United States District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano. Bayfield is the sixth and final defendant convicted in the case.

The evidence at trial established that Bayfield, together with others, caused mortgage loan applications with false information to be submitted to lending institutions in connection with the purchase of residential properties located within the Eastern District of New York. These applications contained fraudulently inflated purchase prices, as well as false information about the assets and income of the purchasers of the properties, many of whom were being compensated as part of the scheme to act as straw purchasers. The defendant and his co-conspirators also provided false down payment checks to make it appear as if the straw purchasers and the other borrowers had made down payments in connection with the purchase of the properties, which was a condition of the lending institutions for issuing the mortgage loans.

To carry out their scheme, the defendant conducted simultaneous purchases and sales of the properties, sometimes called “flips,” in an effort to conceal their criminal involvement and to inflate the value of the properties. For example, a conspirator would purchase a property from a homeowner. That same day, the conspirator would sell the property to a straw purchaser at an inflated value. The defendant and his conspirators, through the use of backdated and falsified documents, concealed from the lending institutions the fact that the purchase and sale had occurred on the same day and made it appear as if the transaction between the homeowner and the conspirator had occurred over 60 days prior to the sale from the conspirator to the straw purchaser.

As a result of the false applications and appraisals, the lending institutions were fraudulently induced to issue millions of dollars of mortgage loans secured by properties that had inflated appraisal values to individuals who had insufficient income and assets to qualify for the mortgage loan. In many instances, the straw purchasers and the other borrowers failed to make required mortgage payments to the lending institutions, which caused the mortgage loans to be placed into default status.

When sentenced by United States District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano, Bayfield faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The guilty verdict was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Mr. Capers thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG); the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG); the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG); and the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) for their hard work and dedication over the course of this multi-year investigation and prosecution.The government’s case was prosecuted by the Office’s Business and Securities Fraud Section. Assistant United States Attorneys David Pitluck, Mark Bini and Michael Keilty are in charge of the prosecution.

 

Angelo Alleca, 46, Buffalo, New York, and Mark Morrow, 54, Cincinnati, Ohio, were arraigned on charges of orchestrating a multi-million dollar investment fraud scheme.  The Defendants marketed several funds that were supposed to invest in certain assets/investments, such as hedge funds managed by a professional money manager of mortgage debt.  According to the new indictment, they instead used the money to pay redemptions to earlier investors, to acquire and operate several businesses, and to pay personal expenses.

According to U.S. Attorney John Horn, the indictment, and other information presented in court: From on or about 2004 until 2012,  Alleca acted as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Summit Wealth Management, an investment adviser headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. During that time, Alleca started several funds and falsely misrepresented that money would be invested in hedge funds and debt securities and managed by professional investment managers. Continue Reading…

Michael Barnett, real estate developer, pled guilty to conspiring to defraud lenders and make false statements to HUD in connection with his development of Vineyard Commons, a luxury residential complex in Ulster County, New York.

According to Barnett’s admissions in court during his plea allocution and the allegations made in the Superseding Indictment:

Barnett, who was the developer of Vineyard Commons, sought kickbacks and investments from subcontractors and vendors on the project and made false statements to the project’s lender so that he could draw down on the project’s line of credit. Barnett arranged with two executives of a vendor who provided rough carpentry and lumber supplies on the project (the “Lumber Company”) to have the Lumber Company pay Barnett a kickback in exchange for Barnett’s award to the Lumber Company of the Vineyard Commons contract, as well as future business on other developments Barnett was planning. To raise funds for the kickback, Barnett and the two Lumber Company executives agreed that the Lumber Company would inflate its bid for labor and materials by approximately $865,000. Continue Reading…

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued Geographic Targeting Orders (GTO) that will temporarily require certain U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind companies used to pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate in the Borough of Manhattan in New York City, New York, and Miami-Dade County, Florida. FinCEN is concerned that all-cash purchases – i.e., those without bank financing – may be conducted by individuals attempting to hide their assets and identity by purchasing residential properties through limited liability companies or other opaque structures. To enhance availability of information pertinent to mitigating this potential money laundering vulnerability, FinCEN will require certain title insurance companies to identify and report the true “beneficial owner” behind a legal entity involved in certain high-end residential real estate transactions in Manhattan and Miami-Dade County. Continue Reading…

Michael Pampalone, former mortgage broker, 32, Elizabeth, New Jersey, was arraigned on an indictment charging him with two counts of wire fraud.

The indictment alleges that Pampalone stole $132,450 from an East Greenbush, New York, man who hired Pampalone to help him obtain a mortgage.  According to the indictment, Pampalone instructed the victim to wire funds to a New Jersey bank account, and then, after the wires were completed, stole the money.

Pampalone faces up to 20 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, if convicted.  Pampalone, who was indicted on December 23, 2015, was arraigned on January 4, 2016 before Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart.  He was released on a bond pending a trial scheduled for March 7, 2016 before District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino.

The announcement was made by United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian, New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico, and Shelly A. Binkowski, Inspector in Charge, United States Postal Inspection Service, Boston Division.

This case is being investigated by the New York State Police and the United States Postal Inspection Service, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Wayne A. Myers.

David Gotterup, also known as “David Gott,”, 35, Oceanside, New York, and Jason Green, 35, Oceanside, New York, were charged in an eleven-count indictmenet with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud homeowners who were attempting to modify their mortgage loans, and related mail fraud counts.  The indictment also charged Gotterup with conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud in connection with a scheme to improperly obtain mortgage loans, and related bank fraud counts, disaster loan fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Continue Reading…

The United States filed a civil suit against the Rainy Day Foundation, Inc., a purported charitable “counseling fund,” together with its associated business entities and principals.  The case was filed federal court in Central Islip, New York and has been assigned to United States District Judge Joseph F. Bianco.

The complaint alleges that in at least 865 instances, the Rainy Day Foundation, together with five Eastern District of New York-based mortgage lenders and their principals, defrauded the United States and various banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), resulting in millions of dollars of mortgage losses, and requiring the United States to pay over $5,605,237 in false claims. Continue Reading…