Archives For New Jersey

Dennys Tapia, 55, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey was sentenced today to 15 months in prison for his role in a scheme to defraud financial institutions of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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

From 2015 to 2018, Tapia conspired with others to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans from financial institutions, including “Mortgage Lender A” and “Mortgage Lender B,” to finance the purchase of properties by unqualified buyers. Applicants for mortgage loans are required to list their assets and income on their mortgage loan applications, and mortgage lenders rely on those applications when deciding whether to issue mortgage loans.

Tapia admitted participating in a conspiracy in which he knowingly provided fraudulent documents to a loan officer at Mortgage Lender A for potential borrowers, including fraudulent lease agreements, bank statements, and a gift check and gift letter. Based on this false information, Mortgage Lender A issued mortgage loans to unqualified buyers, which caused Mortgage Lender A hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Some of the loans Mortgage Lender A issued to unqualified borrowers were sold to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation “Freddie Mac,” a government-sponsored enterprise with the mission of providing liquidity, stability, and affordability in the United States housing market.

Tapia also admitted causing a straw borrower, “Individual A,” to apply to Mortgage Lender B for a cash-out refinance mortgage loan that contained multiple misrepresentations of material facts and fraudulent documents, including pay stubs and a verification of employment. Based on the false information submitted by Individual A and Tapia, Mortgage Lender B issued a false and fraudulent cash-out refinance mortgage loan, which resulted in Tapia earnings tens of thousands of dollars in profits.

Tapia previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Judge Chesler imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

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

In addition to the prison term, Judge Chesler sentenced Tapia to two years of supervised release and ordered restitution of $182,508 and forfeiture of $176,532.

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

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Fayer of the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Divine of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Joseph A. Gonzalez, 46, Henderson, Nevada was sentenced 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 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 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.

Gonzalez previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to Count One of an indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Judge Vazquez imposed the sentence today by videoconference. Gonzalez is the sixth person to plead guilty as part of the scheme.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Vazquez sentenced Gonzalez to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $512,500.

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, 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 today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Jason S. Gould, Acting Chief of the Violent Crimes Unit, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory of the FHFA, Office of the Inspector General.

 

Nathanael Zimmerman, 40, Wyckoff, New Jersey, was arrested today on charges of engaging in mortgage fraud, fraudulently obtaining an SBA loan, and stealing another person’s identity

According to the complaint:

From August 2013 through January 2014, Zimmerman orchestrated a scheme to engage in mortgage fraud concerning Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured loans. Zimmerman aided individuals in applying for FHA-insured loans and caused fraudulent representations to be made to the lenders, including submitting false bank statements. Zimmerman received a portion of the loan proceeds. Later, these unqualified individuals defaulted on their loans, causing losses to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of more than $300,000.

In 2020 Zimmerman used his deceased brother’s identity to obtain a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Zimmerman received more than $150,000 by applying for EIDL funds in his brother’s name and using his brother’s personal identification information.

The charges of wire fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud are each punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million, or twice the gross profits or twice the gross loss suffered by the victims, whichever is greater. The charge of aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory consecutive term of imprisonment of two years in prison and a fine of $250,000, twice the gross profits or twice the gross loss suffered by the victims, whichever is greater.

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

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr., in Newark, and 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, with the investigation leading to today’s arrest.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sammi Malek and Andrew Kogan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

Stephen Sharkey, 51, Swedesboro, New Jersey, was sentenced to four years and one month in prison, three years of supervised release, for stealing down payments for homes from two different families.

In September 2020, the defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft and, one count of money laundering in connection with three brazen and predatory frauds which greatly harmed innocent victims and netted the defendant more than $385,000. Sharkey engaged in two mortgage-closing schemes to defraud potential home buyers – stealing money that the victims had intended to use to purchase residences for themselves and their families. In the third scheme, the defendant stole all of the proceeds of the sale of a house by secretly going to closing without telling the seller.

Sharkey and his associate, Antonio Ambrosio, convinced their victims to provide Sharkey with the down payment funds in advance of the dates set for the real estate closings, with the promise that Sharkey would provide full financing for the purchases. Rather than finance the deals, Sharkey and Ambrosio simply stole the down payment money supplied by the victims and made excuses when the deals did not close. As part of the scam, Sharkey and Ambrosio even defrauded Ambrosio’s own brother-in-law out of $208,000. After receiving this money, Sharkey immediately cut checks to ARMM Investments, LLC, a company owned by George Borgesi. Borgesi and Sharkey were both convicted in United States v. Merlino, et al., 99 CR 363, an early 2000s RICO case in which the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra was named as the enterprise. Borgesi was named as a capo of the Philadelphia LCN in that Indictment, and Sharkey was identified as a bookmaker for the mob.

After Sharkey and Ambrosio stole the down payment from Ambrosio’s brother-in-law, they proceeded to lure a second victim to use Sharkey to finance his mortgage, and the victim wired Sharkey $100,000, which Sharkey promptly converted to his own use. The deal for this property fell through, but Sharkey and Ambrosio induced the victim to send the seller an extra $25,000 to hold the deal open, claiming Sharkey would get the deal done. The victim sent the seller the $25,000, but Sharkey had already disposed of the earlier $100,000 and the deal never closed.

Finally, in the real estate fraud perpetrated on the seller victim, Sharkey promised the victim that Sharkey would sell the house belonging to the estate of the victim’s deceased parents and, after going to a closing the victim knew nothing about, Sharkey deposited all of the proceeds of the sale into his own bank account, stealing over $52,000 from the victim in the process.

Sharkey was ordered to pay $296,000 restitution and to forfeit the same amount of money.

Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams made the announcement.

Sharkey’s greed impacted the lives and security of multiple families, and his shameful actions had severe consequences for these innocent people,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “Not only did he and his associate steal mortgage down payments, but he also sold a different family’s house right out from underneath them and pocketed all of the cash. For his actions, he will now spend years in prison.

Real estate fraud was just the latest racket for Stephen Sharkey,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “He blatantly preyed on innocent victims here, destroying two families’ plans of buying homes and stealing a third person’s inherited property. A chunk of these fraudulent proceeds was diverted to a longtime Philadelphia mob figure, underscoring Sharkey’s continued association with organized crime. The FBI and our partners are going to keep investigating and locking up those committed to making money through illicit means.”     

This investigation once again reveals how members and associates of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra Organized Crime Family are constantly looking to make illicit financial gains by infiltrating legitimate business or exploiting regulatory rules as well as federal and state laws,” said Brandon Corby, Eastern Organized Crime Task Force Commander, Pennsylvania State Police. “The Pennsylvania State Police with our FBI partners are committed to eradicating this type of criminal behavior and hold those engaged in such activities accountable.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Organized Crime Task Force and the Pennsylvania State Police, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael T

 

Neal J. Vanderpoel II and Eileen P. Vanderpoel, Medford, New Jersey and their sons Ryan Vanderpoel, Medford, New Jersey and Neal J. Vanderpoel IV, Magnolia, New Jersey, as announced today, have been charged in a lawsuit to halt a scheme in which they operated multiple companies to defraud struggling homeowners by offering them mortgage adjustment services that provided no meaningful relief and often made their precarious financial situation even worse.

The State’s complaint alleges that the Vanderpoels’ advertised, offered for sale, and performed fraudulent or worthless loan modification and other debt adjustment services to New Jersey consumers through a web of corporate entities. The corporate entities include Financial Services for America; Financial Processing Services, LLC; Tri-State Financial Relief, LLC; and Mortgage Help and Loan Audits of America, LLC, which are also named as Defendants.

Through their corporate entities, most of which were not authorized to provide debt adjustment services in New Jersey, the Vanderpoels charged consumers up-front rates grossly in excess of the legal limits for permissible charges by licensed debt adjusters, netting them well over a million dollars in profits, the suit alleges.

After filling financially distressed consumers with false hope of guaranteed loan modifications, the Defendants failed to deliver, often causing consumers to fall further behind on their mortgage payments and making the threat of foreclosure more imminent, the suit alleges.

The State’s 18-count complaint alleges that the Defendants grossly exceeded the $25.00 fee cap imposed by the New Jersey’s Debt Adjustment and Credit Counseling Act by charging at least 556 New Jersey consumers $3,200 or more to prepare a “Forensic Audit Report,” which would purportedly assist consumers in their mortgage modifications.

The complaint also alleges that Defendants violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, advertising regulations, and the Nonprofit Corporations Act.

According to the complaint, the Defendants rarely if ever reviewed the consumers’ underlying notes or mortgage instruments and were not qualified to render opinions as to the legality of a consumer’s mortgage. The “Forensic Audit Report,” which Defendants generated using third-party compliance software, did not in fact assist consumers with their mortgage modifications, as promised by Defendants, and was largely worthless, the complaint alleges.

As a result of Defendants’ unconscionable and unlawful practices, consumers often forfeited all monies paid to Defendants, were forced to spend additional time and money to try to remain in their homes, were forced to file for bankruptcy, ended up losing their homes in foreclosure, and/or were forced to modify their loans on less favorable terms, the complaint alleges.

Today, the State also obtained a court order temporarily restraining Defendants from providing any loan modification or debt adjustment services, preventing Defendants from conducting business under unregistered assumed names, freezing all assets of Financial Services of America and the other corporate entities, and prohibiting Defendants from disposing of any assets derived from their purported mortgage modification businesses, among other relief.

The current action is brought against not only the current entities, but also against the family members individually. The State sought and secured temporary restraints in part to prevent the Vanderpoels and their companies from seeking to evade accountability as they had in the past.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) Commissioner Marlene Caride made the announcement today.

We have zero tolerance for predatory practices targeting vulnerable consumers who want nothing more than to stay in their homes, especially in the midst of a pandemic,” said Attorney General Grewal. “And by partnering with the Department of Banking and Insurance, as we are today, we are sending a message that we won’t hesitate to bring the full range of the State’s consumer financial protection laws to bear when we crack down on unconscionable consumer abuses.”

Today was an important step in ending the deceitful practices perpetrated by these individuals and preventing other homeowners from falling victim to this scheme. These defendants took advantage of people already struggling financially and made their situations worse. The fact that they targeted our residents during a time when people are especially vulnerable makes their actions that much more reprehensible. With this action we are sending a message that those who engage in predatory and abusive practices will be held accountable,” said Commissioner Caride.

Today’s lawsuit reflects the Division of Consumer Affairs’ increased focus during the Murphy Administration on unconscionable practices in the markets for consumer financial products and services.

Those protections are especially important as the COVID-19 emergency enters its eleventh month. And the State’s complaint alleges that the Vanderpoels sought to capitalize on consumers’ financial insecurity by misleadingly suggesting that one of their companies offers services designed to address hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For most homeowners, the prospect of losing their homes is a time of stress and fear. In this lawsuit, we allege that these defendants callously preyed on that vulnerability,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Instead of helping homeowners out of a financial crisis, as they promised, defendants made it worse by causing people to fall further into debt as they paid for undelivered services with money that could have been applied to their mortgages.”

For the Division of Consumer Affairs, Deputy Attorney Donna J. Dorgan, Assistant Section Chief John Regina and Section Chief Patricia Schiripo of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group and Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Hollander of the Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group are handling the matter, with assistance from attorney Andrew Esoldi.  Investigator Brian Penn and Loretta Creggett and Supervising Investigator Jennifer Micco of the Office of Consumer Protection are handling the investigation for the Division

For the Department of Banking and Insurance, the matter is being handled by Deputy Attorney General Garen Gazaryan, Assistant Section Chief Nicholas Kant, Section Chief Richard E. Wegryn, Jr., and Assistant Attorney General Raymond R. Chance, III, in the Division of Law’s Financial Affairs Practice Group.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.

Consumers who have any issue or complaint concerning any entity regulated by the Department of Banking and Insurance, can contact the Department’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-446-7467 or go to the Department website and click on Consumer Assistance – Inquiries/Complaints, at https://www.dobi.nj.gov

The mission of the Division of Consumer Affairs, within the Department of Law and Public Safety, is to protect the public from fraud, deceit, misrepresentation and professional misconduct in the sale of goods and services in New Jersey through education, advocacy, regulation and enforcement. The Division pursues its mission through its 51 professional and occupational boards that oversee 720,000 licensees in the state, its Regulated Business section that oversees 60,000 NJ registered businesses, as well as through its Office of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Securities, Charities Registration section, Office of Weights and Measures, and Legalized Games of Chance section.

 

Nationstar Mortgage, the country’s fourth-largest mortgage servicer, has agreed to resolve parallel investigations by state attorneys general, state mortgage regulators, and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a settlement that includes combined monetary relief valued at around $86.3 million.

The settlement resolves allegations that Dallas-based Nationstar, which does business as “Mr. Cooper,” violated consumer protection and banking laws in its servicing of residential mortgage loans. The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance is among the state mortgage regulators involved in the settlement.

The settlement provides for restitution to over 55,000 borrowers across the U.S. who suffered foreclosure and other harms due to a variety of mortgage loan servicing violations by Nationstar.

In New Jersey, the settlement affects 2,075 borrowers, and has a total value to those borrowers of approximately $3.45 million.

A complaint and consent judgment memorializing the settlement were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the participating attorneys general.

The consent judgment addresses conduct by Nationstar spanning the period from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2017.

The complaint alleges a wide variety of unlawful acts and practices by Nationstar during those years, including:

  • failing to properly oversee and implement the transfer of mortgage loans;
  • failing to appropriately identify loans with pending loan modification applications when a loan was being transferred to Nationstar for servicing;
  • failing to timely and accurately apply payments made by certain borrowers;
  • threatening foreclosure and conveying conflicting messages to certain borrowers engaged in loss mitigation;
  • failing to properly process borrowers’ applications for loan modifications;
  • failing to properly review and respond to borrower complaints;
  • failing to make timely escrow disbursements, including the failure to timely remit property tax payments;
  • failing to timely terminate borrowers’ private mortgage insurance; and
  • collecting monthly modified payment amounts on certain loans where the amounts charged for principal and interest exceeded the principal and interest amount contained in the trial plan agreement.

In addition to providing for monetary relief for eligible borrowers, today’s settlement requires Nationstar to follow a detailed set of rules or “servicing standards” for its handling of certain mortgage loans going forward. These standards are more comprehensive than existing law, and take effect for three years starting January 1, 2021.

Among other things, the servicing standards require Nationstar to: ensure the accuracy of information it includes in foreclosure-related filings; apply any borrower payments that exceed the amount due in accordance with the borrower’s instructions; adopt more consumer-accessible procedures for handling billing disputes, such as a toll-free number and  email; and take prompt action to remediate inaccuracies in borrowers’ account information – including correcting information provided to credit reporting agencies, and providing refunds or account credits where appropriate.

The servicing standards also require Nationstar to offer loan modifications for eligible borrowers rather than initiate foreclosure when such loan modifications meet program and other requirements, and to periodically have the company’s primary system for recording account information independently reviewed for accuracy and completeness.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal made the announcement today.

This settlement illustrates the benefits of state and federal partnership when it comes to consumer financial protection,” said Attorney General Grewal. “By working together, we were able to provide more relief for homeowners in New Jersey and around the country. And with many homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages in today’s economy, we’re sending a clear message that we’re here for them.

Homeownership is one of the most important investments our residents can make, and the Department is committed to ensuring that all New Jersey homeowners are treated fairly when seeking help from their mortgage servicer,” said Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride. “New Jersey worked in collaboration with state and federal partners on this case to reach a resolution which provides compensation for our residents and specific servicing requirements for Nationstar that enhance consumer protections.”

In addition to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the state mortgage regulators, which filed separate settlement agreements, the settlement was signed by the attorneys general for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The partners also collaborated with the U.S. Trustee Program, a component within the Department of Justice that seeks to promote the efficiency and protect the integrity of the bankruptcy system. The USTP is finalizing a separate agreement with Nationstar to address historical servicing issues impacting borrowers in bankruptcy.

This settlement not only provides over $3 million in financial relief for borrowers in our state, but also raises the bar in the mortgage market,” said Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Paul R. Rodríguez. “By requiring that businesses adhere to higher standards of care for their clients, we are ensuring that our residents are protected from sloppy practices that cause real damage to their financial wellbeing and our economy.”

In 2012, Nationstar began purchasing mortgage servicing portfolios from competitors and grew quickly into the nation’s largest non-bank servicer. As loan data was transferred to Nationstar, borrowers who had sought assistance with payments and loan modifications sometimes fell through the cracks, the lawsuit alleged. Borrowers in this category will receive a guaranteed minimum payment of $840 as part of the settlement.

Other borrowers suffered damages when Nationstar failed to oversee third-party vendors hired to inspect and maintain properties owned by delinquent borrowers and improperly changed locks on their homes, the lawsuit alleged. These borrowers will receive a guaranteed minimum payment of $250.

A settlement administrator, Rust Consulting, will send a claim form to eligible borrowers in 2021. Nationstar has already provided some of the relief outlined in the settlement.

The agreement also requires Nationstar to conduct audits and provide audit results to a committee of states to ensure compliance with the settlement.

Deputy Attorney General Donna J. Dorgan of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group represented the State in the Nationstar matter.

 

Dennys A. Tapia, 54, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, admitted today, his role in a scheme to defraud financial institutions of hundreds of thousands of dollars

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court: From 2015 to 2018, Tapia conspired with others to fraudulently obtain mortgage loans from financial institutions, including “Mortgage Lender A” and “Mortgage Lender B,” to finance the purchase of properties by unqualified buyers. Applicants for mortgage loans are required to list their assets and income on their mortgage loan applications, and mortgage lenders rely on those applications when deciding whether to issue mortgage loans.

Tapia admitted to participating in a conspiracy in which he knowingly provided fraudulent documents to a loan officer at Mortgage Lender A for potential borrowers, including fraudulent lease agreements, bank statements, and a gift check and gift letter. Based on this false information, Mortgage Lender A issued mortgage loans to unqualified buyers, which caused Mortgage Lender A hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Tapia also admitted to conspiring with a straw borrower, “Individual A,” to submit an application to Mortgage Lender B for a cash-out refinance mortgage loan that contained multiple misrepresentations of material facts and fraudulent documents, including pay stubs and a verification of employment. Based on the false information submitted by Individual A and Tapia, Mortgage Lender B issued a false and fraudulent cash-out refinance mortgage loan, which resulted in Tapia earnings tens of thousands of dollars in profits.

The conspiracy charge to which Tapia pleaded guilty carries a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Sentencing is scheduled for April 17, 2021.

Tapia pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito made the announcement.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, and special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert Manchak, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Fayer of the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Divine of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

Willis Edwards III, 49, formerly of East Orange, New Jersey, and currently of Lithonia, Georgia, the former acting business administrator for the Township of Orange, New Jersey, has been charged in a 28-count indictment with conspiracy, bribe-taking, money and property fraud, federal tax fraud, and making false statements in connection with a mortgage.

According to documents filed in this case:

In January 2015, Edwards had his friend, Franklyn Ore, from Urban Partners LLC (Urban Partners), using cash provided by Edwards, funnel to himself a stream of concealed kickbacks in exchange for Edwards’ official action as an Orange public official and assistance in the affairs of Orange and in violation of his duties in connection with:

  • A Saturday literacy program for which Orange and the Orange Public Library were awarded a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and administered by Essex County, to provide tutoring services for low and moderate-income families (the Saturday Literacy Program);
  • A project for which an urban planning company located in Montclair, New Jersey, had received a one-year, $150,000 contract from Orange to provide professional economic planning services to analyze the conditions within the Central Orange Redevelopment Area (the “redevelopment project”); and
  • A project to acquire the Orange YWCA building and develop it into a community recreation center.

Making False Statements in Connection with a Mortgage

In 2014, Edwards also made false statements to obtain mortgage relief on a $248,000 30-year mortgage loan that he obtained in 2005 to purchase a residence in East Orange, New Jersey. As of February 11, 2014, Edwards had fallen substantially in arrears on his mortgage payments. On April 7, 2014, Edwards submitted a completed Request for Mortgage Assistance form to the mortgage servicer. Edwards disclosed that he was employed by Orange and falsely indicated that he did not have a second employer, when, at the time, he also was employed by a New Jersey County College at an annual salary of approximately $45,000. On October 8, 2014, Edwards and the mortgage servicer entered into a Home Affordable Modification Agreement. In reliance upon false representations made by Edwards, the mortgage servicer provided the following benefits, among others, to Edwards: (1) $95,590 of Edwards’s debt was forgiven between July 2015 and July 2017, and (2) the real estate property was taken out of foreclosure.

The Saturday Literacy Program Fraud and Kickbacks

Despite knowing that Urban Partners did not provide any services to the library in connection with the Saturday Literacy Program, Edwards caused false and fraudulent vouchers to be submitted in March 2015 and in May 2015 to Essex County seeking Saturday literacy grant funds for expenses purportedly paid to Urban Partners. In support of the fraudulent vouchers, Edwards had phony documents submitted to Essex County, including: (1) a sham contract between Urban Partners and the library, backdated to over six months before Urban Partners had been formed, (2) false statistical data about the children who supposedly attended the literacy sessions, (3) fake Urban Partners invoices, and (4) backdated library checks payable to Urban Partners that had not been negotiated when submitted to Essex County to give the false impression that the Library had paid Urban Partners, when it had not done so.

Between April 2015 and June 2015, Essex County provided the Library with $50,000 in HUD funds for the Saturday Literacy Program. Between May 2015 and August 2015, Edwards caused the library to pay Urban Partners approximately $36,000, despite knowing that Urban Partners had not provided the library with any services in connection with the Saturday Literacy Program. Edwards received kickbacks from Ore from the money paid to Urban Partners by the library. At Edwards’s direction, Ore also provided a portion of the proceeds from the library to an associate of Edwards. Ore spent the remaining proceeds for his own personal benefit.

The Redevelopment Project Fraud and Kickbacks

Edwards used his influence as an Orange public official to arrange for the planning company to hire Urban Partners after the planning company had received its contract with Orange. Ore provided services to the Planning Committee and, between August 2015 and February 2016, the planning company, which was receiving payments from Orange, paid Urban Partners $33,220. Edwards received kickbacks from Ore from the money that the planning company paid to Urban Partners.

The YWCA Project Fraud and Kickback

In December 2015, aware that his resignation as an Orange public official would become effective on December 31, 2015, Edwards took further steps to use his position for corrupt and fraudulent purposes. Edwards advised Ore that Edwards had access to Orange discretionary funds and wanted to use them by the end of the year. At Edwards’s instruction, Ore generated and submitted a fraudulent invoice from Urban Partners to Orange, billing Orange $16,800 for services purportedly related to the YWCA Project. Edwards, knowing that no services has been rendered, approved the issuance of a purchase order and Orange paid Urban Partners $16,800.  On December 30, 2015, Edwards received a substantial amount of the $16,800 in a kickback from Ore.

The Plagiarism Scheme

From June 2015 to June 2016, Edwards duped Orange into making payments to a consultant, which were, at least in part, for academic papers that the consultant arranged to have written for Edwards. Edwards, who was enrolled in a graduate program at a university in New Jersey, plagiarized the papers that Orange paid for and passed them off as his own work. Between December 2015 and March 2016, with Edwards’s approval, the consultant submitted three fraudulent invoices to Orange calling for payments of $12,000, $16,000, and $10,000 for purported professional services. Orange paid the money to the consultant and Edwards received from the consultant academic papers that had been written for him. On June 20, 2016, Edwards submitted several papers which were virtually identical to the papers that he had received from the consultant. In emails to the professors, to which the papers were attached, Edwards asked the professors to grade the attached outstanding assignments so that he did “not receive a failing grade for all of the hard work that [he had] done.”

The Graduate School Payments Scheme

The indictment also charges Edwards with fraud in connection with funding his graduate studies. Between December 2015 and July 2016, Edwards engaged in a scheme to defraud Orange of $25,142 in payments to himself and University 1 related to Edwards’s graduate courses there and at another university in New Jersey through the use of a fraudulent approval memorandum. In February 2016, when Edwards was no longer an Orange public official, he dictated the following language to an employee in Orange’s Finance Department (Orange Employee 1) for use in a fraudulent approval memorandum addressed to Edwards: “As per the employee handbook, this memorandum serves as consent for you [Edwards] to enroll in the courses as discussed. Please forward the invoices to process for payment.” Edwards instructed Orange Employee 1 to backdate the memorandum to Aug. 17, 2015, to give the false impression that Edwards had received approval for Orange to pay for academic courses in which he had enrolled.

On February 10, 2016, at Edwards’s direction, Orange Employee 1 sent an email to a senior public official in the office of the Mayor of Orange (Orange Employee 2) containing a draft of the fraudulent approval memorandum. Orange Employee 2 later provided Orange Employee 1 with a final copy of the fraudulent approval memorandum on Orange letterhead, purportedly from the Mayor of Orange, addressed to Edwards, and backdated to August 17, 2015. It included the language that Edwards dictated to Orange Employee 1 and bore the stamp of the initials of the Mayor of Orange to give the false impression that the Mayor of Orange had approved Edwards’s reimbursement for the courses, when the Mayor of Orange had not done so.

Federal Tax Fraud

Edwards also caused a false 2015 federal tax return to be filed with the IRS. From January 2016 to April 15, 2016, Edwards conspired with his tax return preparer, Zenobia Williams, to defraud the United States and the IRS by claiming bogus labor expenses of $27,055 for his business, Natural Care Municipal Cleaning Services LLC (Natural Care), on that tax return. In addition to falsifying business expenses, Edwards also underreported Natural Care’s income. He reported $40,000 in gross receipts, when Natural Care actually received approximately $52,000 in payments from a New Jersey law firm and approximately $32,500 in payments from a local Board of Education. Edwards also did not report the ill-gotten gains that he obtained in 2015 in connection with the Saturday Literacy Program, the Redevelopment Project, and the YWCA Project.

The charges carry the following maximum potential penalties:

Offenses Charged Maximum Term of Imprisonment Maximum Fine
False statement concerning a mortgage 30 years $1,000,000
Conspiracy to commit wire fraud or wire fraud and mail fraud 20 years $250,000
Wire fraud 20 years $250,000
Mail fraud 20 years $250,000
Theft from a federally-funded local government 10 years $250,000
Bribery in connection with the business of a federally funded local government 10 years $250,000
Conspiracy to defraud the United States and the IRS Five years $250,000
Subscribing to a false tax return Three years $250,000
     

On January 13, 2020, Ore entered a guilty plea to an information charging offenses related to the Saturday Literacy Program, the Redevelopment Project, and the YWCA Project. On February 13, 2020, Timur Davis, the former Executive Director of the Orange Library, entered a guilty plea to an information charging an offense related to the Saturday Literacy Program and another HUD-funded program to replace an HVAC/Chiller unit at the Library. On December 30, 2019, Williams entered a guilty plea to conspiring to defraud the United States and the IRS.

Edwards was charged with 14 counts of wire fraud, two counts of bribery in connection with the business of a federally funded local government, two counts of theft from a federally funded local government, two counts of mail fraud, two counts of false statements concerning a mortgage, one count of bribery in connection with the business of a federally funded local government and organization, one count of theft from a federally funded local government and organization, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and the IRS, and one count of filing a false tax return. A date for Edwards’ arraignment has not yet been scheduled.

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito made the announcement.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Joe Denahan in Newark; 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; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez with the investigation leading to the charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cari Fais and J Fortier Imbert of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division.

The charges and allegations in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.