Archives For Straw Buyer

Momoud Aref Abaji, 37, Huntington Beach, California was sentenced to federal prison for his leadership role in a “builder bailout” mortgage fraud scheme.

The scheme Abaji operated resulted in the fraudulent purchase of more than 100 condominium units around the country, causing more than $10 million in losses when the properties went into foreclosure.

Abaji, along with several co-conspirators, operated the scheme through Excel Investments and related companies based in Santa Ana and Irvine, California. The scheme involved kickbacks from condominium builders during the 2008 financial crisis, that Abaji and his co-conspirators hid from lenders to convince them to fund loans in excess of the actual purchase price. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Maher+Obagi

During the course of the scheme, co-conspirators identified condominium developments around the country where the builders were struggling to sell units and arranged to purchase multiple units at a discount. The builders benefited by making it appear that their condos were selling and maintaining their value, while members of the conspiracy obtained the kickbacks.

The co-conspirators negotiated with condominium builders in California, Florida and Arizona for discount units. The defendants bought units for themselves, their relatives, and on behalf of “straw buyers” whom they brought into the scheme. They identified straw buyers by looking for individuals with good credit scores and then recruited them into the scheme by giving them an upfront payment for their participation and by presenting the scheme as an investment opportunity that required no down payment and would generate income through rental payments.

To obtain mortgages for the properties, Abaji and other co-conspirators prepared loan applications with false information about the straw buyers – including fake employment, income and assets, as well as fabricated W2s, pay stubs and bank statements. The mortgage applications also included false information about the terms of the transactions, such as concealing the large kickbacks from builders through false and misleading HUD-1 forms. As a result of the false statements in the fraudulent loan applications, mortgage lenders provided over $21 million in financing to purchase more than 100 properties.

Many of these loans went into default, and mortgage lenders lost more than $10 million after foreclosing on the properties. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) purchased dozens of these loans on the secondary mortgage market and suffered losses of at least $1.3 million as a result of defaults and foreclosures on the properties.

Abaji was sentenced to 108 months in prison by United States District Judge Andrew Guilford and ordered to pay more than $10 million in restitution to the financial institutions that were victims of the fraud.

Several other defendants were charged in connection with the same scheme.

  • Abaji’s brother, Maher Obagi, 32, Huntington Beach, California who was sentenced in June 2018 to 78 months in prison and ordered to pay just over $10 million in restitution.
  • Mohamed Salah, 43, Mission Viejo, California who was sentenced in June 2018 to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay just over $7 million in restitution.
  • Ali Khatib, 53, Newport Coast, California pleaded guilty in a related case and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 10th;
  • Jacqueline Burchell, 57, Orange, California pleaded guilty in June 2013 and is scheduled to be sentenced on October 1st;
  • Wajieh Tbakhi, 53, who is currently a fugitive; and
  • Mohamed El Tahir, now deceased.

This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Inspector General; and IRS Criminal Investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kerry L. Quinn of the Major Frauds Section.

Dan Heine and Diana Yates, former executives at the Bank of Oswego in Lake Oswego, Oregon, were sentenced today to one count each of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and twelve counts each of falsifying bank entries, reports, and transactions

Dan Heine, a co-founder of the bank, was president, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and member of the board of directors from September 2004 through September 2014. Diana Yates was executive vice president, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and secretary of the board of directors from 2004 through March 2012. During the conspiracy Heine and Yates concealed the true financial condition of the bank to regulators and the board of directors by falsely reporting that the bank had title to a property in a straw buyer transaction, falsely reporting that delinquent loans were paid, and falsely reporting the sale of bank owned property. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/oregon-bank-officers-indicted/#more-22161

Heine and Yates were sentenced to 24 and 18 months in prison, respectively.

Dan Heine and Diane Yates orchestrated one of the largest and most complex bank fraud schemes in Oregon’s history. Their selfish acts of greed are deplorable,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “While we urged the court to impose longer sentences, these sentences still serve as a warning to bank executives and others entrusted with fiduciary responsibilities. We will continue to work with federal investigators to protect investors and ensure the trustworthiness of our financial institutions.”

For centuries, the American banking system has served as the bedrock of the U.S. economy. Honest bankers are critical to our financial system. By addressing lies and conspiracies at the Bank of Oswego, the FBI and Department of Justice have helped re-establish the integrity of the financial system we all rely on,” said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon

A forfeiture and restitution hearing has been scheduled for August 7, 2018. The case was investigated by the FBI and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG) and prosecuted by Claire Fay, Quinn Harrington, and Michelle Kerin, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon.

 

Maher Obagi, 32, Huntington Beach, California was sentenced on Tuesday to 78 months in prison and ordered to pay just over $10 million in restitution.  A second defendant, Mohamed Salah, 43, Mission Viejo, California was sentenced to 57 months in prison and was ordered to pay just over $7 million in restitution.    Obagi and Salah were sentenced to federal prison for participating in a “builder bailout” mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in the fraudulent purchase of more than 100 condominium units around the country, causing more than $10 million in losses when the properties went into foreclosure.

Obagi and Salah, along with several co-conspirators http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Maher+Obagi , operated the scheme through Excel Investments and related companies that were based in Santa Ana and then Irvine, California. The scheme involved kickbacks from condominium builders during the 2008 financial crisis, kickbacks that were hidden from lenders to convince them to fund loans in excess of actual purchase price.

During the course of the scheme, co-conspirators identified condominium developments around the country in which the builders were struggling to sell units and then arranged with the builders to purchase multiple units at a discount. The builders benefited by making it appear that their condos were selling and maintaining their value, while members of the conspiracy obtained the kickbacks.

The co-conspirators negotiated with condominium builders in California, Florida and Arizona for discount units. The defendants bought units for themselves, their relatives, and on behalf of “straw buyers” whom they brought into the scheme. They identified straw buyers by looking for individuals with good credit scores and then recruited them into the scheme by giving them an upfront payment for their participation and by presenting the scheme as an investment opportunity that required no down payment and would generate income through rental payments.

To obtain mortgages for the properties, Obagi and other co-conspirators prepared loan applications with false information about the straw buyers – including fake employment, income and assets, as well as fabricated W2s, pay stubs and bank statements. The mortgage applications also included false information about the terms of the transactions, such as concealing the large kickbacks from lenders through false and misleading HUD-1 forms. As a result of the false statements in the fraudulent loan applications, mortgage lenders provided over $21 million in financing to purchase more than 100 properties.

Many of these loans went into default, and mortgage lenders lost more than $10 million after foreclosing on the properties. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) purchased dozens of these loans on the secondary mortgage market and suffered losses of at least $1.3 million as a result of defaults and foreclosures on the properties.

Both defendants were sentenced by United States District Judge Andrew Guilford.

Following a trial in 2015, Obagi was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud. Salah was found guilty by the same federal jury of one count of conspiracy.

Several other defendants were charged in connection with the same scheme. They are:

  • Ali Khatib, 53, Newport Coast, California who pleaded guilty in a related case and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 16;
  • Momoud Aref Abaji, 37, Huntington Beach, California who was convicted at trial and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 14;
  • Jacqueline Burchell, 57, Orange, California who pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 16;
  • Wajieh Tbakhi, 53, who is a fugitive; and
  • Mohamed El Tahir, who is now deceased.

This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Inspector General; and IRS Criminal Investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kerry L. Quinn of the Major Frauds Section.

Robert Levie Norris, Jr., 50, New Bern, North Carolina was sentenced today to 48 months in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and obstruction of a federal bank examination.

According to court records, statements made in court, and other public information, Norris was the first President and Chief Executive Officer of Coastal Bank and Trust (CB&T), which opened its doors to customers in 2009.  Norris served in this capacity from April 2009 to June 2013.  As CB&T’s highest ranking executive, Norris was entrusted to oversee all aspects of CB&T’s business and to ensure that CB&T operated in accordance with applicable federal and state laws, rules, and regulations.  In June 2013, it was discovered that Norris had engaged in a scheme to defraud CB&T by engineering fraudulent loan transactions with straw borrowers where the true beneficiaries of the loans were co-conspirators of Norris, business entities controlled by Norris, or Norris himself.  The offending loans included unsecured lines of credit, small business loans, and mortgages for commercial and residential properties.  Norris used his position of trust and authority at CB&T to circumvent the bank’s internal controls and normal loan underwriting procedures.  To conceal his scheme, Norris withheld relevant information about the fraudulent loans from CB&T’s board of directors and examiners from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.  CB&T suffered losses of approximately $2.4 million as a result of Norris’ conduct.

The Court ordered the term of imprisonment to be followed by 3 years of supervised release.  Norris was also ordered to pay $2,397,475 in restitution. Norris was named in a Criminal Information on April 18, 2017 alleging the above offenses.  Norris pled guilty to the charges on May 17, 2017.

The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Robert J. Higdon, Jr., made the announcement.

When a bank official uses their position for their own personal profit they do more than commit a federal crime, they abuse their power and violate the public’s trust. Mr. Norris’ sentence today is proof of the commitment of the FBI to work with other law enforcement agencies to find these offenders and hold them accountable,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.

United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. said, “Mr. Norris used his position of trust to unlawfully line his pockets with money to which he was not entitled. The USAO-EDNC will always work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to vigorously investigate and prosecute this type of criminal conduct. Mr. Norris’ sentence sends a strong message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated and will be punished accordingly.”

Mr. Norris’ fraud scheme and deception of bank examiners is the type of criminal conduct that impedes federal regulators from effectively supervising banking institutions,” said Mark Bialek, Inspector General of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. “Today’s sentencing is one more step in a joint effort with our federal partners to hold accountable those who undermine the integrity of those institutions.”

This sentencing holds the defendant accountable for misusing his position as the bank President and CEO to fabricate fraudulent loans with straw borrowers, evade internal controls, and withhold information from the bank’s Board.  The underlying conspiracy cost the bank millions of dollars.  This case demonstrates the importance of cooperation among law enforcement partners to combat such criminal conduct and maintain the integrity of financial institutions,” said FDIC Inspector General Jay N. Lerner.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System – Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Adam Hulbig prosecuted the case for the government.

Joseph DiValli, Jackson, New Jersey, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his role in a large-scale mortgage fraud scheme that used phony documents and straw buyers to acquire more than $6 million in loans.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court: http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Joseph+DiValli+

From March 2011 through November 2012, DiValli and other conspirators agreed to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans for properties located in North Jersey, New Jersey. After recruiting “straw buyers” to purchase the properties, DiValli and others submitted false and fraudulent loan applications and supporting documents so the straw buyers could qualify for the loans. DiValli and others also used another conspirator, who worked at a bank, to create misleading certifications showing certain bank accounts held more money than they actually had. DiValli and other conspirators also submitted false appraisal reports, backdated deeds and used unlicensed title agents to close transactions and disburse the mortgage proceeds.

As a loan officer for a North Jersey mortgage lender, DiValli facilitated some of these fraudulent transactions, including a $244,855.26 mortgage on a property located on Smith Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey. Overall, the scheme induced lenders to issue more than $6 million in loans, resulting in several defaults and exposing lenders and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to more than $2 million in potential losses.

DiValli also admitted using a separate scheme to modify the mortgage on his personal residence. From March 2011 through June 2012, Divalli used false payroll ledgers and earnings statements to deceive a loan officer into believing that his net earnings were lower than his actual income level.

DiValli also admitted receiving income of more than $450,000 in 2012. In order to avoid taxes of $79,000, DiValli failed to file taxes for 2012 and cashed his paychecks at a check-cashing facility to conceal his income.

DiValli previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to a superseding information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. Judge Wigenton imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Wigenton sentenced DiValli to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $2,322,045.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito made the announcement and credited law enforcement agents of the FBI Newark Mortgage Fraud Task Force, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie; postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge Ruth M. Mendonca; special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi; special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Steven Perez; special agents of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), under the direction of Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero; special agents of IRS–Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryant Jackson; and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Esther Suarez, for the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lakshmi Srinivasan Herman of the National Security Unit, Andrew Kogan of the Cyber Unit, and Senior Litigation Counsel Barbara Ward of the Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Unit.

Defense counsel: Michael A. Koribanics Esq. Clifton, New Jersey.

Kirk Lawrence Brannan, 64, Texas has entered a guilty plea to bank fraud for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme.  Brannan admitted to conspiring with others from 2005 to 2009 to execute a scheme to defraud Wells Fargo Bank and other lenders.

Brannan sold 10 beach homes in the Freeport/Surfside, Texas area to “straw buyers” at exorbitant prices. Other co-conspirators recruited straw buyers who created loan applications with misrepresentations that lenders relied upon in deciding to make the mortgage loans. The applications contained misrepresentations of the buyer’s address, employer, income and expenses. The applications also suggested the buyers were much better credit risks than they actually were. Brannan admitted he paid kickbacks to co-conspirators each time one of the beach homes was sold to a straw buyer.

The beach properties were sold at two to three times the appraised values. The mortgage lenders, including Wells Fargo Bank, were induced to lend the inflated amounts for the purchases through flawed or fraudulent appraisals which were based on comparisons Brannan manufactured to further the scheme.

Brannan created settlement statements that suggested he sold three of his properties to his children at exorbitant prices. Appraisers relied upon these “sales” as comparable sales in appraising Brannan’s remaining properties sold to straw buyers. As a result of the fraudulent appraisals, he and his co-conspirators were able to inflate the values for his properties and deceive the lenders into approving home loans at those exorbitant amounts.

All of the straw buyers defaulted on the mortgages, and all 10 of the beach properties ended up in foreclosure.

The fraudulent mortgage loan scheme resulted in a loss of $5,317,350 to Wells Fargo Bank and the other lenders. Brannan paid $2,401,368 to his co-conspirators as part of the scheme.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal accepted the plea and set sentencing for Aug. 29, 2018, at which time Brannan faces up to 30 years in federal prison and a possible $1 million maximum fine. He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

Co-conspirators Chucoboie Lanier, 41, Houston, Texas, David Lee Morris, 55, Houston, Texas, and Derwin Jerome Blackshear, 50, Houston, Texas, previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. They are set for sentencing Sept. 26, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick made the announcement.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Johnson and Michael Day are prosecuting the case.

Dirk Hall, 42, Queens, New York was sentenced today to 41 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by five years of supervised release, after having pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud in connection with a multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme.

According to court filings and facts presented at the sentencing hearing, between September 2008 and May 2011, Hall, 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. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/5-charged-with-defrauding-mortgage-lending-institutions/#more-20083  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 and his co-conspirators 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.  To that end, the defendant and his co-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 co-conspirator had occurred over 60 days prior to the sale from the co-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 loans.  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.

The announcement was made by United States District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the sentencing.  Mr. Donoghue 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 is being handled by the Office’s Business and Securities Fraud Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys David C. Pitluck, Mark E. Bini and Michael T. Keilty are in charge of the prosecution.

Geoffrey S. Walsh, a former vice president of the Bank of Oswego, Lake Oswego, Oregon, was sentenced today to 30 months in federal prison followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Walsh had previously pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to make false entries in bank records, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and wire fraud on July 22, 2015.

Facts Related to Conspiracy to Make False Entries in Bank Records Conviction

From January 2009 to May 2012, Walsh served as the Bank of Oswego’s Vice President and Director of Mortgage Services and later as its Vice President of Business Development and Lending Services. As an institution insured and regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the bank was required to submit quarterly call reports detailing the financial condition of the bank.

From 2009 through 2010, the bank was in second position on a mortgage secured by real property located on A Avenue, Lake Oswego, Oregon. The borrower’s failure to make timely payments and her deteriorating financial condition were discussed weekly by Walsh and other members of the bank’s Internal Loan Committee (ILC), including the CEO, Dan Heine and CFO, Diana Yates. In October 2010, the first mortgagee declared the borrower in default and foreclosed on the property. In order to avoid a loss of nearly $100,000 and avoid reporting the loss to the FDIC and the board of directors, Walsh, Heine and Yates formulated a plan to acquire and sell the property to recover the remaining balance on the loan. Walsh was put in charge of obtaining the property for the bank.

Walsh initially attempted to purchase the property directly from Fannie Mae, but was told it could only be sold to an individual who planned to occupy the property, and could not be sold to an institution until the property had been on the market for 15 days. On behalf of the bank, Walsh arranged for another bank employee to serve as a straw buyer, purchasing the property in the employee’s name. To accomplish this, Walsh, Heine and Yates agreed to and submitted false information to Fannie Mae about the true buyer, the source of the funds to purchase the property and the buyer’s intent to remain in the home as an occupant. Records of the sale were purposefully not maintained by Walsh, Heine and Yates in order to conceal the transaction from the bank’s board of directors and the FDIC.

On November 28, 2017, a federal jury found Heine and Yates guilty of a conspiracy to deceive the bank’s board of directors, shareholders and regulators as well as 12 counts of making false entries in the bank’s records to the FDIC and the board of directors. The verdict was based, in part, on the A Avenue transaction. Heine and Yates will be sentenced on March 5, 2018. http://www.mortgagefraudblog.com/?s=Bank+of+Oswego

Facts Related to Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud Conviction

According to court documents, Walsh worked with his brother Gregory Walsh, a former Vice President at Morgan Stanley, to persuade an Arizona woman into loaning him more than $764,000 for a real estate investment scheme. The woman, a recent widow and client of Greg Walsh’s, was told the money would be used to purchase two condominiums in the Palm Springs, California area that would be titled in her name and sold within one year.

Contrary to the promises made, Walsh titled each of the properties in the name of his business and never provided any loan or title documentation to his investor. Between May and July 2012, he sold the properties without the knowledge or permission of his investor and used the proceeds to satisfy personal financial obligations.

In January 2013, Walsh contacted his brother to gauge the same investor’s interest in loaning him an additional $2 million for a real estate development project in Oregon. Greg Walsh transferred the money from the investor’s Morgan Stanley account to his brother without the investor’s knowledge or approval. On March 5, 2013, the majority of these funds – over $1.7 million – were used to pay the balance of a line of credit at the bank. Walsh spent the remainder of the funds.

Greg Walsh has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for these same transactions. His will be sentenced on February 6, 2018.

Facts Related to Wire Fraud Conviction

In May 2012, Walsh secured a commercial loan for $500,000 from an Oregon resident, using the first two Palm Springs, California properties as collateral. In securing the loan, he failed to disclose that the properties were already pledged as security for loans he had obtained from the Arizona investor and that he was already in negotiations to sell one of the properties. Soon after receiving the loan, Walsh sold both properties and used the proceeds for his own benefit.

Between November 2012 and July 2013, the Oregon resident was repeatedly in contact with Walsh in an attempt to obtain repayment. Walsh assured his lender that he would repay the loan in full with interest. In May 2013, the lender met with the FBI to discuss Walsh’s default on the loan. Walsh made a partial repayment of $300,000 after the lender met with the FBI.

Geoff Walsh intentionally and repeatedly perpetrated large financial crimes that cheated individual investors and deceived bank regulators and the Bank of Oswego’s Board of Directors,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “He achieved this largely while retaining a position of trust as a bank executive. The imposition of this sentence demonstrates that stealing from investors and lying to regulators about a bank’s financial condition are grave matters and subject to felony charges and a prison sentence. Today’s sentencing is many years’ in the making and a testament to the hard work and persistence of federal law enforcement.”

Today’s sentencing helps to shed light on the sophisticated world of complex financial fraud at a bank where certain executives were more committed to their personal interests than those of their customers,” said Steve Goldman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Geoff Walsh’s deal-making during these long-running schemes damaged the bank itself and hurt the friends and clients who had entrusted him with their money.”

This case was investigated by the FBI and the FDIC Office of Inspector General (OIG-FDIC) and prosecuted by Claire M. Fay, Michelle Holman Kerin, and Quinn P. Harrington, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon.

Sergio Roman Barrientos, 64, Poway, California pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud.

According to court documents, from about September 2004 through February 2008, Barrientos and co-conspirators Zalathiel Aguila and Omar Anabo operated an entity named Capital Access LLC, in Vallejo, California. They preyed on homeowners nearing foreclosure, convinced them to sign away title in their homes, spent any equity those homeowners had saved, and used straw buyers to defraud federally insured financial institutions out of millions of dollars in home loans obtained under false pretenses. The equity stripped from the distressed homeowners’ properties was then used for operational expenses of the scheme and personal expenses of Barrientos and his coconspirators. Vulnerable homeowners across California lost their homes and savings as a result of the scheme, and lenders lost an estimated $10.47 million from the fraud.

Co-defendant Zalathiel Aguila remains out of custody awaiting trial. Omar Anabo, charged elsewhere, is set for sentencing on April 27.

Barrientos is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on April 6, 2018. Barrientos faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott. The case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew M. Yelovich and Todd A. Pickles are prosecuting the case.

Surjit Singh, 71, Dublin, California and his son, Rajeshwar Singh, 43, Pleasanton, California were each found guilty of four counts of mail fraud, four counts of bank fraud, and four counts of false statements on loan and credit applications. Anita Sharma, 55, Gilroy, California was found guilty of two counts of mail fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and two counts of false statements on loan and credit applications. The three were convicted for crimes relating to their involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme.

According to court documents, in 2006 and 2007, Surjit Singh recruited individuals with good credit to act as straw buyers for residential properties owned by his family members and associates. Rajeshwar Singh, a licensed real estate agent, assisted in the scheme by submitting loan applications for the straw buyers. Anita Sharma, a dental assistant at the time, was one of the straw buyers. Because Sharma and the other straw buyers could not afford the homes based on their true incomes, the Singhs submitted fraudulent loan applications and supporting material to lending institutions that included false statements about the straw buyers’ income, employment, liabilities, and intent to occupy the homes as their primary residences.

At least 14 properties were involved in the scheme. Anita Sharma alone purchased five homes in San Jose, San Ramon, Elk Grove, Sacramento, and Modesto, California. Other straw buyers purchased or refinanced properties in Stockton, Modesto, Patterson, Lathrop and Tracy, California. All of these homes were ultimately either foreclosed upon or sold in a short sale where the bank lets homeowners sell their homes for less than is owed on the mortgage.

Sharma was paid for her involvement in the scheme. Rajeshwar Singh received financial benefits through broker commissions for the transactions and as the seller of seven of the properties. He also continued to occupy the San Ramon, California property at a time when Anita Sharma should have been living there. Surjit Singh benefited through payments out of escrow directed to shell companies, such as SJR Investments and BK Investments, associated with his daughter and significant other, whose initials are SJR and BK respectively. These payments were purportedly for contracting services, which did not occur. He also benefited through rental payments made to him and his significant other by the renters of the homes, as the straw buyers were not living in the homes. In addition, many of his family members received money by selling properties and had money directed to them out of escrow. According to court documents and evidence produced at trial, the defendants were responsible for the origination of more than $9.3 million in fraudulently procured residential mortgage loans.

The defendants are scheduled for sentencing on January 26, 2018. They face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The court remanded Surjit Singh into custody.

U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert made the announcement.

Today’s verdict is yet another step in the efforts taken by this office and our partners at the FBI to bring to account those whose fraudulent activities contributed to the financial decline which had such a tremendous impact on our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Talbert. “We are gratified by the verdict and thankful for the hard work and dedication of our investigative partners.”

One of the FBI’s top priorities is to combat major white-collar crimes such as mortgage fraud,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “Mortgage fraud has negatively impacted entire communities in our region by artificially influencing home values and threatening the investments of lawful buyers. To ensure a bright future for our region, identification and investigation of mortgage fraud schemes is imperative. We will continue to investigate such crimes to both deter would-be fraudsters from acting and ensure those who commit fraud face justice.”

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Lee S. Bickley and Kelli L. Taylor are prosecuting the case.