John Lebron, 33, Tampa, Florida, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich sentenced to 26 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud affecting a financial institution, and making false statements to a financial institution.
Lebron was also ordered to serve a 5-year term of supervised release, following his release from prison. As part of his sentence, the court also entered a money judgment in the amount of $1,469,300. Lebron was found guilty on October 19, 2012, following a three-week jury trial.
According to testimony and court documents, Lebron was a Florida-licensed real estate agent and worked as a loan officer. Taking advantage of the downturn in the real estate market, Lebron participated in mortgage foreclosure rescue fraud and short sale fraud, which is sometimes called “flopping” a house.
As part of the scheme, Lebron had hand drawn signs placed on the side of the roads, usually in low income neighborhoods. These signs often advertised the sale of nonexistent houses. The purpose of the signs was to generate leads, to prey upon unsophisticated people, particularly those losing their houses in foreclosure.
Working with another Florida-licensed real estate agent, Lebron opened up a company, called EZ Investments. During their first deal, they used a victim whose house was falling into foreclosure. Lebron arranged for a straw purchaser – his sister – to buy the house in a non-arm’s length transaction. That is, Lebron controlled both ends of the deal. Lebron also served as the loan officer, thus receiving the mortgage broker’s commission, although another loan officer’s name was placed on the paperwork to conceal what Lebron had done. Lebron also took the check that represented the proceeds of the sale of the home from the distressed home owner without her knowledge.
After the straw purchaser bought the house, Lebron paid the original mortgage for a short time to prevent the victim from detecting the fraud. He then arranged a short sale of the house to his brother-in-law, in another non-arm’s length transaction. Six days later, using simultaneously recorded deeds, the property was resold to a “credit partner,” that is, another straw purchaser, who Lebron had arranged to buy the house before the short sale proposal was submitted to the bank. This straw purchaser, essentially unemployed, was added on to bank accounts under the control of the conspirators to make it appear that he had assets. The down payment for the transaction was funded through those bank accounts. Fake pay stubs were created to give the appearance that the buyer had an income to support the loan.
In these deals, the conspirators pocketed the money that should have gone to the original distressed home owner. They also received the mortgage broker commission for arranging the first straw purchaser’s loan and other commissions and fees, and got the difference between the short sale amount and the new loan. The straw purchasers were each paid $5,000 for their role in the scheme. In addition, Lebron acquired four other loans through fraud.
During the course of the conspiracy, Lebron used stolen and false identities; fraudulently verified his own employment claiming jobs he never had; and, for at least one of the properties, bought it as his primary residence when he legally could not move into it. Lebron committed these crimes while on pretrial release and while on probation.
This case was investigated by U.S. Secret Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas N. Palermo.
“This case is particularly disturbing on several fronts,” stated John Joyce, Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service – Tampa Field Office. “Mr. Lebron and his cohorts knowingly took advantage of homeowners who were in financial distress in order to advance their own financial well being. Mr. Lebron had the audacity to commit these fraudulent acts while on probation and he also defaulted on $1.4 million in loans. He will soon understand that 26 years is a stiff price to be paid for his actions.”