Melvin T. Bell, 37, aka “Alex Crown,” “Minister Bey,” “Sovereign King Bey,” “King Bey,” and “S.K. Bey,” Monica Hernandez, 43, a former licensed real estate broker, and Carlos Rayas, 39, Aurora, Illinois, who operated Washington National Trust, an licensed trust and/or mortgage company, are facing federal fraud charges for allegedly swindling approximately $220,000 from at least 54 homeowners after falsely promising to save their homes from foreclosure and lower their monthly mortgage payments. Both Bell and Hernandez were last known to reside in Oswego, Illinois.
The alleged mortgage “rescue” fraud scheme primarily preyed upon Hispanic victims in and around Aurora, Illinois, since late 2011.
Reyes, whose loan originator license was revoked by state regulators, has been arrested. He pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan and was released on his own recognizance. A status hearing was set for Jan. 10 in U.S. District Court. Arrest warrants were issued for the other two defendants.
Bell and Hernandez were each charged with four counts of mail fraud, and Rayas was charged with two counts of mail fraud, in an indictment that was returned last week by a federal grand jury and unsealed today. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of approximately $220,000.
According to the indictment, the defendants marketed the official-sounding Washington National Trust as a business providing a financial assistance program for homeowners that was operated and controlled by wealthy Native Americans and was exempt from state and federal laws. In exchange for fees ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 per property, the defendants claimed that Washington National Trust would lower the homeowners’ existing mortgage payments by half and defeat any foreclosure. All three defendants knew, however, that Washington National Trust was not licensed to conduct loan originations and modifications in Illinois and could not lower mortgage payments or defeat foreclosure.
Bell, Hernandez, and Rayas allegedly falsely promised that Washington National Trust would pay off and acquire homeowners’ mortgages, and once that happened, the homeowners would owe only half the original mortgage to Washington National Trust, due over five years and free of any interest and property taxes. To effect this so-called “mortgage rescue,” the defendants had homeowners sign documents and deeds purportedly appointing Washington National Trust as trustee and transferring title of their homes to the business, the indictment alleges. As part of the scheme, the defendants recorded fraudulent documents and deeds in Kane, Kendall and other counties to delay foreclosure and to make it appear that their business was the homeowners’ trustee, the charges add.
The indictment also alleges that the defendants falsely promised that the fees paid by homeowners would go toward reducing their principal balance after Washington National Trust acquired the loan from the lender. Instead, Bell and Hernandez used the fees to pay for marketing and operating the business, including making payments to Rayas and others who referred homeowners to them, as well as for various personal expenses, including meals, travel, and merchandise.
All three defendants allegedly concealed from homeowners that the Kane County Circuit Court had issued orders in September and October 2012 barring Washington National Trust from further filing and recording deeds. They also allegedly concealed that the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation had issued orders in December 2012 and February 2013, first, to Washington National Trust to stop using the word “trust” and, later, to all three defendants to stop engaging in unlawful residential mortgage activity.
The charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Tony Gómez, Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Chicago. The Illinois State Police also participated in the investigation.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Romero.
Each count of mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or an alternative fine totaling twice the gross gain or twice the loss, whichever is greater, and restitution is mandatory. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.