Former state Senate and Assembly candidate Bruce Alston faces up to three years in prison and $133,500 in restitution after pleading guilty today to theft by deception stemming from a 27-count indictment alleging a sophisticated mortgage fraud scheme.
A Shaler man whose original eight-year sentence was overturned by a federal appeals court was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for his role in a multimillion dollar mortgage fraud scheme. A Pittsburgh federal jury convicted Jason Moreno, 33, on five counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy in September 2013.
Edgar Avila aka Michael Mendez aka Michael Edgar Avila-Mendez, aka Michael AvMen was indicted on one charge of mail fraud and one charge of bank fraud in connection with two separate fraud schemes.
According to the affidavit in support of the arrest warrant, in January 2014, Avila submitted a loan application to purchase a residence at 2915 Legend Hill Drive, Katy, Texas. On the application, he represented that he worked for AvMen Entertainment at 924 Town and County 800, Houston for a year and a half as a line producer with a salary of $13,600 per month. He also stated he attended Devry College of Business from September 2009 through May 2013 to account for his history prior to working at AvMen. Paystubs along with a VOE faxed to the mortgage company confirmed this employment. The officer attesting to the affidavit stated that he was unable to find a legitimate business under the name AvMen and discovered that Avila created the entity as part of his fraud scheme. An assumed name certificate for AvMen was filed in August 2010 using the same address as listed on Avila’s driver’s license. The affiant also stated that he confirmed through several sources that Avila and Michael Avmen were the same person. Avila’s disclosed bank accounts did not reveal any income associated with AvMen – nor did they substantiate income nearing $13,000 per month.
To support his claims of attending Devry University, according to the affidavit, Avila submitted a college transcript containing the signature of John J. Getek, as college registrar. Investigation showed that the Getek was not registrar for Devry, instead, in 2001 he was the Deputy Inspector General of Audit for the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General – and Getek’s digital signature was available online from his annual reports to Congress.
In March 2015, according to the affidavit, Avila defaulted on the loan. In September 2015, the mortgage lender modified the loan and negotiated a payment plan, based on a statement from Avila that he was diagnosed with “cephalic neuralgias” and “Bell’s palsy.” He claimed his illness caused him to lose his job and that his current job did not pay the same. The affiant stated that while he could not rule out an illness, Avila was arrested by the Houston Police Department in 2015 “which is the more likely reason for his sudden lack of income.”
The loan was guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
The affidavit also details a vehicle related fraud scheme underlying the mail fraud charges where Avila allegedly provided a fake social security card, false Texas driver’s license and fake Devry University transcript to obtain a vehicle loan. According to the affiant, he then cleared title to the vehicle through a mechanic’s lien sale to himself and sold the vehicle to a Lexus dealership.
Michael P Kennedy was indicted by a Kentucky grand jury and charged with one count of bank fraud.
Kennedy was part owner and manager of Kennedy Homes LLC, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, which contracted to construct new homes in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati Ohio areas.
The indictment alleges that, in January 2011, Kennedy Homes, entered into a construction management contract to build a new single family home on Grandin Riverview in Cincinnati, Ohio. A family member agreed to obtain a construction loan for $2.8 million dollars to fund the costs of labor, materials and tools to be provided by Kennedy Homes. The family member obtained a construction loan from Fifth Third Bank. Funds would be released upon submission of draw requests accompanied by a contractor’s affidavit entitled “Lien Waiver and Contractor’s Affidavit” which certified that Kennedy Homes and its subcontractors and suppliers had been paid in full, with the exception only of claims specifically listed on the form. Between January 2011 and August 2012, according to the indictment, Kennedy submitted false affidavits swearing that he had paid subcontractors, materialmen and laborers to date, except for those listed, which he swore he would pay with the proceeds of the draw request. According to the indictment, he knew that the subcontractors and suppliers had not been paid. Kennedy used some or all of the draw money to pay subcontractors, materialmen and laborers on other projects or to pay salaries to himself or other partners of Kennedy Homes.
Also, according to the indictment, in July 2011 Kennedy entered into a Building Construction Agreement on behalf of Kennedy Homes to build a home on Serenity Way in Edgewood, Kentucky for $975,000. The homeowners obtained a $925,000 construction loan from Guardian Savings Bank to pay for the construction. Between July 2011 and July 2012, Kennedy executed false affidavits swearing that he had paid all materialmen and suppliers, knowing that they had not, in fact, been paid. Kennedy used some or all of the draw money to pay subcontractors, materialmen and laborers on other unrelated projects or to pay salaries to himself or other partners of Kennedy Homes.
If convicted, Kennedy could be sentenced to a maximum term of 30 years in prison.
George Barnard, 45, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, was indicted and charged with 24 counts of wire fraud, four counts of bank fraud, and three counts of filing a false tax return. The indictment alleges that Barnard, who from 2005 to March 2013 was one of the two owners of Capital Financial Mortgage Corporation (“CFMC”), based in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and also was the owner of several title companies, defrauded banks out of almost $13 million dollars and instead of using the money to fund mortgage loans for borrowers and pay off the borrowers’ existing mortgages, he took the money for his personal benefit, including buying yachts, luxury cars, multi-million dollar beach homes in Avalon, New Jersey, and paying the salary of a yacht captain. The indictment further alleges that in order to continue to have access to a large pool of money to fund his extravagant lifestyle, Barnard orchestrated a massive fraud scheme, which included selling other banks the mortgages that CFMC had written and representing to the lenders who purchasing those mortgages that they were first mortgages, when in reality they were worthless second mortgages.
The indictment alleges that while the tax returns Barnard filed with the IRS showed hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, in reality Barnard had more than $2,300,000 in unreported income, and in order to convince other banks to issue mortgage loans to him so he could purchase yachts and multi-million dollar beach homes, Barnard gave false tax returns to the banks with inflated income figures, and on at least one occasion, told the bank that he was buying the beach home for more than $3,000,000 when in reality the sales price was $2,000,000. The indictment alleges that Barnard was able to conceal this deception by using his own title company to handle the closing of that loan and falsifying closing documents.
The indictment alleged that as a result of Barnard’s actions, lenders suffered losses of more than $12,700,000, and more than 25 borrowers who obtained refinance loans from CFMC were stuck with two mortgages on their homes after Barnard’s companies failed to pay off the borrowers’ existing first mortgages.
Barnard faces a maximum sentence of 669 years’ imprisonment, a five-year period of supervised release, a $12,300,000 fine, a $3,300 special assessment, and a likely advisory sentencing guideline range of 135 – 168 months’ imprisonment.
The indictment was announced by United States Attorney Zane David Memeger. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigative Division, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael S. Lowe.
Ravindranauth “Ravi” Roopnarine, 56, Guyana, was sentenced by United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez to 262 months in prison, following his conviction by a federal jury on charges stemming from his leadership and participation in an extensive mortgage fraud scheme. Following his term of imprisonment, Roopnarine will be placed on supervised release for five years. Roopnarine was also ordered to pay $9,041,133.46 in restitution to the defrauded lenders and banks.
An indictment charged Roopnarine, Gergawattie “Kamla” Seecharan, Bhaardwaj “Deo” Seecharan and Linda Rovetto for their participation in a mortgage fraud scheme. The indictment charged Roopnarine with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Roopnarine in mid-2015 waived extradition and returned from Trinidad and Tobago to the Southern District of Florida.
On March 11, 2016, a jury convicted Roopnarine on all three counts.
According to the court documents and statements made in court, Roopnarine recruited and led his co-conspirators in a widespread mortgage fraud scheme involving more than 150 residential real estate properties in Indian River, Miami-Dade, and Orlando-Orange Counties. Roopnarine, along with Kamla Seecharan and her husband Deo Seecharan, conspired to solicit mainly Guyanese residents of Florida and other States to act as straw buyers on fraudulent mortgage loan applications. Approximately 80 individuals served as straw buyers of properties in Vero Lake Estates (VLE), in Indian River County, and other developments. This scheme resulted in the issuance of more than $50 million in fraudulent mortgage loans. The co-conspirators then used the proceeds to purchase additional properties, fund pre-existing fraudulent mortgage loans, and pay kickbacks to the straw buyers. In addition, Kamla Seecharan and Rovetto unlawfully diverted more than $3.5 million in mortgage loans from real estate closing escrow accounts to Raviworld New Homes, Inc., a company managed by Roopnarine and Deo Seecharan.
Kamla Seecharan pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy involving more than $50 million dollars in fraudulent mortgage loan funds. Deo Seecharan and Rovetto each pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud involving $3.5 million dollars in diverted real estate escrow funds.
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Kamla Seecharan and Deo Seecharan, to 121 months and 60 months, respectively, in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. In addition, Kamla Seecharan and Deo Seecharan were ordered to pay restitution, in the amount of $2,040,343.14 and $9,041,133.46, respectively. U.S. District Judge Martinez sentenced Rovetto to 42 months in prison.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement. Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the State of Florida Office of Financial Regulation, Bureau of Finance, West Palm Beach Regional Office for their work on this investigation, and the United States Marshals Service for their assistance with the extradition and return of Roopnarine to Florida from Trinidad & Tobago. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Theodore Cooperstein and James V. Hayes.
Aria Maleki, 33, Santa Ana, California, was sentenced to 112 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for heading a mortgage loan modification scheme that defrauded more than 1,000 struggling homeowners across the United States.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Maleki and others jointly operated a series of California-based companies that falsely purported to provide home mortgage loan modifications and other consumer debt relief services to numerous homeowners in Connecticut and across the United States in exchange for upfront fees. The defendants did business, at various times, as “First Choice Financial Group, Inc.,” “First Choice Financial,” “First Choice Debt,” “Legal Modification Firm,” “National Freedom Group,” “Home Care Alliance Group,” “Home Protection Firm,” “Hardship Center,” “Network Solutions Center, Inc.,” “Premiere Financial Center,” “Premiere Financial,” “Rescue Firm,” “International Research Group LLC,” “Hardship Solutions,” “American Loan Center,” “Loan Retention Firm,” “Clear Vision Financial,” “Green Tree Financial Group,” “Green Tree Financial,” “Enigma Fund, Inc.,” “National Aid Group,” “Southern Chapman Group LLC,” “Save Point Financial,” “Best Rate Financial Solutions,” “Best Rate Financial Solution,” “Best Rate Financial,” “Best Rate Finance Group,” “Nation Star Financial,” and “Nation Star Fin Group.”
Acting as representatives of these entities, Maleki and his co-conspirators cold-called homeowners and offered to provide mortgage loan modification services to those who were having difficulty repaying their home mortgage loans. The defendants charged homeowners fees that typically ranged from approximately $2,500 to $4,300 for their services. To induce homeowners to pay these fees, the defendants falsely represented that the homeowners already had been approved for mortgage loan modifications on extremely favorable terms; the mortgage loan modifications already had been negotiated with the homeowners’ lenders; the homeowners qualified for and would receive financial assistance under various government mortgage relief programs, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Home Affordable Modification Program; and if for some reason the mortgage loan modifications fell through, the homeowners would be entitled to a full refund of their fees.
In fact, the homeowners had not been pre-approved for mortgage loan modifications with lenders, mortgage loan modifications had not been negotiated with the lenders, homeowners had not qualified for and did not receive any financial assistance through government mortgage relief programs, and homeowners did not receive a refund of their fees upon request. Few homeowners ever received any type of mortgage loan modification through the defendants’ companies, and few homeowners received refunds of their fees.
Participants in the scheme used pseudonyms and periodically changed their business and operating names to evade detection. The defendants also directed homeowners to mail their checks to addresses and mail boxes that the defendants and their co-conspirators had set up in states other than California.
Maleki presided over the entire structure of this scheme. As a result, more than 1,000 homeowners suffered losses totaling more than $3 million.
On January 21, 2016, a grand jury in New Haven, Connecticut returned an indictment charging Maleki and six other California residents with conspiracy and fraud offenses related to this scheme. The defendants were arrested on January 26, 2016.
On March 22, 2016, Maleki pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The other six defendants also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Maleki has forfeited approximately $350,000 that investigators seized from various bank accounts, approximately $362,000 sized from a Bitcoin account, a $100,000 cashier’s check, and a 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia.
Maleki was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill who stated that a restitution order will be entered at a later date.
“This defendant presided over a scheme that preyed on struggling homeowners in Connecticut and across the United States, falsely offering mortgage relief in exchange for thousands of dollars that the victims clearly could not afford to spend,” said Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. “The investigation revealed that the participants in this scheme specifically targeted homeowners who were behind on their mortgage payments, whose homes were ‘under water,’ or who had recently experienced a financial hardship, such as a lost job. This is an appropriate sentence for a defendant who profited handsomely from such heartless, criminal conduct. I thank our federal and state law enforcement partners in New England, New Jersey, California and Oklahoma for investigating this matter, shutting down this scam and bringing those responsible to justice.”
“This sentence should serve as a strong warning about the consequences awaiting those engaged in large-scale financial fraud,” said Terence Opiola, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Newark. “The organization identified in this case was responsible for harming countless innocent victims. Working with its enforcement partners, HSI will continue to aggressively target thieves to ensure the perpetrators face the full weight of the law.”
“Aria Maleki took advantage of the national mortgage crisis,” said Shelly A. Binkowski, Postal Inspector in Charge for the Boston Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. “This sentencing clearly demonstrates that those who target hardworking homeowners in today’s challenging economy will be held accountable and prosecuted. These arrests clearly demonstrate that those who target hardworking homeowners in today’s challenging economy will be held accountable. I commend the hard work and countless hours put forth by all of the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to investigate these crimes to protect consumers and our nation’s mail system from being used for illegal or dangerous purposes.”
“Aria Maleki stole millions by lying that his companies had ties to HAMP and could offer relief to homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure,” said Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. “Every single victim was left worse off; many lost thousands of dollars and some, after promised modifications failed to materialize, lost their homes. Homeowners should be wary of any business charging up-front fees, advertising pre-approval at rates more favorable than industry norms, or offering money-back guarantees.”
“Mr. Maleki, along with his opportunistic criminal cohorts, facilitated a scheme to unjustly enrich themselves through the victimization of hardworking and vulnerable homeowners,” said Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge, HUD OIG, Northeast Region. “The sentencing today is a testament to the unwavering dedication exhibited by law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure a swift dose of justice awaits anyone who engages in this kind of unforgivable deception to our homeowners, HUD’s Federal Housing Administration, and mortgage lending institutions. I applaud and commend the hard work and long hours put forth by our law enforcement partners.”
“Aria Maleki deceived and preyed upon innocent homeowners when they were already vulnerable and simply trying to hang on to their homes,” said Leslie DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge, Western Region, Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General. “These despicable schemes victimize homeowners and entire communities, and today Maleki was held accountable for his actions. We are proud to work with our law enforcement partners on this case, and will continue to work with them to bring to justice all individuals who attempt to defraud unwitting victims.”
“Mr. Maleki’s fate, based on his involvement in financial fraud, has been sealed by the court,” said Patricia M. Ferrick, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We in Connecticut are very thankful of the incredible work done on this case by law enforcement from across the country.”
This matter is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Avi M. Perry.
Kirk Douglas West aka Kirk R. Leipzig was charged with two counts of bank fraud by Information in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (Nashville Division.) The Information alleges that Leipzig inflated his income and net worth on personal financial statements and/or loan application documents submitted to Reliant Bank and submitted fraudulent or forged documents to support the misrepresentations – including a consulting agreement purporting to guarantee income of approximately $300,000 a year for multiple years, W-2 forms, a pay stub, and income tax returns. Based on these misrepresentations, Reliant Bank disbursed two loans, the first on December 4, 2008 for $610,000 secured by 9569 Hampton Reserve Drive, Brentwood Tennessee and the second on March 1, 2010 for $1,600,000 secured by 4303 Harding Place, Nashville, Tennessee. The information also seeks forfeiture.
Leipzig’s real estate investment success was featured in the Forbes article “Flipping for Profit” on July 8, 2008. According to the Nashville Post, Greg Sturgeon filed a complaint in the Davidson County Chancery Court in March 2013, which was dismissed with prejudice a short time later, alleging that Leipzig, the manager of Home Equity Asset Partners, promised him a return on investment for contributing $60,000 to an East Nashville house flip and, that while Leipzig sold the home for $457,000 after purchasing it for $135,000, he had quitclaimed the property to Home Equity Asset Partners without Sturgeon’s knowledge and only returned about $40,000 of Sturgeon’s initial investment. The article also refers to other lawsuits against Leipzig, including lawsuits by two banks which claimed Leipzig failed to repay loans in 2011 and 2012. A May 2013 article in the Nashville Post states that the City of Belle Meade filed a lawsuit against a land trust that owns a dilapidated property – the trustee of the trust being listed as under the care of Leipzig – claiming the property’s condition violated numerous codes.
Leipzig and his trust were also the subject of involuntary bankruptcy filings by creditors in 2014.
Shayne Harrison Smith, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was sentenced to 63 months imprisonment in federal court in connection with his role in a loan modification scheme.
In July of 2015, Smith was charged by Information and pled guilty to Wire Fraud. After Smith completes the term of imprisonment, he will be on federal supervised release for 5 years. Smith was also ordered to pay $2,213,307.99 in restitution to the victims in his case. United States District Judge R. Bryan Harwell, of Florence, imposed the sentence.
Information presented at an earlier hearing established that Smith was involved in a loan modification scheme. According to the Information, he convinced distressed home owners that he could negotiate better terms of repayment with their lenders. Smith required the victims to pay him advance fees and continue to pay him over time to compensate him for his services. He encouraged some of the home owners to cease communicating with their lenders and stop making payments to the lenders, because he would take care of everything. Smith never successfully renegotiated any of the mortgages.
Acting United States Attorney Beth Drake announced the sentence. The case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant United States Attorney John C. Potterfield of the Columbia United States Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case.
“This is just a horrible crime,” Royal told Williams. “It is outrageous that you would take advantage of people like this.” Turning to the victims in the rear of the courtroom, Judge Royal said, “You people have lost this money. You may get some of it back. But based on my experience, it is very difficult to get restitution. I am very sorry you had to suffer the losses you did. I think it is a terrible crime.”