Archives For Nevada

Joseph A. Gonzalez, 46, Henderson, Nevada, pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to use bogus information and simultaneous loan applications at multiple banks – known as “shot-gunning” – to attempt to obtain home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).

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

From 2010 through 2018, Jorge Flores and Simon Curanaj, a real estate broker in the Bronx, New York who has previously pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, ran a mortgage fraud scheme in which they applied for more than $9 million in HELOCs from banks on residential properties in New Jersey and New York.

Gonzalez and Flores used a property in Jersey City, New Jersey, as part of the scheme. Gonzalez had been allowed by the owner of the property to live there in exchange for management services, but neither he nor Flores owned the property. Gonzalez also recruited an individual with good credit to act as a straw buyer (Individual 1). Unbeknownst to the owner of the property, a “quitclaim” deed – which contains no warranties of title – was prepared transferring the property to Individual 1. The signatures on the deed were forged.

Gonzalez and Flores then applied for two HELOCs from multiple banks using the Jersey City, New Jersey property as collateral in Individual 1’s name. They concealed the fact that the property offered as collateral 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 contained false information concerning Individual 1’s income, which was stated to be higher than his actual income. At the time the applications were made, the value of the property was less than the amount of the HELOC loans for which Gonzalez and Flores applied.

The victim banks eventually issued loans to Individual 1 in excess of $500,000. After the victim banks funded the HELOCs and deposited money into Individual 1’s bank account, Individual 1 disbursed almost all of it to Gonzalez, Flores, and others. Gonzalez used $43,000 of the illicit proceeds to buy a luxury car. Individual 1 eventually defaulted on both HELOC loans.

The conspiracy to commit bank fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison, a fine of $1 million or twice the gross pecuniary gain to the defendants or twice the gross pecuniary loss to others, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for February, 10, 2021.

Gonzalez is the sixth person to plead guilty as part of the scheme.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito made the announcement.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert 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 the guilty plea.

The government is represented by Senior Trial Counsel Jason S. Gould of the U.S. Attorney’s Health Care Fraud Unit in Newark and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory of the FHFA, Office of the Inspector General.


Lynn Benson, 54, formerly of Las Vegas, Nevada was indicted today on charges including five counts of Mortgage Lending Fraud, a category “C” felony, one count of Pattern of Mortgage Lending Fraud, and five counts of Theft in the Amount of $3,500 or More, both category “B” felonies.

According to the indictment, Lynn Benson misled victims into believing their homes could be saved from mortgage foreclosure. The victims were led to believe that they could follow a devised scheme devised to not make additional payments on their homes.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt made the announcement.

Taking advantage of homeowners in need of assistance will not be tolerated by my office,” said Laxalt. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the financial safety of all Nevadans.”

In July, 2016, the Nevada Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee unanimously approved AG Laxalt’s request to create a Financial Fraud Unit to combat increasing financial fraud within the State. Among the 10 positions created using non-taxpayer settlement funds, the office dedicated a criminal investigator to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, where local, state and federal agencies collaborate to combat regional terrorism.

This case was investigated after the Office of the Nevada Attorney General began its full-time participation in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. This case was investigated by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Task Force officers, and the arrest was made by the Cloverdale, CA Police Department. The Office of the Nevada Attorney General is prosecuting this case.

A grand jury indictment is merely a charging document; every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

The grand jury indictment against Lynn Benson is attached.  To file a complaint about someone suspected of committing a fraud, click here.

Trung Anh Le, 36, California, pleaded guilty to one count of pattern of mortgage lending fraud, a category “B” felony. The fraud was committed in March of 2015.

Le misrepresented himself as the owner of three pieces of real estate property in Las Vegas, Nevada by impersonating the true owners of the property as a way to secure a loan in the amount of $180,000. As a result of Le’s misrepresentation, the title company filed deeds with the Clark County Recorder’s Office, effectively encumbering the properties.

Pattern of mortgage lending fraud is punishable by 3-20 years of imprisonment and a fine of no more than $50,000.The sentencing hearing for Le is scheduled for September 17, 2018 in the Eighth Judicial District Court.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt made the announcement.

My office is committed to protecting homeowners from fraudulent scams, and I encourage those who suspect they’ve fallen victim to a scam to file a complaint with my office,” said Laxalt.

This case was prosecuted by the Nevada Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecution Unit.

To view the criminal Information for Le, click here. To file a complaint about someone suspected of committing fraud, click here.

Geri Lyn McKinnon, 64, Gladstone, Oregon, was indicted today by the Clark County Grand Jury on four felony charges for her role in taking title, without authorization, to foreclosed properties owned by Federal National Mortgage Association.

According to the indictment, McKinnon recorded grant deeds in the Clark County Recorder’s Office, purporting to be the new owner of three single family homes in Clark County, Nevada. In fact, the properties actually belonged to the Federal National Mortgage Association and as a result of these misrepresentations, the properties became unmarketable for over two years.

The charges include three counts of Theft in the Amount of $3,500 or more, and one count of Pattern of False Representation Concerning Title, all category “B” felonies. The alleged fraudulent acts were committed in the fall of 2015.

The announcement was made by Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt.

It is important to Nevada’s housing market that property titles remain clear, marketable and free from fraud,” said Laxalt. “I encourage Nevadans looking to rent or buy properties to protect themselves through title insurance and to review the County records prior to entering into real property agreements.

This case was investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jay Johnson. The Office of the Nevada Attorney General’s Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.

An indictment is merely a charging document; every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Dustin M. Lewis, 42, Henderson, Nevada and Brian Sorensen, 49, Las Vegas, Nevada, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud arising from a real estate scheme. If convicted, Lewis and Sorenson each face a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and up to a $1,000,000 fine.

According to allegations made in the indictment, from about August 15, 2011 to about January 17, 2014, Lewis and Sorensen conspired with each other to defraud OneWest Bank. The defendants allegedly devised and executed a scheme to avoid foreclosure so that Lewis could retain ownership of a 5,331 square foot, five-bedroom Henderson, Nevada home. As part of the scheme, Lewis submitted a fraudulent short sale application to the bank, which induced the bank to allow Lewis to sell the property to Sorensen’s family member for much less than Lewis owed under the existing mortgage loan. It is further alleged that Lewis did not disclose that he and Sorensen agreed that Lewis would continue to reside at the property and Sorensen would later cause the property to be sold back to Lewis free of the bank’s mortgage loan. It is further alleged that on or about July 21, 2017, Lewis then listed the property for sale at a price of $1,195,000.

Acting U.S. Attorney Steve W. Myhre for the District of Nevada made the announcement.  The case is being investigated by the FBI, the IRS-Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Interior-Office of the Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Burns.

Barbara Jean Dennis, 60, Las Vegas, NV, a  former Nevada real estate agent who owned at least 12 rental properties in Nevada and Texas and filed multiple bankruptcy petitions to avoid paying the mortgages, has been sentenced to 11 months in prison, two years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 and restitution of $83,000.  She was sentenced on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 by U.S. District Judge Kent J. Dawson. Judge Dawson also entered an order restricting Dennis from engaging in real estate business during the period she is on supervised release.

Dennis pleaded guilty in February to bankruptcy fraud, admitting that she used the automatic stay provision in bankruptcy proceedings to avoid paying the mortgages, while at the same time, collecting rent from her tenants.  Dennis filed three bankruptcy petitions in the District of Nevada and two in the Southern District of Texas between August 2009 and November 2010. The filing of the bankruptcy petitions caused the bankruptcy court to issue an automatic stay, which prevented the mortgage lenders from filing foreclosure proceedings on her properties during the pendency of the bankruptcy proceedings. Dennis also delayed the bankruptcy cases by failing to appear at hearings and meetings, failing to submit supporting financial documents and other paperwork to the Court, and failing to disclose prior bankruptcy cases. In one case, Dennis filed the bankruptcy petition under a false name and failed to disclose the other petitions and the names under which they had been filed. Over the course of the fraud scheme, from Aug. 31, 2009, through Dec. 17, 2010, Dennis received at least $150,000, but not more than $250,000 in rental income.

As this case demonstrates, the fallout from the housing crisis in Nevada is still impacting federal investigations and prosecutions,” said U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden for the District of Nevada in announcing the sentence.  “The prosecution of these cases typically takes years and requires a significant amount of resources. This sophisticated fraud scheme involved mortgage fraud, bankruptcy fraud, 12 properties in two states, and five bankruptcy petitions.”

The sen case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn C. Newman and investigated by the FBI.



Melissa Beecroft was convicted, after a jury trial of conspiracy along with two counts each of mail and wire fraud. She was sentenced to three years in prison, five years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $2,275,025. In addition, the court entered a criminal forfeiture order against Beecroft in the sum of $107 million for the conspiracy count and an additional $1,420,000 for the remaining four counts of mail and wire fraud. Beecroft appealed, arguing the amounts of restitution and forfeiture were not properly calculated and violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines.


From roughly 2003 through 2008, Beecroft took part in a multi-million dollar residential mortgage-fraud scheme in the Las Vegas area which was led by Steven Grimm and Eve Mazzarella. The conspirators recruited and paid straw purchasers to buy homes at substantially inflated prices, sometimes with 100% mortgage financing. Once the mortgage loans were funded, Grimm and Mazzarella caused title and escrow companies to disburse excess funds to various shell corporations they owned, under the pretense of using the money to make repairs and improvements to the homes, though such repairs were never made. Grimm and Mazzarella also arranged to have participating mortgage brokers and loan officers remit a portion of their commissions and fees to Grimm. After each sale, the straw buyers would then transfer ownership in the properties themselves to Grimm and Mazzarella’s shell corporations.

The scheme involved more than 400 straw-buyer transactions and 227 properties purchased for more than $100 million. The vast majority of the loans involved went into default, causing the lenders to lose tens of millions of dollars.

Beecroft’s role began after September 2002, when she was hired as an administrative assistant at Grimm’s company, Desert Funding. In April 2003, Beecroft began working as an independent loan processor for Select Equities, another company Grimm owned, and she later became the owner and manager of a third company, Secured Mortgage Services, in which the majority of her business consisted of mortgages she prepared for Grimm. Beecroft participated extensively in Grimm’s mortgage-fraud scheme, completing loans for Grimm, handling false information that was given to banks on behalf of straw buyers and directing to whom fraudulent third-party disbursements would be made. Beecroft participated in the scheme for years—joining Grimm even before Mazzarella did—and was described by at least one witness as Grimm’s “right hand.” According to the government, Beecroft’s participation caused 143 of the 227 properties to go into default. The government believed she made in excess of $400,000 from commissions and fees generated during the scheme.

At sentencing, the district court concluded that, although Beecroft was in some sense “the hub” of the scheme, she was “not anywhere near as culpable as Mr. Grimm or Miss Mazzarella,” and did not orchestrate the conspiracy or perhaps even fully understand it.


The court first considered the challenges that the restitution amount was not supported by adequate evidence and violated the Eighth Amendment. Lender restitution is calculated as the total amount of unpaid principal still owed on the relevant loans, less whatever money the banks recovered from sale of the collateral properties. The court found that the government submitted sufficient evidence and that the underlying court utilized the correct formula for determining the restitution amount – noting that the government requested the court order restitution of $52 million and the court ordered a much lesser amount. The defendant’s “bare speculation” that the process was deficient is not sufficient. The court also held that the restitution was not excessive noting that the court has previously found that, because restitution under the Mandatory Victim’s Restitution Act is inherently linked to the culpability of the offender, it would be difficult to find any mandatory restitution under the MVRA cruel and unusual.

The court next considered the forfeiture order. Pursuant to 18 USC 982(a)(2), a person convicted of these crimes must be ordered to forfeit to the US, any property constituting or derived rom, proceeds the person obtained directly or indirectly as a result of the crime. Forfeiture is not intended to restore the victim and so, in the case of a fraudulently obtained loan, the proceeds for purposes of forfeiture equal the amount of the loan and, when a conspiracy is involved, the proceeds equal the total of all loans obtained by the conspiracy as a whole. Thus, the underlying court ordered Beecroft to forfeit the total amount of money obtained from the fraudulent loans on the conspiracy count. First, the court found the evidence sufficient as to the amount and that it was proper that a defendant be ordered to forfeit the entire amount obtained by the conspiracy even though they did not receive it personally.

The court then addressed the argument that the amount is excessive agreeing, in the first instance, that the forfeiture order was properly subject to excessiveness review – finding that a forfeiture order, as distinguished from an order of restitution, is intended to punish – particularly in cases of in personam forfeiture orders.

In determining whether the fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant’s offense, and thus violates the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment, the court considers (1) the nature and extent of the crime, (2) whether the violation was related to other illegal activities, (3) the other penalties that may be imposed and (4) the extent of the harm caused. The court found that the amounts ordered on the four counts of wire and mail fraud were not excessive. With respect to the conspiracy forfeiture amount of $107 million, the court found that she was ordered to forfeit an sum more than 100 times greater than the maximum fine of $1M on that count and 5,000x greater than the lowest fine. Even considering the guideline prison time, the forfeiture amount was disproportionate. The court noted that it has previously rejected forfeitures that had much less disparity from the potential fines. The court concluded that, without any argument or discussion at the hearing to justify the amount, an order which so vastly outpaced the otherwise available penalties runs afoul of the excessive fines clause. The court vacated the $107M forfeiture order and remanded for reconsideration in light of the Eight Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clauase.

Kristen Michelle Ayala, aka Amber Lynch, aka Olivia Benet, aka Grace Williams, 30, formerly of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Joshua Manuel Sanchez, aka Nelson Cruz, aka Chris Ward, aka Daniel Mora, 34, formerly of Las Vegas, Nevada, were sentenced for conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their role in a $3.8 million dollar mortgage modification scam.

Ayala was sentenced to 135 months in prison, while Sanchez was sentenced to 151 months in prison. Both defendants were also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay full restitution to the victims of their crime. Continue Reading…

Rodney Taylor, 51, Las Vegas, Nevada, pleaded guilty to two counts of false representation concerning title. Taylor participated in a scheme to claim liens on real estate in Las Vegas, Nevada by filing false documents. The fraudulent acts were committed between March and September 2012.

In addition to claiming non-existent liens on property, Taylor was also accused of filing false claims of ownership for real estate with the county recorder’s office. After filing these claims, Taylor applied for and received public funds from the Southern Nevada Housing Authority in exchange for renting to Section 8 tenants. The state is seeking restitution of over $45,000 for victimized individuals and state agencies.

Fraudulent real estate claims have a devastating impact on Nevada families and their homes,” said Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt. “Prosecutors in my office will continue to ensure that those who attempt to defraud the public receive justice.”

False representation concerning title is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of no more than $10,000. The sentencing hearing for Taylor is scheduled for February 11, 2016, in the Eighth Judicial District Court.

The investigation of this case was a collaborative effort between the Attorney General’s Fraud Unit, the City of North Las Vegas and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Deputy Attorney General Daniel Westmeyer prosecuted this case.

Brett Depue, 42, Gilbert, Arizona, was convicted following a four-day jury trial, and 1½ days of deliberations, of one count of conspiracy to commit mail, bank and wire fraud, and seven counts wire fraud in connection with a Las Vegas mortgage fraud scheme.  Depue was remanded to custody and sentencing is scheduled for November 9 at 9:00 a.m. Depue‘s previous conviction on mortgage fraud charges was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

We are pleased that a second jury determined that Mr. Depue had committed fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden.  “There were over 100 homes used as part of this conspiracy to defraud the financial institutions of millions.” Continue Reading…