Archives For New York

Tanya M. Howard, 47, Jersey City, NJ and her son Trevon Howard, 26, Far Rockaway, Queens, New York have been charged with burglary, grand larceny and other crimes for allegedly assuming a prior owner’s identity in order to obtain false title papers and take possession of a home in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. The pair allegedly occupied the home on several occasions through September 2021, despite the rightful owners’ attempts to get them out.

According to the charges, on several occasions in September 2021, the defendant Tanya M. Howard and her son Trevon allegedly forced their way into a house on Beach 15th Street near New Haven Avenue. The home already had two tenants, who were renting from the legitimate owners. As alleged, the female defendant claimed to own the two-story brick house. The Howards moved in with their belongings and appliances and took control of several rooms on the first floor of the home. The renters – including an elderly, disabled individual – were cut off from using parts of the house, including the kitchen and bathrooms.

On September 2, 2021, defendant Tanya M. Howard exploited the similarity between her name and that of the prior owner – Tanya L. Howard – and allegedly filed for a new title in both her and her son’s names with the Department of Finance Business Center in Queens. The true owners of the property purchased the house from Tanya L. Howard in 2019 for $500,000.

On September 18, 2021, the victims – a man and his mother who are the actual owners of the property – discovered the Howards and a third individual inside the house and contacted the police to remove them. When law enforcement arrived, defendant Tanya M. Howard refused to vacate the premises and continued to insist she was the rightful owner of the house. After being arrested, the defendants allegedly returned to the home and barged inside again refusing to cede occupancy.

Then on September 29, 2021, the male homeowner discovered the defendants Tanya M. Howard, her son Trevon Howard and a teenager inside the house again. He called police and the pair were again arrested.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz today made the announcement.

District Attorney Katz said, “As alleged, the defendants in this case became tenacious squatters who repeatedly forced their way into a house they did not own and obtained a false deed to steal the property from the rightful owners.”

The pair were arraigned yesterday before Queens Criminal Court Judge Jeffrey Gershuny on a seven-count complaint charging them with burglary in the second degree, grand larceny in the second degree, offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, three counts of identity theft in the second degree and criminal trespass in the second degree.  Judge Gershuny ordered the defendants to return to Court on December 16, 2021. If convicted, Tanya and Trevon Howard each face up to 15 years in prison.

The investigation was conducted by Detective Michael Trano of the New York City Sheriff Office.

Assistant District Attorney William Jorgenson, Bureau Chief of the District Attorney’s Housing and Worker Protection Bureau, is prosecuting the case under the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney for the Investigations Division Gerard Brave.

Brent Kaufman, 50, Commack, New York, a former unlicensed mortgage broker, pleaded guilty today to criminal information charging him with stealing $4.7 million in mortgage refinancing proceeds that were meant to pay off the existing mortgages of his clients.

According to court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, Kaufman worked as an unlicensed mortgage broker and often assisted clients in Queens and Long Island with refinancing their mortgages.  At the closing for a mortgage refinancing, the money from the new mortgage is supposed to be wired to the financial institution that holds the existing mortgage so that it can be paid off. Between 2016 and 2019, Kaufman, together with others, engaged in a scheme to defraud Home Point Financial Corporation, LoanDepot.com LLC and United Wholesale Mortgage and other mortgage lenders (the “Lenders”) by obtaining, and attempting to obtain, monies and funds from the Lenders by means of materially false representations.  Specifically, Kaufman provided incorrect wire routing information to the Lenders for the existing mortgages.  Instead of wiring the funds to the correct financial institution, the funds were instead transferred to bank accounts controlled by Kaufman.  As a result, the existing mortgages were not paid off, leaving the clients with two mortgages on their homes, and Kaufman stole the funds for his own personal use.

During the period of the charged conduct, Kaufman stole more than over $4.7 million, some of which he used to make mortgage payments on the existing mortgages or to eventually pay off those mortgages to avoid detection of his scheme.  When Kaufman stopped paying the existing mortgages, several of his clients’ homes were foreclosed on.  Victims of the scheme ultimately suffered a loss of approximately $2.5 million.

When sentenced, Kaufman faces up to 30 years in prison, as well as forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), Robert W. Manchak, Special Agent-in-Charge, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG), and Darnell D. Edwards, Acting Inspector-in-Charge, United States Postal Inspection Service, New York Division (USPIS), announced the guilty plea.

With today’s guilty plea, Kaufman admits to stealing millions of dollars in a brazen mortgage fraud scheme that defrauded numerous lenders and left his homeowner-clients in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis.  “This Office is committed to prosecuting defendants like Kaufman who are driven by greed to abuse the trust of innocent homeowners.” Ms. Kasulis expressed her grateful appreciation to the FBI, FHFA-OIG and the USPIS for their outstanding work and assistance in this investigation and prosecution.

Not only did Kaufman steal his victims’ money, but he also violated their trust, leaving them financially vulnerable and at risk of significant financial complications,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.  “Collectively, his victims suffered millions of dollars in losses. Today’s guilty plea reminds us of the threat posed by those who prioritize their own financial interests above all else.”

Brent Kaufman betrayed the trust of unsuspecting homeowners by stealing millions of dollars in mortgage payoffs and failing to repay lenders.  As demonstrated by these charges, FHFA-OIG and its law enforcement partners will investigate and hold accountable those who seek to victimize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and misuse the lending process to unjustly enrich themselves,” stated FHFA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge-Manchak.

“This is a classic case of greed overcoming honest business practices, as Mr. Kaufman took advantage of his access to clients funds to enrich his own lifestyle. His actions left many in financial ruin, holding two mortgages and facing the threat of foreclosure. Law enforcement will always work tirelessly to bring individuals to justice for their crimes against the American public,” stated USPIS Acting Inspector-in-Charge Edwards.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Siegel and Laura Mantell.

 

Joseph Makhani, 58, Kings Point, Long Island was arrested and indicted today for stealing two brownstones in a complex scheme to defraud owners by using forged deeds and other falsified real estate documents

Makhani targeted the two Harlem brownstones located at 107 West 118th Street and 135 West 131st Street, Harlem, New York, using forged and falsified documents, numerous limited liability corporations under his control, multiple property transfers, an unethical attorney, and abused court processes. Makhani stole the two Harlem brownstones in 2012, and, according to New York state real estate tax filings, he claimed to have only paid $10 for each. Today, the two brownstones have an estimated value of $2.29 million and $1.9 million, respectively. After illegally taking over the two properties, Makhani used forged and falsified documents to cover up his fraud and maintain control of the properties from the true owners’ claims. To this day, Makhani still fraudulently possesses the West 118th Street brownstone, but he lost possession of the West 131st Street brownstone in December 2018 due to unpaid tax liens.

West 118th Street Property

Makhani allegedly used forged deeds and other falsified documents to steal the brownstone located on West 118th Street from an elderly disabled owner. In a New York state tax filing used to further his scheme, a Makhani-controlled corporation claimed to have paid only $10 for the brownstone in 2012. Makhani also falsely claimed that he paid $975,000 for the brownstone when he obtained a $650,000 construction line of credit on the property. Additionally, Makhani fraudulently received a $1.2 million mortgage loan by claiming he had a legitimate title to the stolen brownstone. The elderly and disabled owner of the brownstone never received any money from Makhani for the brownstone, which is now valued at approximately $2.29 million. In 2016 — after renovating the apartments from single room occupancy units to full apartments — Makhani rented each unit out for between $3,000 and $3,400 per month, allowing him to collect a monthly rent income of more than $12,000.

West 131st Street Property

Makhani allegedly illegally transferred ownership of the West 131st Street property in Harlem through the use of fraudulent deeds, shell companies, and strawmen, and by abusing court processes. Prior to Makhani’s fraudulent take over, the last true deed recorded on this property was in the name of an elderly owner who died soon after the deed was recorded in 1975. Allegedly, a beneficiary of the estate looked after the building until his death in 2010. Soon after, a tenant of the building was approached by Makhani, who later returned and told the tenant he had purchased the brownstone. Makhani, through the guise of offering the tenant a job, fraudulently obtained the tenant’s signature in order to misrepresent the tenant as the owner. The tenant, who had not purchased the property and was never the owner of the brownstone, later learned that his signature was forged on a fraudulent deed that had been filed with the City Register’s Office, transferring the brownstone to Makhani’s company, One 35 West Corporation. The Real Property Transfer Report filed along with the fraudulent deed created by Makhani  falsely listed the sale price of the brownstone as $10. When the tenant questioned the validity of the deed in a housing court case, Makhani filed a new forged deed showing that the purported heirs of the last recorded owner from 1975 had transferred the property to Makhani’s One 35 West Corporation. In 2013, the transfer tax documents filed with this deed contained a fake social security number listed for a man who was one of the purported heirs and the seller of the brownstone to Makhani. That social security number, however, belonged to a woman born in 1902. In 2015, Makhani’s One 35 West Corporation and Makhani were fined over $1 million for their failure to install a roof, upgrade the electrical wiring system, and implement an extermination plan for the rodents and cockroaches in the Harlem brownstone. In early 2015, Makhani eventually abandoned the property after the New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development issued a $1 million judgment. The property was later transferred to a not-for-profit after a tax foreclosure action. Today, the value of the property is estimated at $1.9 million.

Makhani was yesterday charged with one count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the first degree with respect to the brownstone located at 107 West 118th Street; one count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the second degree with respect to the brownstone located at 135 West 131st Street; one count of Residential Mortgage Fraud in the First Degree and one count of Residential Mortgage Fraud in the Second Degree, both with respect to the two residential mortgage loans he obtained for the West 118th Street brownstone; two counts of Falsifying Business Records submitted to a New York bank; and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree between August 7, 2012 and June 28, 2021 for engaging in a scheme constituting a systematic and ongoing course of conduct to obtain property from more than one person by false or fraudulent pretenses.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

In 1998, Makhani pleaded guilty in federal court to taking part in a scheme involving the bid rigging of foreclosed properties in Queens, New York, and for submission of a false tax return, for which he was fined and sentenced to two months in prison. In 2008, Queens LLC, HPD LLC, and Floor One, LLC, three companies allegedly owned by Joseph Makhani, pled guilty to Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a class “E” felony. The criminal complaint alleged that Makhani, personally or through one of his corporations, forged signatures on deeds filed with the New York City Department of Finance to unlawfully gain control of three properties in Queens from their legal owners.

New York Attorney General Letitia James made the announcement.

Homeownership is a critical part of every community, but far too often, individuals like Joseph Makhani conduct elaborate schemes designed to steal New Yorkers’ homes,” said Attorney General James. “Deed theft continues to be a crime that permeates our neighborhoods, and preys upon our most vulnerable, leading to a cycle of displacement and grief. New Yorkers should never have to fear that their homes will be targeted by predatory individuals. My office will continue to collaborate with our government and community partners to bring these schemers to justice and protect these homes.

The Sheriff’s Office is strongly committed to investigating criminal activity concerning real property fraud,” said New York City Sheriff Joe Fucitto. “These crimes are financially devastating to the victims and their families, many of whom are elderly and have spent a lifetime working hard and saving to buy a home. The Sheriff’s Office looks forward to working collaboratively with Attorney General Letitia James and her team.”

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) wishes to thank the Social Security Administration, the Office of the Inspector General, and Special Agent Gilberto Camilo for their assistance on this case.

The OAG also wishes to thank the New York City Sheriff’s Office and the New York City Register’s Office for their assistance.

Deed theft has become a common tool of career criminals and unscrupulous real estate developers to illegally obtain real estate so they can sell it at a huge profit in high-demand housing markets. This illegal scheme especially affects people of color, the elderly, and other vulnerable homeowners who are scammed into signing over the deeds to their homes to con artists. Deed theft usually happens when scammers forge deeds to look like they purchased the home, or when homeowners are tricked into signing their homes over to a scammer without knowing what they are doing. Scammers then seek to evict the homeowner and sell the house to a third party at a significant profit.

In January 2020, Attorney General James launched the office’s “Protect Our Homes” initiative, a program that uses prevention and enforcement actions to combat deed theft in New York City. The OAG also formed an interagency deed theft taskforce with members that include the district attorneys from all five boroughs in New York City and the Office of the Sheriff of the City of New York. The anti-displacement program builds off these efforts by focusing on the neighborhoods most at-risk of deed fraud, enlisting community members to talk about deed theft with their neighbors, and educating community members about how to spot deed fraud scams.

Those who believe they have experienced deed theft are encouraged to contact the OAG by calling the office’s help line at 1-800-771-7755, emailing deedtheft@ag.ny.gov, or filling out the online complaint form.

This investigation was conducted by Investigator Angel LaPorte, under the supervision of Supervisors of the Major Case Unit Michael Leahy and Mario Rivera and Deputy Bureau Chief Antoine Karam. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Oliver Pu-Folkes.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Nazy Modiri of the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, with additional assistance from Assistant Attorney General Gregory Morril and Legal Support Analyst Grace Koh — all under the supervision of Real Estate Enforcement Unit and Public Integrity Bureau Chief Gerard Murphy. Financial analysis was conducted by Audit Investigator Karishma Tukrel, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro and Chief Auditor Kristen Fabbri of the Forensic Audit Section. The Investigations Bureau, the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, and the Public Integrity Bureau are all part of the Division for Criminal Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Antoni Moszczynski, 67, Madison, New Jersey, an attorney has been arraigned today on an indictment in which he is charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing approximately $239,500 in funds he received, and was not entitled to, while representing a client in the sale of her deceased sister’s estate.

According to the investigation, in December 2019, the defendant, an attorney who is currently licensed to practice law in New York, represented the victim in the sale of her property at 584 Leonard Street, Brooklyn, New York. The victim, who was appointed executrix of her deceased sister’s estate, entered contract of sale for $2.395 million.

It is alleged that on December 2, 2019, the defendant received a wired down payment from the buyer into his escrow account in the amount of $239,500. Furthermore, it is alleged that, within a week, the defendant transferred $210,000 into his personal bank account with Wells Fargo, and within three months had withdrawn or spent the remainder of the down payment.

The victim retained a different attorney to represent the estate at the closing, which took place on June 30, 2020. The defendant was allegedly not present at the closing and has not answered calls from the victim or her attorney. To date, the defendant has not given the victim or the estate the down payment he allegedly stole.

Moszczynski was arraigned in front of Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on an indictment in which he is charged with second-degree grand larceny. He was released without bail and ordered to return to court on June 29, 2021.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant allegedly abused his power and betrayed his client to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars to which he was not entitled and has not returned despite the victim’s repeated attempts to contact him. We will now seek to hold him accountable for this flagrant and brazen theft.

If you believe that you or someone you know is the victim of fraud or theft perpetrated by the defendant, please call the District Attorney’s Action Center at (718) 250-2340.

This case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Sara Walshe 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.

An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt

 

Seth Andrew, 42 has been charged with wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to a financial institution, in connection with a scheme in which Andrew stole $218,005 from a charter school network that he founded.

As alleged in the Complaint unsealed today[1]:

In 2005, Seth Andrew helped create “School Network-1,” a series of public charter schools then based in New York City, New York.  In the Spring of 2013, Andrew left School Network-1 and accepted a job in the United States Department of Education and, thereafter, as a senior adviser in the Office of Educational Technology at the White House.  While employed at the Department of Education, and at the White House, Andrew was paid by School Network-1.  In November 2016, Andrew left his role in the White House and, shortly thereafter, in January 2017, Andrew officially severed his relationship with School Network-1.

School Network-1 comprises several charter schools throughout United States including several in New York City.  Pursuant to an agreement with the New York State Board of Regents, School Network-1’s New York-based charter schools must maintain an “escrow account” that may be accessed only if the school dissolves.  Three such escrow accounts, for three New York City-based School Network-1 schools, were opened by Andrew and other School Network-1 employees at  “Bank-1” in 2009, 2011, and 2013.  As to each of those three accounts – Escrow Account-1, Escrow Account-2, and Escrow Account-3 – Andrew was a signatory and had access to the funds in them.  However, pursuant to the charter agreement, the funds in the Escrow Accounts were reserved in case the school dissolved, and the funds could not be moved by Andrew, or anyone, without proper authorization.

After he severed his relationship with School Network-1, on March 28, 2019, Andrew entered a Bank-1 branch in New York City and closed both Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2.  Bank-1 provided Andrew a bank check in the amount of $71,881.23 made payable to “[School Network-1] Charter School” (“Check-1”) and a second bank check in the amount of $70,642.98 to “[School Network-1] Harlem Charter” (“Check-2”).  Check-1 and Check-2 represented the funds that were in Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2, respectively.

The same day that Andrew closed Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2, Andrew entered a Manhattan branch of a different FDIC-insured bank (“Bank-2”) and opened a business bank account in the name of “[School Network-1] Charter School” (“Fraud Account‑1”).  To open that account, Andrew represented to a Bank-2 employee that he was a “Key Executive with Control of” School Network-1 Charter School, which was a lie.  Andrew then deposited Check-1 into the account but, that day, Andrew did not deposit Check-2.

Five days later, on April 2, 2019, Andrew used an ATM machine in Baltimore, Maryland, to deposit Check-2 into Fraud Account-1.  It appears Andrew waited to deposit Check-2 because it was made payable to “School Network-1 Harlem Charter” and not “School Network-1 Charter School.”  Had he tried to deposit Check-2 when he opened Fraud Account-1 it would not have been honored by Bank-2.

At the time Andrew deposited Check-1 and Check-2 into a Bank-2 bank account, Andrew was contemplating obtaining a mortgage from Bank-2 to purchase a residential property.  At that time, Bank-2 offered certain customers, as a promotion, more favorable mortgage interest rates if those customers maintained a certain amount of funds in Bank-2 accounts.  Specifically, for every $250,000 on deposit, up to a total of $1 million, Bank-2 would lower that qualifying customer’s mortgage interest rate by 0.125%.  Thus, in total, if a qualifying customer maintained $1 million or more of his/her funds in Bank-2 accounts that customer would receive a 0.5% interest rate deduction on a Bank-2 mortgage.  But to take advantage of the interest rate deduction promotion, Bank-2 required that the funds a customer deposited be funds owned by the customer or, in some instances, a business the customer owned, controlled or was lawfully associated with.  Bank-2 did not permit a customer to utilize money owned by someone else to gain the benefit of the interest rate deduction promotion.

By April 2019, because of the $142,524 Andrew deposited in Bank-2, using the money he stole from two charter schools, Andrew deposited a total of approximately $1,007,716 with Bank-2, and therefore became eligible to receive a 0.5% interest rate deduction – the largest deduction a customer could receive from Bank-2’s promotion.  Without the $142,524 deposited stolen funds, Andrew would have been eligible for only a 0.375% interest rate deduction.  On August 21, 2019, Andrew purchased a residential property located in New York, New York, for approximately $2,368,000.  To effectuate that purchase, Andrew, and his spouse, obtained a mortgage from Bank-2 in the amount of $1,776,000 with an interest rate of 2.5% –  taking full advantage of the promotion Bank-2 offered.

On October 17, 2019, Andrew closed out Escrow Account-3 and received a check (“Check-3”) made payable to “[School Network-1] Endurance” in the amount of $75,481.10.

On October 21, 2019, Andrew deposited Check-3 into an account that he opened at a third bank (“Fraud Account-2”).  Approximately one month later, Andrew obtained a check from Bank-2 for $144,473.29, which constituted the funds stolen from Escrow Account-1 and Escrow Account-2, and Andrew ultimately deposited those funds into Fraud Account-2.  Five days later, Andrew rolled the funds in Fraud Account-2 into a certificate of deposit.  That certificate of deposit matured on May 20, 2020, which earned Andrew $2,083.52 in interest.  Andrew then transferred the funds from the certificate of deposit – including the funds stolen from the Escrow Accounts – into a bank account held in the name of a particular civic organization that Andrew currently controls, thereby concealing the money’s association with School Network-1, and depositing the stolen money into an account under Andrew’s complete control.

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), made the announcement today

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As alleged, Seth Andrew abused his position as a founder of a charter school network to steal from the very same schools he helped create.  Andrew is not only alleged to have stolen the schools’ money but also to have used the stolen funds to obtain a savings on a mortgage for a multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartment.  Thanks to the FBI’s diligent work, Andrew now faces federal charges for his alleged scheme.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Locking into the lowest interest rate when applying for a loan is certainly the objective of every home buyer, but when you don’t have the necessary funds to put down, and you steal the money from your former employer to make up the difference, saving money in interest is likely to be the least of your concerns. We allege today that Andrew did just that, and since the employer he stole from was a charter school organization, the money he took belonged to an institution serving school-aged children. Today Andrew himself is learning one of life’s most basic lessons – what doesn’t belong to you is not yours for the taking.”

Andrew is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of making a false statement to a bank, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Ryan B. Finkel is in charge of the prosecution.

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

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint, and the description of the Complaint set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

 

Gerald Douglas, 52, East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York was arraigned today on an indictment in which he is charged with second-degree grand larceny for allegedly stealing the down payment toward the purchase of a Brownsville, New York home whose seller he represented.

According to the investigation, the defendant represented a 76-year-old woman in the sale of her Brownsville house, negotiating the contract for her in September 2018. A down payment of $71,700 was allegedly deposited into the defendant’s escrow account. The closing occurred in August 2019, by which time the defendant had allegedly stopped returning his client’s phone calls and she was forced to retain new counsel to close the transaction. The client received the sale proceeds at the closing, but not the down payment despite repeated requests to the defendant.

It is further alleged that in June and July 2018, the defendant asked the same client if she would loan him money, first $6,000 and then $8,000. He allegedly told her he was expecting a rental payment for a property he owned in Flatbush, Brooklyn, though in fact the property had gone into foreclosure five years earlier and he was no longer the owner.

Douglas was released without bail and ordered to return to court on May 12, 2021.

The defendant was disbarred by the Appellate Division Second Department in 2019.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said “The victim in this case was allegedly defrauded of a large sum of money by her own attorney, who had a legal duty to protect her interests. I would like to thank my Public Integrity Bureau for its hard work in seeking to hold the defendant accountable for his alleged criminal act and betrayal of trust.”

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

An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.

 

Robert Morgan, Todd Morgan, Frank Giacobbe, and Michael Tremiti, have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud for their roles in a wide-ranging mortgage fraud scheme.

According to the indictment, between 2007 and January 2019, the defendants conspired with Kevin Morgan, Patrick Ogiony, Scott Cresswell, and others fraudulently to obtain funds from financial institutions such as Arbor Commercial Mortgage, LLC, Berkadia Commercial Mortgage, LLC, UBS and Deutsche Bank, and government sponsored enterprises, including Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).

During the course of the conspiracy, the defendants engaged in a scheme to defraud financial institutions and government sponsored enterprises by providing false information to lenders in support of applications for mortgage loans to purchase properties, refinance properties or build properties. As part of the applications for mortgage loans, the defendants submitted inflated and false rent rolls which included non-existent tenants and inflated rents to fraudulently increase the income for a building in order to justify a loan amount that they would not otherwise qualify for.  Similarly, in order to further inflate the income, defendants told lenders they were receiving fake fees, such as stating that residents paid for cable when it was actually included in the rent.  Defendants also fraudulently reduced and improperly capitalized expenses in order to make the property appear to generate more income to, again, justify a larger mortgage loan than they would otherwise qualify for.

The defendants took steps to conceal the fraud from the lenders, including by making vacant units appear occupied during inspections by turning radios on in vacant units, by placing welcome mats and shoes in hallways outside vacant units, and by paying individuals to pretend to be tenants in units the inspectors would enter.

In the wire fraud conspiracy to defraud insurers, Todd Morgan and Robert Morgan are accused of conspiring with Kevin Morgan and Scott Cresswell to present false and inflated contracts and invoices to insurance companies for repairs after damages to properties in Robert Morgan’s real estate portfolio.

While the loans which were the subject of defendants’ alleged fraudulent conduct exceeded $400 million in value, the total loss sustained by financial institutions and government sponsored enterprises throughout the mortgage fraud scheme is currently estimated to exceed $9,500,000. The loss resulting from the insurance fraud scheme is currently estimated at approximately $3,000,000.

The defendants were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder and were released on conditions.

Defendants Kevin Morgan and Patrick Ogiony were previously convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and defendant Scott Cresswell was previously convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in the multi-million dollar fraud scheme. All three defendants are awaiting sentencing.

The defendants each face charges of wire and bank fraud. Robert and Todd Morgan are also charged with defrauding insurance companies. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine in the amount of double the loss caused by the crimes.

U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. made the announcement.

Upon executing search warrants in this case, my Office, together with our law enforcement partners, acted quickly to take action in an effort to try to limit the amount of damage occasioned by the defendants’ alleged widespread fraud,” noted United States Attorney Kennedy.  “While that effort succeeded in that objective, the unfortunate truth is that the swiftness with which we moved may have also contributed to the reasons for which the original indictment in this case was dismissed by the Court.  In the end, however, this new indictment now ensures that the defendants will be held to answer for the serious crimes alleged therein.”

The indictment is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen Belongia, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Manchak, Northeast Region.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.