Archives For Title Fraud

Ralph Divino, 62, Annandale, New Jersey, has been charged with defrauding a New Jersey-based title insurance company of approximately $1.5 million.

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

From October 2018 through November 2018, Divino executed a scheme to defraud a New Jersey-based title insurance company through which he fraudulently obtained a residential property and funds exceeding $900,000. Through Divino’s scheme, the title insurance company lost approximately $1.5 million.

Divino advised the title insurance company of his purported intention to purchase two residential properties in Warren, New Jersey, and Annandale, New Jersey. Divino then falsely represented that he had wired $1.5 million for the purchase of both properties when, in fact, he never sent any funds. Divino advised the title insurance company that he no longer wished to purchase the Warren property. Relying on Divino’s false assurances that he had wired $1.5 million to the title insurance company, the title insurance company issued Divino a check for $987,000 as a refund, which Divino cashed and used to purchase personal items, including luxury cars. Divino also closed on and assumed ownership of the Annandale property, still never having provided any funds to title insurance company.

In November 2018, after the closing on the Annandale property, the title insurance company discovered that Divino had never wired any money to purchase either property. When representatives from the title insurance company asked Divino about this, Divino provided them with two checks from his purported business account totaling $1.5 million. After the bank refused to honor Divino’s checks, citing insufficient funds, Divino engaged in an email exchange with an employee of the title insurance company in which he falsely assured the employee that the checks could be used to reimburse the title insurance company, or that Divino would otherwise provide the missing funds. In truth, at the time of those communications, the business account from which Divino had issued the checks had a negative balance. Divino never reimbursed the title insurance company for the fraudulently obtained funds.

Divino was indicted on two counts of wire fraud.  He appeared on Oct. 31, 2023, before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III in Newark federal court, entered a plea of not guilty, and was released on unsecured bond.

Each wire fraud count carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of either $250,000 or twice the gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greatest.

U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger made the announcement today.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha C. Fasanello of the Cybercrime Unit in Newark.

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


Theodore Kurz, 72, New Orleans, Louisiana, was sentenced on August 4, 2022 for mortgage fraud.

According to court documents, Kurz obtained mortgages for three properties through the State of Louisiana, Division of Administration, Office of Community Development.  He then forged mortgage cancellations that he filed with the Orleans Parish Clerk of Court to falsely make it appear that the loans had been satisfied.  Kurz then obtained mortgages through a different lender, falsely claiming that there were no outstanding mortgages or liens on the properties.

Kurz was sentenced to time served, 5 years of supervised release, $751,900 in restitution, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee.

The Announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans.

U.S. Attorney Evans praised the work of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for investigating this matter.  The prosecution of this case was handled by Assistant U. S. Attorney G. Dall Kammer, Chief of General Crimes Unit.

Barry Wayne Plunkett Jr., 61, and Nancy Plunkett, 56, both of Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, a former  attorney and his wife pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston in connection with various mortgage fraud schemes.

Prior to being disbarred in October 2017, Barry Wayne Plunkett Jr. owned and operated the Plunkett Law Firm where his wife, Nancy Plunkett, was his office assistant and paralegal.

The defendants engaged in several bank fraud schemes. In one scheme, from September 2012 to July 2016, the defendants defrauded six mortgage lenders and 14 homeowners for whom the Plunkett Law Firm handled the closings for new mortgage loans to refinance residential properties. The defendants informed the mortgage lenders that pre-existing mortgages were paid off from the new loan proceeds when, in fact, the Plunketts intentionally failed to pay off the prior liens and instead converted more than $900,000 in payoff funds for their own purposes.

In other bank fraud schemes – between April 2015 and March 2018 – the Plunketts fraudulently used various names, entities and false documents to obtain three successive mortgage loans on their home in Hyannis Port in amounts of $412,000, $470,000 and $1.2 million. The defendants pledged as collateral a property in Hyannis Port that was held in a family trust for which Barry Wayne Plunkett Jr. was one of three beneficiaries. Both defendants participated in providing false documents to the lenders, including false title reports and other records to falsely represent that the property was free and clear of existing mortgage liens and forged documents in the names of other people. The defendants also made misrepresentations to a lender that Nancy Plunkett was a single woman living in Wellesley who was purchasing the property in her maiden name as a business investment when, in fact, the defendants had been married since 2014 and the property was their residence.

The charge of bank fraud provides for a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, five years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of tax evasion provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two-year sentence to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The Plunkett’s pleaded guilty to five counts of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Barry Wayne Plunkett Jr. also pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion. U.S. Senior District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf scheduled sentencing for June 10, 2022. The Plunketts were indicted in July 2020.

United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; and Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation in Boston made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Victor A. Wild and Mackenzie Queenin, of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit, and Carol Head, Chief of Rollins’ Asset Recovery Unit, are prosecuting the case.


Arondo Harris, Missouri, has been sentenced to a term of 41 months in federal prison for the filing of counterfeit quit claim deeds with the City of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Office.

According to court documents, between January 9, 2019 and February 6, 2019, Harris presented to the City of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Office three quit claim deeds that contained the forged signatures of the properties’ true owners. Each of the forged signatures had had been falsely authenticated through the seal and forged signature of a licensed notary public.  The property owners of one of the residences had died prior to the forgery of their signatures.

As a result of the false notarization of the quit claim deeds, representatives of the Recorders Office accepted the deeds as legitimate and falsely recorded Harris as the owner of three residences located in the City of St. Louis.

The Court determined that Harris’ conduct resulted in losses of more than $150,000 to the legitimate owners of the properties. It also determined that Harris caused substantial financial hardship to one of the victims because that individual was left homeless by the fraudulent activities.

This case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service and was prosecuted based upon a referral by the Circuit Attorney’s Office for the City of St. Louis.


James Effiwatt, 64, Brooklyn, New York has been arraigned on an indictment in which he is charged with grand larceny and burglary for allegedly filing a fake deed to transfer ownership of his landlord’s $759,000 rental property to a trust in the defendant’s name.

According to the investigation, on January 15, 2021, Effiwatt allegedly recorded a deed to a three-story house at 36 Hubbard Place, Brooklyn, New York that transferred the title of the property from the owner, Hubbard Estates LLC, to an entity called the “Ayonkladd Trust,” of which the defendant was the trustee. The deed was allegedly signed by Effiwatt as a grantor despite the fact that the defendant is not a member or trustee of Hubbard Estates LLC. The building has an assessed value of $759,000. The property has been owned by the legitimate owner, a 49-year-old woman, since 2015.

The investigation revealed that Effiwatt is a former tenant of 36 Hubbard Place who lived in the third-floor attic apartment for several years beginning in August 2015. Effiwatt allegedly stopped paying rent in the summer of 2017 and was eventually ordered to vacate the property in October 2019 by city housing officials over housing code violations. However, it is alleged that Effiwatt subsequently moved back into the attic apartment where he has remained since. Additionally, beginning in March 2021, Effiwatt allegedly approached several other tenants of the property and demanded they pay him rent. Effiwatt also allegedly approached a real estate broker and discussed selling the property for six or seven hundred thousand dollars.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today made the announcement.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant allegedly filed a fake deed in an unlawful attempt to take ownership of his landlord’s property. Title theft is a serious crime that deprives hard-working people of the single most important asset any American can hope to own. As real estate values continue to rise dramatically in Brooklyn, I remain committed to protecting homeowners across the borough from fraudsters who would steal their security and investment in the future.”

The defendant was arraigned today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on an indictment in which he is charged with one count of second-degree burglary, one count of second-degree grand larceny and two counts of fourth-degree attempted grand larceny. The defendant was ordered held on bail of $25,000 bond or $10,000 cash and to return to court on February 15, 2022.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Francis Longobardi, Special Counsel to the District Attorney’s Real Estate Frauds Unit, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Unit Chief, Assistant District Attorney Gregory Pavlides, Chief of the Frauds Bureau, 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.


Ira Morya Davis, 40, Irving, Texas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on Oct. 26, 2021.

According to information presented in court, Davis and at least two other co-conspirators devised a fraud scheme targeting various financial institutions and real estate purchasers.  To accomplish the fraud, Davis and his co-conspirators created shell companies and executed various mortgage and property documents that purportedly conveyed ownership interests of various real properties from the true owners to the conspirators’ shell companies.  Davis and his co-conspirators then filed the fraudulent documents with county offices falsely showing that they had mortgage liens on the properties, sold the properties, and triggered the title companies to unwittingly fund the co-conspirators.  During the course of the scheme, Davis obtained and used fraudulent notary stamps using real people’s identities, which enabled the conspirators to legitimatize the otherwise fraudulent documents.  Davis and his co-conspirators targeted multiple properties, and the financial harm resulting from his offense was at least $2.5 million.

Davis was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 12, 2020.  He faces up to 20 years in federal prison.  The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.  A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei made the announcement.

The Eastern District is committed to tackling complex fraud schemes, including those that target financial institutions and purchasers in the real estate market,” said Acting United States Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.  “Regardless of the complexities involved, the public can be assured that EDTX and its law enforcement partners are working tirelessly to disentangle complex white collar fraud schemes and bring culpable individuals to justice.”

The case is being investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Alireza Zamanizadeh, aka Ali Zamani, 63, Portland, Oregon pleaded guilty today for perpetrating a bank fraud scheme whereby he used a residential property he did not own as collateral for obtaining a bank loan worth more than $316,000.

According to court documents, on or about February 17, 2017, Zamanizadeh filed a quitclaim deed in Deschutes County, transferring a residential property in Bend, Oregon to his business for one dollar without the property owner’s consent. A quitclaim deed is a document used to quickly transfer the ownership of real property from one party to another.

Zamanizadeh then used the property as collateral for obtaining a loan worth $316,092. Zamanizadeh forged the property owner’s signature on a statement verifying the property transfer as required by the mortgage lender and title company processing the loan.  Based on Zamanizadeh’s false representations, the mortgage company approved the loan and transferred the funds to Zamanizadeh’s bank account.

On June 14, 2021, Zamanizadeh was charged by criminal information with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Zamanizadeh waived indictment and pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

Bank fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and three years’ supervised release.

Zamanizadeh will be sentenced on January 4, 2022 before U.S. District Court Judge Anna J. Brown.

As part of the plea agreement, Zamanizadeh has agreed to pay $400,000 in restitution to his victim and has transferred a second residential property in Clark County, Washington back to the victim.

Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation with assistance from FBI and is being prosecuted by Katherine A. Rykken, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

Patrick Joseph Soria, 35, West Hollywood, California was sentenced today to 152 months in federal prison for orchestrating a real estate fraud scheme that victimized more than 2,000 homeowners, involved fraudulent filings that affected the title to properties across the country and caused more than $7 million in losses.

From January 2015 to June 2018, Soria stole money from homeowners and would-be home buyers through a two-pronged scheme.

Firstly, Soria hijacked title to properties through fraudulent title filings done at county recorders’ offices around the country. He faked the filings to make it appear that he owned the properties, and then “sold” the properties to victims who thought they were buying the homes from the true owner. In fact, Soria never owned the homes, and he instead used the victims’ “purchase” money for his own personal expenses, including escort services, stays at luxury hotels, and Bentley and Lamborghini car rentals.

In the second part of the scheme, Soria convinced homeowners that he could help them with their mortgages, either by assisting them with a loan modification or by taking over their mortgage from their lender, with the promised result, either way, of reducing their mortgage payments. He told them that he had achieved success in this area in the past, and he convinced them that he was trying to help them, often befriending them to gain their trust and give them hope.

After gaining the victims’ trust, Soria convinced homeowners to stop paying their real lender and to start paying him. Through yet more fraudulent filings, Soria deceived his victims into believing he had taken over their mortgages. He also falsely lulled victims into doing nothing to protect themselves when they started receiving foreclosure and eviction notices. Many of the homeowners targeted in the scheme lost their homes.

As part of the fraud, Soria used company names such as HBSC US and Deutsche Mellon National Asset LLC, designed to trick homeowners into thinking that these companies were real. He also took advantage of the complex mix of lenders, trustees, beneficiaries, and servicers in the mortgage market, and the assignments of mortgage loans between entities, to confuse homeowners and to make it seem as if he did in fact own the properties and mortgages.

More than 2,000 individuals were victimized through this scheme. Soria admitted in court documents that losses totaled more than $7.6 million. In addition to causing losses to individual homeowners, the fraud scheme also victimized numerous lenders who held mortgages on, or other interests in, properties targeted in the scheme.

The targeted properties were located nationwide, including in Texas, New York, Nevada, and in the California cities of Vernon, Beverly Hills, Santa Ana, Yorba Linda, Anaheim and elsewhere.

A restitution hearing is scheduled for October 25, 2021. Soria pleaded guilty on March 2, 2021 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of contempt of court.

Soria was sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who called Soria “a skillful conman who created a very sophisticated scheme.” Judge Fischer also stated, “This is not the largest case I have presided over in terms of dollars, but it is the most brazen and heartless.”

In a related matter, Soria committed numerous acts of contempt of court in a related civil case before Judge Fischer, Nationstar Mortgage LLC v. Patrick Soria, et al., 18-cv-03041-DSF-RAO (C.D. Cal.), including willfully spending funds subject to an asset freeze. The contempt resulted in his incarceration in 2018, and criminal charges filed by the Court in 2019 by way of an Order to Show Cause.

This matter was investigated by the FBI and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department; the Beverly Hills Police Department; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office; and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Assistant United States Attorney Kerry L. Quinn of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.


Peter Cash Doye, 41, San Diego, California, a  finance executive and Raquel Reid, 38, San Diego, California, a notary public and real estate broker, were convicted following a two-week trial, on all counts and for their roles in a massive real estate fraud scheme that generated nearly $50 million in fraudulently-obtained loan proceeds.

The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Doye and Reid defrauded lenders into making enormous loans against four multi-million dollar mansions in La Jolla and Del Mar, California then used forged documents to make it appear that the loans had been paid off so they could obtain additional loans from new lenders who believed the mansions were owned “free and clear.”

Doye, a senior executive at the real estate investment firms Conix, Inc. and Variant Commercial Real Estate (“VCRE”), negotiated the financing from unsuspecting lenders and investors based on a host of lies about the collateral used to secure the loans.  To pull of the scam, Doye, Reid, and their co-conspirators created forged real estate lien “releases” and recorded fraudulent records at the San Diego County Recorder’s Office, complicating the chain of title for these homes.  Reid notarized the forged documents, helping to make the fraudulent paperwork appear authentic.

Doye’s business partner Courtland Gettel, 43, Coronado, California, and Arizona attorney Jeffrey Greenberg, 67, Tucson, Arizona, previously pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, and are serving sentences of 135 and 81 months, respectively. Gettel and Greenberg were also ordered to pay more than $43 million in restitution to victims, and to forfeit the proceeds of the crime.  Gettel was the owner of Conix and VCRE, which refurbished single-family homes, purchased distressed debt, and purchased and refurbished commercial real estate projects.

During trial, the government proved that Gettel, Greenberg, and Doye acquired the high-end homes in La Jolla and Del Mar by claiming they would be used as luxury rentals and investment properties—although in fact, Gettel and Doye lived in the properties along with their families. When they needed money to fund other business deals, Gettel and Doye began negotiating with new lenders, pretending that the first loans never existed or had already been paid off.  Greenberg admitted that he used his expertise as a lawyer to generate and record fraudulent records, making it appear that prior loans were paid off and helping to close the fraudulent deals.

In late 2014, the lenders began to uncover the fraud and learn that their secured interests in the properties were worthless.  In response to questions from these lenders, Doye, Reid and Gettel denied knowing anything about the fraudulent loans, and created yet more fraudulent documents to cover their tracks. For example, Reid destroyed her notary book and cut up her notary stamp, and then falsely reported to the California Secretary of State that her book had been lost.

These defendants attempted to use their significant real estate experience to pull off an egregious fraud that created serious consequences for lenders and title owners,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman.  “As this case demonstrates, federal prosecutors are fully committed to protecting the integrity of our lending system by holding such criminals accountable.”

The FBI will pursue each criminal participant in these sophisticated, multi-million dollar fraud schemes until final justice is served.” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John Brown. “Today, Peter Doye and Raquel Reid join co-conspirators Courtland Gettel and Jeffrey Greenberg as convicted felons for their roles in this massive loan fraud scheme.

United States District Judge William Q. Hayes remanded both Doye and Reid into custody following the guilty verdicts, and set their sentencing hearings for March 4, 2019, at 9:00 am.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Emily Allen and Andrew Young.

Sergio Roman Barrientos, 64, Poway, California was sentenced today in multimillion dollar mortgage and foreclosure rescue fraud scheme. Barrientos was sentenced to 14 years in prison for conspiring to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud.

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

Co-defendant Zalathiel Aguila pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing on November 16, 2018. Aguila faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott made the announcement.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew M. Yelovich and Todd A. Pickles are prosecuting the case.