Down Payment Programs Not a Scam, FHA to Tell Watchdog

The Federal Housing Administration is expected to rebuff a government watchdog report that criticized down payment assistance programs, questioning why low-income borrowers are charged nominally higher mortgage rates for such programs.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General took issue in a report earlier this month with the so-called “premium pricing” of two down payment assistance programs in Arizona.

The watchdog alleged that NOVA Financial & Investment, a Tucson, Ariz.-based mortgage lender, violated HUD rules by charging borrowers nominally higher mortgage rates in return for assistance. It also alleged the lender failed to conduct due diligence on the non-profit government housing finance agencies that administer the down payment assistance programs and wants the lender to repay $48.5 million for 709 loans.

“The gifts were not true gifts as defined by HUD,” the report said. “To be considered a gift…there must be no expected or implied repayment of the funds to the donor by the borrower.”

Trial Continues in Case Against Real Estate Firm Co-Owner Accused of Ponzi Scheme

The trial of a Phoenix man accused of setting up a real estate Ponzi scheme during the Great Recession continued in Santa Ana on Tuesday.

According to federal prosecutors who spoke with jurors at court, Michael J. Stewart—a co-owner of a real estate firm based in Irvine and Long Beach—set up the Ponzi scheme to pay off old investors while continuing to recruit new ones for a plan to flip distressed apartment buildings during the Great Recession’s housing collapse.

Stewart’s attorney told jurors that in fact his client was innocent and thought his plan was financially prudent because homeowners who lost their property in foreclosure would need to rent apartments.

Fryar trial witness: Ex-Eagle’s mother unaware of alleged scam

The mortgage fraud trial of a former Eagles player and his 74-year-old mother took an unexpected turn in a Mount Holly courtroom Thursday when the key prosecution witness admitted during cross-examination that he told a prosecutor that he did not believe the woman was aware she was participating in an illegal scheme.

William Barksdale, a mortgage broker already serving a sentence for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, was testifying at the trial of Irving Fryar and Allene McGhee. The state Attorney General’s Office contends they were coconspirators with Barksdale in defrauded seven lending institutions in South Jersey and Philadelphia of more than $1.2 million in 2009.

Authorities in Lansing, Michigan recently advised home buyers to beware of a Craig’s List home selling scam where scam artists meet potential home buyers at a home they do not actually own and take payments from the buyer.  This scam is operating across the country and is not limited to properties in Lansing Michigan.  (It is also being perpetrated against potential renters who are “rented” homes that are not owned by the scammers.)

In the Craig’s List scams, a home buyer can generally protect themselves by depositing the earnest money with their own real estate agent or with an escrow company rather than handing money over to the scammers.  The fact that the scammers don’t actually own the property will be discovered during the title search that is conducted while the sales transaction is pending.

This is not the only scam that involves fake sales.  In another common scam, fake sellers actually forge quit claim deeds and ‘transfer’ the property to themselves.  Sometimes these scammers also rent the property from the real owners so that they can ‘show’ the property to potential buyers.

Looking at current ownership in these fake sales transactions may not be enough.  Home buyers and real estate professionals also need to look at the last transactions recorded against title to the property.  If the property has recently transferred by way of quit clam deed, a little more due diligence may be in order before handing over the earnest money deposit or purchasing the property. It is as easy as contacting the “prior” record title holder – who may not even be aware that their property has been transferred.  Quit claim transfers are not always fraudulent.  And fake transfer can be done by way of regular grant deeds.  We just see more fake transfers by quit claim.

In the Craig’s List scam, the fake sellers walk away with the earnest money deposit or down payment.  In a fake sales transaction, if it is not detected by the title company, the scammers walk away with the entire purchase price.

If a homeowner falls for one of these fake sales transactions and purchases a property that doesn’t actually belong to the seller and was transferred by way of a forged deed, the new homeowner’s only real recourse will be their title insurance policy.

Jonathan Lyons, 53, a former sales representative at a company purporting to provide mortgage modification services, Rockville Center, New York, pled guilty in Manhattan federal court for his role in a multimillion-dollar scheme that victimized more than 500 financially struggling homeowners across the country.  Lyons, who was arrested in October 2013, pled guilty before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels.

According to the allegations contained in the Indictment and related Informations, the plea agreements, and statements made in court proceedings: Continue Reading…

Was Irvine house-flipping business a Ponzi scheme?

A co-owner of a real estate firm based in Irvine and Long Beach set up a Ponzi scheme to pay off old investors while continuing to recruit new ones for a plan to flip distressed apartment buildings during the Great Recession’s housing collapse, a federal prosecutor told jurors.

However, Michael J. Stewart’s attorney told jurors his client was innocent and he thought his plan was a financially prudent one because homeowners who lost their property in foreclosure would have to turn to renting apartments Tuesday. Defense attorney Kenneth Miller also placed the blame for the company’s failure on co-defendant John Packard.

Broker tells his side against Irving Fryar and mother

A financial broker who is serving time in federal prison in connection with a $2 million mortgage scheme took the stand Wednesday in the conspiracy trial of ex-Eagle Irving Fryar and his mother, Allene McGhee, in the Burlington County Courthouse in Mount Holly.

William Barksdale is the key witness in a high-profile case in which the state Attorney General’s Office alleges Fryar and McGhee conspired to defraud six banks and a mortgage company of more than $1 million in 2009. Barksdale, of Levittown, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for assisting Fryar, McGhee, and several other Burlington County clients with the scheme.

Shayne Harrison Smith, 47, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina entered a guilty plea in federal court in Florence, South Carolina, to Wire Fraud, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 in connection with a loan modification fraud scheme. Continue Reading…

Myrtle Beach man pleads guilty to role in mortgage rescue scheme

A Myrtle Beach man has pled guilty to wire fraud as part of a “mortgage rescue scheme,” according to United States Attorney Bill Nettles.

Shayne Harrison Smith, 47, of Myrtle Beach pled guilty to wire fraud in federal court in Florence.