James Toufic Assali, 36, Irvine, California, the owner of a Costa Mesa, California-based mortgage refinance company and escrow business, is charged in a large fraudulent rate-lock loan modification scheme targeting mostly out-of-state and some elderly victims. Assali is currently sought by law enforcement officers. To date, known victims are residents of California, Maryland, Minnesota, Florida, and Washington.
Assali is charged with 18 felony counts of grand theft, three felony counts of grand theft of an adult over 65, four felony counts of money laundering, and two felony counts of filing a false tax return with sentencing enhancements for money laundering exceeding $50,000. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 23 years in state prison. An arrest warrant was issued May 26, 2011, for Assali, who is believed to be either in California or Vermont.
Assali is accused of owning and being responsible for the daily operations of Meredian Financial Corporation (Meredian) and an escrow business, Fortis Title Solutions. The two businesses operated out of an office in Costa Mesa, despite having a Florida billing address. He is accused of targeting out-of-state victims, some elderly, by calling and soliciting Meredian‘s home loan rate-lock and modification services for a fee ranging from $750 up to $10,000. Assali is accused of collecting a fee from victims and claiming this would lock-in a lower interest rate to refinance their home, modifying their home loan, and promising that fee would be refunded at the close of escrow. The defendant is accused of failing to complete a majority of home loan modifications or refinancing services retained by victims and refusing to issue refunds promised of the initial fees collected.
Assali is accused of opening and having sole access to separate accounts at Union Bank for his business and personal finances. The defendant is accused of electronically transferring funds incrementally from his business bank account to his personal account totaling over $100,000 annually in both 2008 and 2009. He is accused of filing false tax returns in 2008 and 2009, failing to report his actual income by underreporting his compensation by over $200,000. As a direct result, Assali is also accused of owing over $18,000 in unpaid taxes for filing false returns in 2008 and 2009.
The case was jointly investigated by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) and California Franchise Tax Board (CFTB). In 2010, the OCDA began investigating the case after receiving numerous customer and employee complaints about the Costa Mesa-based business operations. The California Franchise Tax Board assisted in the investigation into the filing of false tax returns.
If you have seen or know the whereabouts of this fugitive and/or believe you have been a victim or have any additional information pertaining to this case please contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Eric Ackerlind at (714) 347-8691.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Pete Pierce of the Real Estate Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.