United States Attorney
District of Nevada
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10, 2010
Natalie Collins, Public Affairs Specialist
Federal Mortgage Fraud Charges Filed Against Owner and Employees of Former Nevada Investment Companies
LAS VEGAS - A man who owned and operated numerous now-defunct Nevada investment companies, and two of his former employees, were indicted by the federal grand jury today on mortgage fraud charges, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.
Brett Depue, 36, a former resident of Las Vegas, but currently a resident of Gilbert, Arizona, Brian Barney, 36, of Fairfield, California, and Maria Ornelas, 32, of Las Vegas, are charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud, 11 counts of wire fraud, and criminal forfeiture.
Warrants have been issued for the arrests of Depue and Barney. Ornelas was summoned, and is scheduled for an initial appearance before a United States Magistrate Judge in Las Vegas on Friday, March 26, 2010, at 8:30 a.m.
The Indictment alleges that from about February 1, 2005, to May 31, 2007, in Nevada and elsewhere, the defendants participated in a mortgage fraud conspiracy in which they used “third party disbursements” and “double escrow” methods to fraudulently obtain monies from the financial institutions. A third party disbursement is the issuance of money at the closing of a mortgage loan to a person or entity that is not typically entitled to the money. A double escrow is where two sales of the same property are conducted at the same time. Typically, the property is sold to a middleman, who then sells the property to a straw buyer at a substantially inflated price. The difference between the first sale price and second price is distributed to a conspirator as seller proceeds. The paperwork on the second sale is concealed from the seller, and the paperwork on the first sale is concealed from the lender.
Brett Depue operated a number of Nevada businesses including, ABS Investments Group, LLC, Liberty Group Investments, LLC, and a number of other companies registered with the Nevada Secretary of State. Depue employed Brian Barney, Maria Ornelas, and a number of others who allegedly assisted in the mortgage fraud conspiracy. The defendants recruited home owners in the Las Vegas area and elsewhere who agreed to sell their property at a price substantially above the asking price. The home owners were told that the difference would go to Depue for improvements. The defendants then recruited straw buyers to apply for mortgage loans to purchase the homes using false and fraudulent information concerning the straw buyers’ income, assets, employment, and intent to occupy the homes. In some instances, the defendants had the straw buyers apply for mortgages for more than one house at a time and concealed from the lenders that they were purchasing more than one property.
The Indictment specifically discusses 17 homes in Las Vegas and Henderson which were purchased fraudulently between April 2005 and April 2007 at the direction of and for the benefit of the defendants.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine on each count, and may be required to forfeit up to $8.5 million in properties or proceeds from the crimes.
This investigation is being led by the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation, and other agencies of the Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Task Force, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Secret Service, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, and Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian Pugh.
Persons who have information concerning potential mortgage fraud may contact the Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Hotline at (702) 584-5555.
This law enforcement action is sponsored by President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. 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.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.