A suburban Philadelphia man who acknowledged orchestrating a $13 million mortgage fraud scheme for nearly a decade is headed to prison.A federal judge in Philadelphia sentenced George Barnard on Tuesday to five years. The 47-year-old Newtown Square resident pleaded guilty to multiple fraud counts in April.The U.S. attorney’s office says Barnard used the money from the scheme to buy yachts, luxury cars and beach homes.
Archives For Pennsylvania
Mark Goldstein and Drew Alia, Pennsylvania, and their five Pennsylvania mortgage foreclosure companies were sued today for deceiving consumers into signing contracts to have their mortgage loans modified and never delivering the services paid for.
Goldstein and Alia’s companies included GMK Solutions, the Foreclosure Law Center; Century Legal Group; Alia Law Group; and the Law Offices of Drew Alia. Pennsylvania homeowners and other consumers wound up agreeing to pay the defendants more than $280,000 through their scam conducted between 2008 and 2015.
Here’s how the scam worked:
The defendants signed contracts with homeowners, promising to do a home loan audit and a mortgage modification – with the goal of lowering the consumer’s monthly mortgage payments or interest rate, or saving their home from foreclosure.
The defendants took cash deposits, often thousands of dollars, and then failed to produce the audits or mortgage modifications. To hide their scam, they told homeowners not to contact their mortgage lenders or make any payments because they were “handling” negotiations on the homeowners’ behalf. When anxious consumers began to demand updates on the status of their loans, the defendants dodged their calls and offered no refunds.
During the scam, many homeowners received notices from their lenders stating that if they did not respond, their homes would be foreclosed upon or sold at sheriff’s sale. In one instance, a consumer paid $3,500 up front for mortgage foreclosure services, and after the defendants assured the homeowner they had stopped the Sheriff’s sale, the home was lost anyway.
Another consumer from Delaware County called the Foreclosure Law Center for a loan modification to keep her home out of foreclosure, and paid a $700 deposit. The night before a sheriff’s sale, the defendants contacted the consumer and told her to file for bankruptcy to delay the sale. The bankruptcy filing was dismissed by the court. Ultimately, the defendants never delivered services or helped her and wouldn’t refund her deposit.
This consumer, Kathleen Zang, said: “The Foreclosure Law Center told me not to contact my mortgage company and they were handling everything on my behalf. I had to file for bankruptcy after I learned that communication was never made to keep my house — where my children and family lived. I was outraged after learning from my mortgage company that no one from the Foreclosure Law Center had been in touch with them. Other people lost their homes because of this company. I lost $700 — and I’m grateful to Attorney General Shapiro and his Bureau of Consumer Protection for stepping up for consumers like myself.”
The Office of Attorney General received 21 complaints from Pennsylvania consumers, and nearly 50 more from consumers across the country, who entered into mortgage modification contracts. In some cases, homeowners instructed by the scammers to not pay their mortgages ultimately lost their homes in sheriff’s sales.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro made the announcement.
“Defendants Mark Goldstein, Drew Alia and their companies preyed upon dozens of Pennsylvanians and other consumers who thought they were making a smart decision for their home and family,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “They wanted to lower their interest rates, modify their mortgages, and save their homes. Instead, all they received from these defendants were false promises and no services. Some even lost their homes. This misleading scam was outrageous and I’m suing to get restitution for every person and hold these companies accountable.”
In addition to claims filed under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Attorney General’s lawsuit bases other claims against the defendants under the Pennsylvania Mortgage Licensing Act.
“If you believe you were victimized by defendants Goldstein, Alia or any of their companies, or any other false mortgage modification deal, call my office today or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “I want to hear from you, and we’ll seek justice and restitution for you.”
The lawsuit in the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court seeks injunctive relief and restitution in excess of $280,000 total for all consumers who are currently or have ever been in a transaction with any of these companies or their affiliates.
Harbour Portfolio Adviser, a Texas company, is being sued today for deceiving Pennsylvania consumers into unfair “for sale by owner” purchases of uninhabitable family homes. This scam involved misleading property deeds and preyed upon low-income homeowners who were sold homes at vastly inflated prices that often lack basic essentials like heat or electricity.
More than 70 would-be Pennsylvania homeowners entered into unfair “for sale by owner” purchases with Harbour Portfolio Advisers, and wound up agreeing to pay Harbour more than $2,600,000 plus 9.9 percent interest in transactions between 2010 to 2016.
Harbour and Charles A. Vose III, the founder of the company, perpetuated the scheme by persuading Pennsylvania consumers to buy homes at prices that were often three to four times more than Harbour had paid for the homes just days or weeks before, with no renovations or improvements. The homes sold by Harbour were usually run-down, sold without disclosure of defects, and often lacking basic essentials like heat, electricity or appliances. Harbour purchased approximately 6,000 homes nationwide to use in this scheme; more than 100 of those properties are in Pennsylvania.
Here’s how the scam worked:
Harbour Portfolio bought up large numbers of financially distressed homes, usually in low-income neighborhoods. They flooded the neighborhoods with “For Sale by Owner” signs that attracted potential buyers. Utilities were turned off during house tours, masking major problems in the homes. The buyers, who lacked the experience to understand the complexities of buying a home, paid large, non-refundable deposits, and signed “Agreement for Deed” papers that looked like conventional mortgages, but were not. Hidden in the paperwork were clauses allowing Harbour to demand payment of the full amount owed plus 9.9 percent interest if the buyer missed a single payment. Buyers lost all rights in the home if they missed a single payment.
Harbour was also collecting interest on the home loans at almost twice the maximum rate permitted by Pennsylvania law for this type of transaction.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro made the announcement.
“Harbour Portfolio Advisors victimized at least 70 Pennsylvanians who thought they were buying habitable homes for themselves and their families,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “These scammers exploited the fact that many of the buyers were low-income consumers who may not have understood the complicated process of buying a home. Instead, they got subpar homes and misleading deeds. This conduct is reprehensible and I’m suing Harbour to stop it.”
In addition to claims filed under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Attorney General’s lawsuit bases other claims against Harbour Portfolio under the state’s Land Installment Contract law and state usury laws as well.
“If you believe you have been victimized by Harbour Portfolio or its affiliates, or any other ‘for sale by owner’ transaction, call my office today or email us at email@example.com,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “I want to hear from you, and we’ll seek justice and restitution for you.”
The lawsuit as filed in the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court seeks injunctive relief and restitution for all Pennsylvanians who are currently or have ever been in a “for sale by owner” transaction with Harbour Portfolio or its affiliates.
Robert Parker, 53, Easton, Pennsylvania, an attorney, was indicted today for allegedly stealing funds in his escrow account. Parker is charged with two counts of second- and third-degree grand larceny and two counts of first-degree perjury.
According to the indictment, between 2014 and 2018, the defendant, allegedly stole a down payment of approximately $98,000 in connection with a real estate transaction and a settlement of $55,000 from a client, and rebuffed numerous attempts to contact him.
Parker was released without bail and ordered to return to court on September 19, 2018.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made the announcement.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant was entrusted to safeguard these funds, but instead allegedly stole the money and used it for his own purposes. We will now hold him accountable for his alleged criminal actions.”
The case was referred to the District Attorney’s Office by the Grievance Committee.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Sara Walshe, of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Michael Spanakos, Unit Chief, and the overall supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.
Terrell Hampton, 37, was sentenced today to 119 months in prison for defrauding the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and innocent owners and purchasers of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania real estate.
Terrell Hampton, along with his father Kenneth Hampton and other family members, stole vacant homes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that belonged to people who could not afford to defend their properties. Kenneth Hampton was convicted and sentenced to 200 months in prison in November.
At the direction of his father, who was in prison at the time, Terrell looked for vacant properties to target, created and filed fraudulent deeds, sought buyers for the stolen properties, and kept Kenneth apprised of scheme developments. They communicated through phone calls, emails, and letters, as well as through Kenneth’s fiancée, co-conspirator Roxanne Mason.
The participants in the scheme moved into the stolen properties under the cover of fake leases that purported to grant them the right to occupancy. They then found ways to profit from the stolen properties, either by selling the homes to good faith purchasers, by saddling them with debt, or by taking advantage of government programs designed to aid legitimate homeowners.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain.
“This defendant stole from people who didn’t have the resources to fight back, often resulting in victim battling against victim, homeowner against good faith purchaser,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “He lived up to the low example set by his father, and I am proud that the talented case team has put both of them behind bars.”
The case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security – Office of the Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of the Inspector General, City of Philadelphia. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Paul G. Shapiro and Sarah M. Wolfe
Dean Rossi, 49, Warrington, Pennsylvania, was found guilty by a federal jury yesterday of bank, mail and loan fraud in connection with a mortgage scheme.
Rossi, who owned numerous low-income properties throughout the Philadelphia area, misappropriated more than $643,000 from real estate closings. Specifically, after obtaining bank loans to purchase or refinance residential properties, Rossi teamed up with corrupt title/closing agents to divert a substantial portion of the loan proceeds, and then he pocketed cash from the settlements which should have been used to pay off prior mortgages and tax liens. In addition, to prevent the scheme from being detected, Rossi continued to cause payments to be made on the prior existing mortgages years after those loans were supposed to have been paid in full.
Rossi faces a maximum possible sentence of 120 years’ imprisonment, five years of supervised release, and a $4 million fine.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain.
“Our investigators and trial team did a phenomenal job of following a trail of evidence that goes back more than a decade,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The defendant went to great lengths to cover his tracks, but due to the hard work of our agents and prosecutors, his long-running scheme was exposed.”
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joel Goldstein.
John Seckel, Newtown, Pennsylvania, was charged by information with four counts of making false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Seckel had been the CEO of Seckel Capital, LLC, an FHA-approved mortgage lender in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
For the years 2012 to 2015, Seckel Capital, LLC, was a mortgage lender in Bucks County, Pennsylvania that was approved by the Federal Housing Administration to originate mortgage loans that would be insured by the FHA. John Seckel maintained the status of Seckel Capital as an FHA-approved lender during this time period by making false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In particular, on four occasions from 2013 to 2016, Seckel filed audited financial statements for Seckel Capital that Seckel had forged. Seckel also, four times, filed certifications falsely claiming that he had met the net worth and other requirements to be approved as an FHA lender.
If convicted the defendant faces a maximum statutory sentence of eight years’ imprisonment.
The case was investigated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Laurie Magid.
An Indictment, Information or Criminal Complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
James Nassida, IV, 50, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, was sentenced in federal court to 78 months of incarceration on his conviction of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud.
According to information presented to the court, Nassida owned and operated a mortgage broker business called Century III Home Equity (Century III), which assisted borrowers in obtaining loans collateralized by real estate. At the time of the events at issue, which was between 2002 and 2008, Century III was one of the largest mortgage broker businesses in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and during the course of that timeframe brokered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loans using more than a dozen different lenders. Many of those loans, however, involved one or more aspects of fraud.
Some of the aspect of the fraud included the following:
- Appraisals that fraudulently inflated the true value of the properties;
- Settlement statements that falsely reflected that the borrowers made substantial payments associated with the purchases of real estate;
- Settlement statements that failed to disclose secondary financing;
- Settlement statements that failed to include cash payments charged by Century III and paid by the borrowers;
- Settlement statements and closing documents that were backdated to reflect that the settlements had occurred on a date prior to the actual settlement date; and
- Various loan documents, including loan approval forms, good faith estimates, and underwriting transmittal forms, that failed to disclose secondary financing and falsely represented the combined loan to value ratio
The fraud also involved misrepresentations to some of the borrowers to induce them to enter into the transactions, including concealing the fees Century III received from lenders for the borrowers’ transactions and the impact of those fees on the borrowers’ interest rates; and concealing the nature of the mortgage products, including that some of the mortgage products could negatively amortize. Lastly, the fraud also involved Nassida’s receipt of kickbacks from the settlement company that he failed to disclose to the borrowers and lenders, as required.
Nassida also submitted multiple fraudulent documents associated with loans in which he served as a loan officer, but also that the loan officers working under his direction regularly submitted false information to lenders and borrowers. In addition, Nassida caused the submission of fake documents to the lender in connection with his purchase of a $300,000 vacation home near Seven Springs, including the following: (1) a settlement statement that overstated the sales price; (2) a loan application that falsely stated his income and assets; and (3) fake statements from an investment company that falsely verified that he had more than $600,000 in investments when he really had about $15,000. In the loan application, James Nassida reported that he earned approximately $980,000 in 2006, but he did not even file his tax returns in 2006, and his reported taxable income in 2004 and 2005 was not even close to that figure.
“This case was a breeding ground for many of the other investigations led by the Western Pennsylvania Mortgage Fraud Task Force,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Johnson. “Mortgage fraud cases are a priority for the FBI because mortgage lending and the housing market have such a significant effect on the overall economy. At the time of this case, James Nassida was living a fancy lifestyle, in a million dollar home, taking money from victims who put their trust in him. That is why today’s sentencing is significant. Since the task force formation in February, 2008, more than 100 people were charged and more than a half billion dollars in fraudulent loans were uncovered,” added SAC Johnson.
United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced the sentence. Assistant United States Attorneys Brendan T. Conway and Cindy Chung prosecuted this case on behalf of the government. Senior United States District Judge Donetta Ambrose imposed the sentence.
United States Attorney Brady commended the Mortgage Fraud Task Force for the investigation leading to the successful prosecution of Nassida. The Mortgage Fraud Task Force is comprised of investigators from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and others involved in the mortgage industry. Federal law enforcement agencies participating in the Mortgage Task Force include the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations; the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General; the United States Postal Inspection Service; and the United States Secret Service. Other Mortgage Fraud Task Force members include the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office; the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office; the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, Bureau of Consumer Protection; the Pennsylvania Department of Banking; the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation; and the United States Trustee’s Office.
Ignacio Beato, 46, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was sentenced by United States District Court Judge James M. Munley to 51 months’ imprisonment, followed by three months supervised release for conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions through a financial institution, with funds that were the proceeds of wire fraud.
According to United States Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, Beato, who was a licensed realtor, falsely represented to potential purchasers that he was authorized to sell vacant conventional and Federal Housing Administration insured mortgaged properties in Hazleton, when in fact, he did not have such authority. Between December 2013 and March 2015, Beato accepted $751,082 from individuals who believed they were purchasing properties. Beato then fraudulently converted that money to his own personal use.
Judge Munley ordered Beato to pay restitution in the amount of $65,000. The reduced restitution amount was due to a number of factors including the fact that some victims were not able to be located and others have filed civil lawsuits attempting to regain their funds. The Internal Revenue Service also previously forfeited $35,000 from Beato’s bank accounts.
The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations, the Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenny P. Roberts prosecuted the case.
Zaki M. Bey, 39, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 60 months in prison. Bey previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit loan and bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to court documents, Bey conspired with others to prepare and submit fraudulent mortgage applications to banks and lending institutions. In 2007 and 2008, Bey successfully secured more than $2 million in residential loans on at least thirteen properties located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and in New Jersey. Bey and others created fraudulent loan applications on behalf of straw buyers that contained materially false information as to the straw buyers’ income, assets, and intent to occupy the residences. Bey also furnished fraudulent records such as payroll account documents, paystubs, and financial statements to defraud financial institutions and lenders. Bey’s company at the time, Natural Home Builders, was able to receive a payout for purported construction expenses ranging from $17,864.26 to $60,000 at the closing of each settlement. Bey was not completing any construction on these properties, and obtained total settlement proceeds for construction costs of $435,074.26.
In late 2010 and early 2011, Bey filed fraudulent personal income tax returns for tax years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Bey filed these tax returns claiming false tax withholding payments and false Forms 1099-OID (“Original Issue Discount”) income for his company, Natural Home Builders. Bey attempted to receive total tax refunds from the IRS in the amount of $1,141,677. Bey was only successful in receiving $148,296 from the IRS based on the fraudulent 2009 tax return he submitted. After assessed a tax deficiency by the IRS, Bey mailed checks to the IRS from a closed bank account in an attempt to repay the fraudulent tax refund.
Beginning in 2010 to 2013, Bey engaged in a wire fraud conspiracy involving the submission of fraudulent auto loan applications. Bey furnished fraudulent records such as payroll account documents, paystubs and financial statements to defraud automobile dealerships located in Philadelphia and New Jersey. The false loan applications and fraudulent records caused the automobile dealerships to electronically submit false information to financial institutions and lenders. Through the use of straw buyers, Bey was able to obtain at least 7 automobiles.
In addition to Bey’s 60 month prison sentence, he will also be required to serve 3 years’ supervised release and pay back $705,528.22 in restitution to multiple financial institutions and the Internal Revenue Service.
The sentence was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Louis D. Lappen. The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James Pavlock.