Tammy Hamrin, formerly known as Tammy A. Cheek, 58, Virginia Beach, Virginia, the former president of an escrow and title company was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for misappropriating $715,000 of closing funds in connection with 48 real estate transactions for which she served as the settlement agent.

According to court documents, Hamrin was a licensed title and settlement agent and was the president, secretary, and treasurer of Preferred Escrow and Title, Inc. During 48 real estate transactions between January 2018 and approximately February 2018, Hamrin misappropriated $715,000 of closing funds that had been deposited by various lenders and individual buyers into the company’s escrow account. She did so by making seven unauthorized wire transfers of funds from the escrow account to certain entities at the request of a person with whom Hamrin had an online personal relationship.

During this period, Hamrin partially replenished the funds that she had misappropriated by depositing approximately $199,000 of her own money into the escrow account, resulting in a remaining shortage of approximately $516,000. As a result, all 48 closings were affected. Among others, losses were sustained by sellers, buyers, business entities, financial institutions, various lienholders, municipal clerks of court and treasurer offices, and a title insurance company.

Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Salsbury prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:21-cr-2.

Marvette Thompson Easterling, 54, Gaffney, South Carolina; Keylon Wright, 40, Simpsonville, South Carolina; and Joshua David Armato, 37, Georgia today admitted that they knowingly defrauded a program established to help homeowners at risk of mortgage loan default and foreclosure of thousands of dollars in a scheme that defrauded the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Evidence presented in court showed that through false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, Easterling obtained funds from SC Housing, a federally funded mortgage payment assistance program that provided eligible homeowners with temporary mortgage assistance so that they could avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.  Easterling concealed and failed to notify SC Housing of monthly rental income she received for the property as well as the non-owner-occupied status of the property in order to receive and use federal funds to which she was not eligible.

Additional evidence presented in court further showed that Wright executed a similar scheme for a property in Mauldin, South Carolina, while Armato executed a similar scheme for a property in Simpsonville, South Carolina.  Wright and Armato concealed and failed to notify SC Housing of the non-owner occupied statuses of their properties and the rental of the properties to unrelated third parties in order to receive and use federal funds to which they were not eligible.

Acting United States Attorney M. Rhett DeHart made the announcement.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks ordered each defendant to a sentence of time served followed by five years of supervised release and the repayment of the stolen funds for the felony charges.

With today’s sentencing, SIGTARP and the United States Attorney’s Office have brought justice for defendants who defraud and steal from the Hardest Hit Fund, a federal program that helps unemployed homeowners stay in their home,” said Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero.  “Easterling, Wright, and Armato separately lied to get thousands of federal dollars for mortgage assistance, concealing that they did not live in the house and concealing rental income.  Now they are convicted of fraud and must repay the stolen funds.”

Stealing from the federal government, particularly from programs that help the least fortunate in America, will not be tolerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DeHart.  “Our office appreciates the investigative work of the Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP) and will continue to work with SIGTARP to protect American tax dollars.

The cases were investigated by SIGTARP, as an independent law enforcement agency used to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse related to the TARP bailout.

Assistant United States Attorney Winston Marosek prosecuted the cases.

Osbado Hernandez, 52, Avenel, New Jersey, a former Hudson County Sheriff’s officer, was charged for making false statements to a bank in connection with an application to discharge a mortgage through a fraudulent short sale.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From September 2015 to Dec. 30, 2015, in order to induce a bank to discharge a mortgage on a property in Keansburg, New Jersey, Hernandez made false statements in connection with a fraudulent short sale of the property, including that he did not have any money to apply toward his mortgage delinquency and that he intended to vacate the property following the short sale. Hernandez fraudulently withheld information regarding the availability of funds in a savings account he failed to disclose to the bank. Hernandez also signed a sworn affidavit that he would not stay in the property for more than 90 days following the short sale, even though he intended to, and did, continue living at the property. As a result of the fraudulent short sale, the bank discharged over $98,000 of debt against Hernandez.

The false statements charge is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $1 million.

Hernandez appeared this afternoon via videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jessica S. Allen in Newark federal court and was released on $100,000 unsecured bond.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig made the announcement.

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas Mahoney, and special agents with IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez, with the investigation leading to the charge.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elaine K. Lou of the Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

Casey David Crowther, 35, Fort Myers, Florida has been sentenced to three years and one month in federal prison for two counts of bank fraud, two counts of making a false statement to a lending institution, and two counts of money laundering.

At trial, a federal jury had found Crowther guilty of committing bank fraud, making a false statement to a lending institution, and two counts of money laundering on March 26, 2021, which were related to a PPP fraud scheme. Before the trial started, Crowther pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, which were related to a mortgage fraud scheme. As part of the mortgage fraud scheme, Crowther created false bank statements to justify a loan he had used to purchase a nearly $1.3 million waterfront house in St. James City, Florida.

According to evidence at the trial, Crowther obtained a $2.1 million PPP loan by falsely stating that he had intended to use the money to make payroll and pay rent and utilities for his company Target Roofing and Sheet Metal, Inc. However, Crowther intended to use the money to enrich himself and, once the loan was obtained, quickly used the proceeds to make a series of personal purchases including a nearly $700,000 boat and a $100,000 payment to a former business partner. Crowther concealed the scheme by providing false explanations for the expenditures to his bank, calling the boat “equipment” and the payment to his former partner “payroll.” Under the terms of the PPP program, Crowther did not have to pay back the loan if he used at least 60% of the proceeds on payroll. To falsely make it appear he met that threshold, Crowther created dozens of fake employees to whom he purportedly paid wages: by adding multiple family members to his company’s payroll, even though they did not actually perform work; and, separately, by creating 39 other fake employees, for whom he obtained fake identification documents — including Social Security cards — that he provided to his company’s Human Resources to be placed in the files of the “employees.”

The court also ordered Crowther to forfeit $2,739,081.21, $630,482.37, and a 40’ catamaran boat, which were the proceeds of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud and the mortgage fraud offenses.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Trent Reichling and Michael V. Leeman. Assistant United States Attorney Suzanne Nebesky obtained the forfeitures.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form

Yorce Yotagri, 54, Freeport, New York, was sentenced today to 12 months and one day in prison for participating in a conspiracy to carry out a $9 million scheme to use bogus information and simultaneous loan applications at multiple banks to fraudulently obtain home equity lines of credit, a scheme known as “shotgunning”.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

Yotagri was a business partner of Jorge Flores of Oakdale, New York, and Jose Piedrahita of Freeport, New York two conspirators also charged in the indictment. From 2010 through February 2018, Yotagri, Flores, Piedrahita, and others conspired to fraudulently obtain multiple home equity lines of credit (HELOC) from banks on residential properties in New Jersey and New York.

In August 2016, Yotagri lived at a property in Freeport, New York. A quitclaim deed was prepared that facilitated the transfer of ownership of the property to Yotagri and Piedrahita even though Piedrahita did not own the property.

In September 2016, with the Freeport, New York property now in the names of Yotagri and Piedrahita, the conspirators applied for a $290,000 HELOC from a victim bank in Yotagri’s and Piedrahita’s names using the property as collateral. Piedrahita’s contact information appeared on the HELOC application on the Freeport property, which also contained inflated income and assets for Piedrahita. On Dec. 2, 2016, based on the false representations contained in the application, the victim bank issued a HELOC to Piedrahita for $290,000. Piedrahita then disbursed the $290,000 to himself, Yotagri, and Flores. The HELOC funds were never repaid.

In January 2017, Flores called another victim bank and applied for a second HELOC in Piedrahita’s name for $250,000 – again using the Freeport property as collateral. This time Flores’ email address and phone number appeared on the HELOC application on the Freeport property. To demonstrate to the second victim bank that the property was unencumbered by any senior mortgages, Flores and Piedrahita sent several fraudulent documents to the victim bank to conceal the existence of or amounts owed on senior mortgages. The false documents the defendants submitted included a series of false payoff letters and fake checks from other banks, all submitted to deceive the victim bank into believing that the remaining value of the senior mortgages on the Freeport property was far less than what was actually owed.

On March 22, 2017, the second victim bank issued a HELOC to Piedrahita for $250,000.  Piedrahita then disbursed nearly the entirety of the HELOC funds to himself and Yotagri. The funds obtained by Piedrahita and Yotagri from the HELOC were not repaid and were overdrawn, causing losses to the second victim bank totaling approximately $290,000.

At the time the applications for the two HELOCS were made, there was not sufficient equity in the Freeport property to support the $540,000 in HELOC applications made by Flores, Piedrahita, and Yotagri.

The overall scheme, which included HELOC loans for approximately 17 different properties, resulted in over $9 million in losses to the victim banks.

Yotagri, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to an indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Judge Vazquez imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Vazquez sentenced Yotagri to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $580,048.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig made the announcement.

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG), Northeast Region, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert W. Manchak; and special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason S. Gould of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory of the FHFA-OIG.

The charges and allegations against Yotagri’s co-defendants contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

Marco Lurigio, also known as “Demetrio Cardone,” 45 and Sandy Lurigio, also known as “Janette Chavez,” 39, Downers Grove, Illinois,  a husband and his wife, have been charged in federal court in Chicago with participating in a mortgage fraud scheme that defrauded financial institutions out of at least $2.5 million.

The Lurigio’s owned several Illinois-based companies, including S&G Technologies Inc., O.C. Management Group Inc., Riverview Financial Inc., and Toro Management, Inc.  According to the indictment, the Lurigios recruited buyers to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans for properties on Chicago’s South Side by making and causing to be made materially false representations in documents submitted to financial institutions.  The false representations included documents and statements regarding, among other things, the buyers’ employment, income, assets, source of down payment, and intention to occupy the property as a primary residence, the indictment states.  In some instances, the Lurigios fraudulently claimed to lenders that the buyers were employed by one of the Lurigios’ companies, even though they knew that was untrue, the indictment states.  The alleged fraud scheme lasted from 2011 to 2014, the indictment states.

The indictment was returned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.  It charges Marco Lurigio, and Sandy Lurigio with eight counts of financial institution fraud.  Arraignments have not yet been scheduled.

The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Michael Powell, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason Yonan and Alejandro Ortega.

The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Each count of financial institution fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison.  If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

 

Simon Curanaj, 67, Yonkers, New York, was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for his role in a $3.5 million scheme to use false information and simultaneous loan applications at multiple banks to fraudulently obtain home equity lines of credit, a practice known as “shotgunning.”

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

From 2012 through January 2014, Curanaj, Michael Arroyo, and others conspired to fraudulently obtain multiple home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) from banks on residential properties in New Jersey and New York, including a residential property on Havermeyer Avenue, Bronx, New York. In 2013, Curanaj, Arroyo, and others transferred ownership of the property to an individual living at the property and his family friend.

Curanaj, Arroyo, and others then applied, in the family friend’s name, for two HELOCs from two banks using the Havermeyer Avenue property as collateral. They hid from the lenders the fact that the property was either already subject to senior liens that had not yet been recorded, or that the same property was offered as collateral for a line of credit from another lender. The applications also falsely inflated the family friend’s income without his knowledge. In addition, the equity in the property was far less than the amount of the HELOC loans Curanaj, Arroyo, and others applied for.

The victim banks eventually issued loans to the family friend in excess of $500,000. After the victim banks deposited money into the family friend’s bank accounts, portions of the funds were disbursed to Curanaj, Arroyo, and others. Eventually, the family friend defaulted on the two HELOC loans. The overall scheme resulted in $2.2 million in losses to the victim banks.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Vazquez sentenced Curanaj to five years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $2.1 million in restitution. Arroyo was sentenced in September 2018 to 21 months in prison for his role in the scheme.

Curanaj previously pleaded guilty to an information charging him with conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Judge Vazquez imposed the sentence by videoconference today.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig made the announcement.

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) – Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert Manchak in Newark, and special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason S. Gould of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory of the FHFA, Office of the Inspector General.

 

Steve Young Kang, aka “Steven Young Kang” and “Young Tae Kang,” 66, Ridgefield, New Jersey, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his role in a multi-year scheme to defraud financial institutions and others for a Short Sale Fraud Scheme.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Kang and others fraudulently induced mortgage lenders to participate in “short sale” transactions, in which, typically, a financial institution agrees to allow a homeowner in financial distress to sell his or her home for less than the homeowner owes on the mortgage. Such transactions are called short sales because the market value of the house is less than the amount owed by the homeowner and the lender agrees to accept a payment “short” of the amount owed by the owner.

From June 2013 to January 2017, Kang, who owned and controlled two real estate brokerages, sold his own properties and recruited others to sell properties in fraudulent short sales to a co-schemer, Mehdi Kassai. The co-schemers convinced financial institutions to agree to short sales and to accept less than the properties were worth through false documents, straw buyers, and cosmetic damage to properties. Kang, as a listing broker, also prevented legitimate and higher offers from being made by artificially limiting the ability of others to bid on and buy properties. Kassai then sold the properties to third-parties at a substantial profit. Kang defrauded financial institutions and others of at least $2.7 million.

In addition to the prison term, Kang was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered him to forfeit $835,248 in proceeds of the scheme. Restitution will be determined at a later date.

Kang previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini to an information charging him with one count of bank fraud and one count of wire fraud. Judge Martini imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

Rahul Agarwal, Attorney for the United States in this matter, announced.

Attorney for the United States Agarwal credited special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert Manchak, special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason J. Molina, and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Mark Musella, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Charlie L. Divine and Kevin V. Di Gregory of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

 

Ronald J. Mccord, 70, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma pleaded guilty yesterday to defrauding two locally-based banks, Fannie Mae, and others through a broad range of fraudulent conduct over the course of three years.

McCord was the Chairman and founder of First Mortgage Company, LLC (“FMC”), an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma based mortgage lending and loan servicing company.

According to court documents and yesterday’s plea hearing, McCord admitted to defrauding Spirit Bank (“Spirit”) and Citizens State Bank (“Citizens”)—two state-chartered financial institutions—as well as their respective residential mortgage subsidiaries, American Southwest Mortgage Corporation (“Mortgage Corp.”) and American Southwest Mortgage Funding Corporation (“Funding Corp.”).  An independent audit discovered that McCord had sold more than $14,100,000.00 in Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp. loans “out of trust” by failing to repay Spirit/Mortgage Corp. when certain Spirit/Mortgage Corp.-initiated loans were refinanced or otherwise paid off.  At the time of this discovery, FMC carried outstanding balances of about $200,000,000.00 and $140,000,000.00 on the Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp. lines of credit, respectively.

Upon learning of McCord’s conduct, Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp. terminated future warehouse lending to FMC, and instituted new notification requirements that required McCord to assign FMC-funded mortgages to Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp., to ensure the title companies handling those mortgages sent payoffs directly to the banks.  McCord admitted at yesterday’s plea hearing that he filed the assignments as required, but then caused the mortgages to be released on two properties—in Leland and Denver, North Carolina—after collecting the mortgage payoffs.

Spirit/Mortgage Corp. and Citizens/Funding Corp.’s refusal to fund new FMC mortgages prompted McCord to seek out a new warehouse lender.  In early 2017, McCord began negotiating with CapLOC, LLC, a North Carolina-based mortgage lending business, and offered to sell FMC’s mortgage lending business in exchange for quick funding from CapLOC.  At yesterday’s plea hearing, McCord admitted that he made a materially false statement and representation to CapLOC in the course of those negotiations, in order to influence CapLOC’s actions.

Finally, in 2017, FMC serviced approximately 12,000 loans worth a total of approximately $1,800,000,000.00 for the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”).  McCord admitted at the plea hearing that he defrauded Fannie Mae by diverting escrow monies intended to pay homeowners’ taxes and insurance premiums to cover FMC’s operating expenses.  McCord also admitted that he then laundered the proceeds by causing a wire transfer from FMC’s operating account to a custom home builder, as payment towards construction of McCord’s home in Colorado.

At sentencing, which is currently scheduled for August 9, 2021, McCord faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000.00 on each count of bank fraud and false statement to a financial institution.  He also faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine on the money laundering count.  Per the terms of his plea agreement, the government agreed not to advocate at sentencing for a sentence above 104 months.  Under the plea agreement, McCord will be ordered to pay restitution to the victims of his conduct in amounts to be determined by the court at the time of sentencing.  McCord must also forfeit proceeds of the fraudulent schemes and property involved in the offenses.  Further, as part of the plea agreement, the government will dismiss at sentencing the remaining counts of the Indictment.

On June 3, 2020, a grand jury returned a 24-count Indictment against McCord.  The charges included bank fraud, money laundering, and making a false statement to a financial institution.

The announcement was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester.

This case is the result of investigations by the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of the Inspector General, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia E. Barry is prosecuting the case.

Reference is made to court filings for further information.

 

Edmundo Roman-Perez, 71, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, an attorney has been sentenced today to 1 to 3 years in prison for stealing approximately $280,000 in down payments he received to hold in escrow from two clients he represented in the sale of their homes. The defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny in December 2020.

According to the investigation, in late 2018, a couple hired the defendant to represent them in the sale of their two-family, Sunset Park, Brooklyn home. The home sold for $1,350,000 and the defendant received a $135,000 down payment from the buyers that he should have held in his attorney escrow account until the date of closing, when the funds should have been released to his clients. Instead, the defendant used the money for his own benefit. After closing in March 2019, the defendant issued checks to his clients purporting to cover the $135,000 owed, which bounced upon deposit. The defendant failed to disburse the funds he owed to his clients.

Similarly, between November 2018 and April 2019, the defendant represented three brothers in the sale of their two-family home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The home sold for $1,500,000 and the defendant received a $150,000 down payment from the buyers that he should have held in his attorney escrow account until closing, when he should have released the money to his clients. Instead, the defendant again used the money for his own benefit, and issued the brothers checks purporting to cover the funds owed to each of them. The checks bounced and the defendant failed to distribute the funds he owed to the brothers.

Additionally, the defendant was under indictment in Richmond County related to allegations that he stole client funds. In November 2020, he pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree grand larceny and received a sentence of 1 to 3 years in prison. The Brooklyn and Staten Island sentences will run concurrently.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “Today’s sentence holds this defendant accountable for the serious breach of trust and financial hardship he caused his victims. Let this serve as a reminder that I am committed to protecting Brooklyn’s residents from attorneys and other unscrupulous fraudsters who abuse their positions of authority to take advantage of those they are entrusted to advise and represent.”

The case was investigated by Supervising Financial Investigator Deborah Wey of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Katherine Zdrojeski of the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Laura Neubauer, Chief of the Public Integrity Bureau, and Assistant District Attorney Michel Spanakos, Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division, and the overall supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Chief of the Investigations Division.