United States Attorney
Southern District of Florida
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Mortgage Fraud Takedown Leads to Charges Against 27 South Florida Residents
MIAMI – Twenty-seven south Florida residents were indicted today on charges stemming from their participation in a series of mortgage fraud schemes that resulted in more than $30 million in fraudulent loans.
Today’s indictments were announced by Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge FBI, Miami Field Office; Michael K. Fithen, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service (USSS); Hugo J. Barrera, Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and James K. Loftus, Director, Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), along with members of the Federal-State Mortgage Fraud Strike Force.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer stated, “Mortgage fraud ruins lives, destroys families and devastates whole communities, so attacking the problem from every possible direction is vital. As these cases illustrate, mortgage fraud has permeated every level of the industry, from straw buyers, to loan processors, to title agents and even attorneys. Mortgage fraud also leads to other crimes, including identity theft and, as we see today, even more violent crimes, like arson. The success of the Federal-State Mortgage Fraud Strike Force in our crack-down on mortgage fraud is evident in the staggering number of prosecutions we have brought to date. Still, the battle against mortgage fraud is far from over and we will continue to prosecute these cases up and down the fraud ladder.”
USSS Special Agent in Charge Fithen stated, “Today’s charges highlight the prolific nature of mortgage fraud, as seen through the actions of real estate and mortgage industry professionals whose fraudulent conduct taints and undermines the dream of home ownership. The U.S. Secret Service is proud to be involved in the successful investigation and prosecution of these types of fraud through continued partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Miami-Dade Police Department, and the members of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force.”
“Criminals are always looking for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and devising new methods to defraud. Accordingly, we are always adapting our investigative techniques to combat mortgage fraud,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Gillies. “To this end, we have established task forces in both West Palm Beach and Miami and are also participating in the U.S. Attorney’s Office Mortgage Fraud Strike Force. Mortgage fraud remains pervasive and the FBI will stay focused on the industry insiders who are committing mortgage fraud for profit.”
ATF Special Agent in Charge Barrera said, “I wish to thank all of the men and women from ATF along with our partners from the Miami-Dade Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their dedication and hard work in bringing these criminals to justice. Arson is a crime of violence. It exposes the public and our first responders to unimaginable dangers. Individuals who use fire to destroy property and commit mortgage fraud are just as dangerous as those who use guns to commit crimes.”
“We have a continued commitment to work with our federal partners in investigating and prosecuting mortgage fraud in Miami-Dade County. Our agencies have been working very hard together and I am pleased that their hard work continues to result in positive outcomes for our community,” said Director James K. Loftus of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Today’s cases are the result of the cooperative law enforcement efforts of the members of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force. Created in June 2008 and led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force brings together federal, state and local law enforcement to combat the mortgage fraud epidemic in South Florida. Members of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force include experienced prosecutors, federal agents, and state and local officers, dedicated exclusively to investigating and prosecuting mortgage fraud cases. The Mortgage Fraud Strike Force has yielded substantial results. Since September 2007, following the creation of the district’s first Mortgage Fraud Initiative, more than 500 individuals have been charged for their involvement in mortgage fraud schemes that have resulted or were intended to result in more than $620 million in mortgage loans.
1. United States v. Luis A. Oramas, et al.
On Aug. 2, 2011, 17 defendants were charged in a 40-count indictment for their alleged participation in a scheme that resulted in approximately $20 million in fraudulent mortgage loans. Charged in the indictment were defendants Luis A. Oramas, 43, of Miami; Keskea Hernandez-Frei, 40, of Miramar. Fla.; Mariela Hernandez, 46, of Miami; Elayne Gutierrez, 32, of Miami; Ana Taveras, 33, of North Miami Beach, Fla.; Joaquin Gomez, 45, of Hialeah, Fla.; Manuel Valdes, 49, of Miami; Yudith Padilla, 38, of Hialeah; Ivan Padilla, 46, of Hialeah; Martha Fernandez, 43, of Hialeah; Maribel Diarth, 50, of Miami; Carlos Sanchez, 40, of Miami Lakes, Fla.; Ivett Lorenzo, 42, of Miami; Guillermo Rivero, 42, of Miami; Napoleon Cadalzo, 41, of Hialeah; Hisamara Esponda, 30, of Hialeah Gardens, Fla.; and Rafael Bonne, 61, of Miami.
According to the indictment, from 2006 through 2008, Luis A. Oramas, Keskea Hernandez-Frei, Mariela Hernandez, Elayne Gutierrez, Ana Taveras Joaquin Gomez and Manuel Valdes identified residential properties in Miami-Dade County that were for sale and then recruited and paid individuals to act as straw buyers of the properties. Thereafter, defendant Hernandez-Frei used her companies, Kasa Mortgage, a mortgage brokerage firm, and New Line Realty, a real estate company, to conduct most of the transactions.
The indictment alleges that Mariela Hernandez worked at Kasa as a loan processor, and Ana Taveras worked as a realtor for New Line. Through Kasa and New Line, Hernandez-Frei, Mariela Hernandez and Taveras, prepared fraudulent sales contracts and mortgage and home equity line-of-credit loan applications on behalf of complicit straw borrowers. The documents contained false information, including inflated sales prices, false employment verifications and pay stubs, false statements about income and funds on deposit and bogus cash-to-close checks. Yudith Padilla, Ivan Padilla, Martha Fernandez, Maribel Diarth, Carlos Sanchez, Ivett Lorenzo, Guillermo Rivero, Napoleon Cadalzo, Hisamara Esponda and Rafael Bonne, all acted as straw borrowers. In some instances, Mariela Hernandez, Taveras and Valdes also acted as straw borrowers.
According to the indictment, the defendants used various methods to execute their scheme. In one method, commonly referred to as a “double-HUD” scheme, the defendants created and submitted to the lending institutions false duplicate Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) settlement statements, which grossly inflated the true purchase price of the properties. At other times, the defendants obtained multiple fraudulent mortgage loans from different lenders for the same piece of property.
Once the mortgage applications were approved, the lenders wired the loan proceeds to title agents, such as Elayne Gutierrez, for closing. At closing, Gutierrez often sent the difference between the inflated mortgage loan proceeds and the actual selling price directly to Oramas, who then disbursed kickback payments to straw borrowers and other participants in the scheme. To perpetuate the scheme and avoid detection, the defendants failed to record or falsely recorded mortgage deeds and other mortgage documents with the state of Florida. In a further attempt to perpetuate the fraud, the defendants would make payments on the loans until the properties could be resold, often to another straw borrower, repeating the cycle of fraud. Eventually, the defendants stopped making payment on the loans and the properties went into foreclosure, often resulting in substantial losses to the lending institutions.
The indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and substantive mail fraud and wire fraud. If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum term of 20 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and substantive mail fraud charges and 20 years in prison on the wire fraud charges.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Federal-State Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, with special commendation to the U.S. Secret Service and the Miami-Dade Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean T. McLaughlin.
2. United States v. Ghaith Al Nahar, et. al.
On July 28, 2011, six defendants were charged in a six-count indictment for their participation in a nine-month mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in approximately $9.2 million in fraudulent loans. Charged in the indictment were Ghaith Al Nahar, 40, formerly of Boynton Beach, Fla.; Michelle Austin Wilks, 38, of Parkland, Fla.; Romy Defay, 28, of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Lucien Laguerre, 37, of Lauderhill, Fla.; Jeffery Gilbert, 53, of Miramar; and Philip Jay Newman, 58, of Miami.
According to the indictment, from February to November 2007, Ghaith Al Nahar operated Best Decisions Home Mortgage Inc., located in Lake Worth, Fla. Al Nahar and Romy Defay identified residential properties in Palm Beach County that were for sale and then allegedly recruited and paid individuals to act as straw buyers of the properties. The straw buyers included Lucien Laguerre, Jeffery Gilbert and Philip Jay Newman. To execute the scheme, Al Nahar and Defay submitted loan applications and supporting documents containing false information to various mortgage lenders across the United States. Based on these false statements and documents, the mortgage lenders issued more than $9 million in loans.
After the lenders approved the fraudulent loans, Michelle Austin-Wilks, a title agent, prepared false HUD-1 Settlement Statements which, among other things, falsely represented to the lenders that the straw buyers were bringing their own money to closing. Austin-Wilks also falsely represented to the lenders that she had disbursed the loan proceeds in accordance with the lenders’ instructions. Instead, Austin-Wilks made unauthorized disbursements from the loan proceeds to one of her companies as “processing fees.”
The indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and substantive wire fraud. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison on each count.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Federal-State Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, with special commendation to the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Armando Rosquete.
3. United States v. Gerardo Wilhelm, Juan J. Flores, and Alejandro Figueredo
On July 26, 2011, three defendants were charged in an eight-count indictment for their participation in an arson, mortgage fraud and insurance fraud scheme that resulted in losses of more than $500,000. Charged in the indictment were Gerardo Wilhelm, 38, of Miami; Juan J. Flores, 39, of Ocala, Fla.; and Alejandro Figueredo, 30, of Miami.
According to the indictment, Wilhelm, a real estate agent; Flores, a mortgage broker; and Figueredo, an insurance adjuster, engaged in a string of federal crimes involving a townhouse located in Miami-Dade County. In early 2006, Wilhelm obtained mortgage loans to purchase the property by misrepresenting his and his wife’s employment and falsely stating that they intended use of the property as their primary residence. Wilhelm then rented the townhouse until it no longer generated income. In late 2007, after foreclosure proceedings were initiated against him, Wilhelm hired Flores and Figueredo to burn down the townhouse. After the fire, defendant Wilhelm submitted a fraudulent insurance claim for the fire damage, and received approximately $180,000 in insurance proceeds, made payable to the lender. However, Wilhelm forged the endorsement on the insurance check and kept the money.
After misappropriating the insurance money, Wilhelm allegedly obtained a loan modification, in the form of a short sale, from the defrauded lender that held the mortgage loans on the townhouse. In carrying out this short sale, Wilhelm hired a straw buyer to purchase the property. After the sale was completed, the straw buyer transferred the townhouse title to a company Wilhelm controlled. Thereafter, Wilhelm and his accomplices sold the townhouse for $240,000, resulting in a $500,000 loss to the financial institutions.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit arson and arson. Wilhelm was also charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of substantive mail fraud and one count of check fraud. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit mail fraud and substantive mail fraud charges and 20 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit arson and substantive arson charges.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Federal State Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, with special commendation to ATF and Miami-Dade Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Cruz.
4. United States v. David A. Donet Sr.
On Aug. 1, 2011, David A. Donet, Sr., 63, of Miami, was charged in a criminal information for his involvement in the misappropriation of mortgage loan proceeds and other client funds. According to the information, Donet, an attorney who handled real estate closings and other matters, caused various lenders and others to disburse loan proceeds and other funds into his attorney trust account. Instead of disbursing the funds appropriately, however, Donet improperly deposited the money into his law firm’s business account and then misappropriated the funds.
The defendant was charged with eight substantive counts of mail and wire fraud. If convicted, Donet faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison as to each count.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Federal State Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, with special commendation to FBI. The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rochlin.
The cases announced today are also part of the Department of Justice’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. This national task force was established in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. Mortgage fraud is a key focus of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s efforts. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.