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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 prosecutedThese 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.

Victor Cuevas, 52, Bristol, Connecticut, was charged by information and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer in New Haven, Connecticut, to conspiring with others to commit bank fraud in connection with his home mortgage loan applications.

According to court documents and statements made in court, in the summer of 2013, Cuevas, a City of Waterbury employee and, at that time, the elected state representative for the 75th assembly District to the State of Connecticut General Assembly, wanted to purchase a residence at 13 Jefferson Avenue, Bristol, Connecticut with an FHA loan.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides mortgage insurance on loans made through its FHA program and mortgages offered through the program are subject to certain restrictions, including restrictions on the funds that may be used to purchase properties.

Cuevas, with the assistance of others, represented to the mortgage bank that he was using gifted funds to purchase the property when, in fact, the money was not gifted but was instead loaned to Cuevas for the purpose of purchasing the property.

Specifically, Cuevas first represented to the mortgage bank that an individual who he identified as his nephew but, in fact, was a subordinate employee from the City of Waterbury, was providing him with cash to purchase the property as a gift.  When the mortgage lender asked for the “nephew’s” bank account statements to prove that he had the money to gift to Cuevas, Cuevas withdrew the mortgage application.  A few weeks later, Cuevas had a different Waterbury employee, who Cuevas identified as his “cousin,” “gift” him the $7,000.  Both individuals signed a HUD statement under oath that the funds were, indeed, a “gift” and that no repayment of the monies was expected.  However, as soon as the mortgage closed, Cuevas re-paid the employee the $7,000.

Cuevas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.  Judge Meyer scheduled sentencing for September 21, 2016.

Cuevas resigned from the Connecticut General Assembly in March 2016.

The matter is being investigated by the Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force, notably the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Task Force also includes members from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Karwan.

Ryan Geddes, 44, Litchfield, Connecticut was sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for participating in multiple conspiracies involving a series of real estate transactions intended to shield assets from creditors.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Geddes had accrued a series of debts as of late 2005, and was the subject of various lawsuits and collection efforts for the next several years.  A bank fraud conspiracy commenced in November 2005 when Geddes sold a lakefront home located at 27 Palmer Road, Morris Connecticut to Thomas Provenzano.  Lacking the funds to qualify for the $923,000 mortgage, Provenzano nonetheless obtained the loan based on an application that falsely listed his income as $20,000 per month, or $240,000 annually, and falsely listed Provenzano as having worked for several years as the Operations Manager for one of Geddes’s construction companies.  Provenzano had not worked in that capacity, and had earned substantially less.  The loan application also listed Geddes’s company as having verified Provenzano’s employment.  In November 2006, Provenzano refinanced the loan, obtaining a $936,000 mortgage from a federally insured bank.  The new loan application, like the prior one, falsely listed Provenzano as employed by Geddes’s construction company, and falsely listed his monthly income as $28,000, or $336,000 annually.  The application again listed Geddes’s company as having verified Provenzano’s employment.  The loan is now in default, and the 27 Palmer Road property is in foreclosure. Continue Reading…

Seven Indicted in Mod Fraud

Rachel Dollar —  February 2, 2016 — 1 Comment

Aria Maleki, 33, of Santa Ana, California; Mehdi Moarefian, a.k.a. “Michael Miller,” 36, of Irvine, California; Kowit Yuktanon, a.k.a. “Eric Cannon,” 31, of Huntington Beach, California; Cuong Huy King, a.k.a. “James Nolan” and “Jimmy, 32, of Westminster, California; Daniel Shiau, a.k.a. “Scott Decker,” 30, of Irvine, California; Serj Geuttsoyan, a.k.a. “Anthony Kirk,” 33, of Santa Ana, California; Michelle Lefaoseu, a.k.a. “Michelle Bennett,” 41, of Huntington Beach, California; were charged in a 14 count-indictment with conspiracy and fraud offenses stemming from an alleged scheme to defraud homeowners across the United States who were seeking mortgage loan modifications

Law enforcement seized approximately $350,000 from various bank accounts, approximately $362,000 from a Bitcoin account, a $100,000 cashier’s check, and a 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia.  Continue Reading…

Mohammed N. Islam, also known as “Tanveer,” 39, Trumbull, Connecticut, was sentenced 14 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for participating in a mortgage fraud scheme that involved dozens of properties in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

According to court documents and statements made in court, between 2006 and 2013, Islam participated in a mortgage fraud conspiracy that involved the purchase of numerous single and multi-family properties, primarily in Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford, Connecticut.  During the scheme, Islam and his co-conspirators provided materially false information to mortgage lenders, including false verifications of mortgage applicants’ income, false verifications of down payments for real estate transactions and false HUD-1 Forms. Continue Reading…

Jason Calabrese, 44, Watertown, Connecticut was sentenced to six months of imprisonment, followed by three months of home confinement and two years of supervised release, for his involvement in a series of fraudulent mortgage loan applications involving a straw borrower. Calabrese also was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine and $400,585 in restitution.

According to court documents and statements made in court, in November 2005, Calabrese ’s co-conspirator, Thomas Provenzano, obtained a $923,200 loan to purchase a lakefront home located at 27 Palmer Road, Morris, Connecticut, for more than $1.1 million, despite lacking the income to pay off the mortgage. The 27 Palmer Road property was owned by an entity controlled by Ryan Geddes, another co-conspirator. Continue Reading…

Anika N. Greene, 42, Bronx, New York, was convicted by a federal jury on charges of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft.

Green was charged in a superseding indicted on July 15, 2014. According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Greene and three other individuals, Jeffrey Washington, Alice Howard, and Catya J. Craig, burglarized Wells Fargo mortgage offices throughout New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland in 2012 and 2013. The defendants stole over 1,800 mortgage files that were then used in a variety of bank customer impersonation and retail credit fraud schemes, targeting various banks and retailers. Washington recruited individuals to go into banks, impersonate customers and remove funds via setting up business accounts and transferring funds from the accounts of bank customers. Washington and other defendants, including Greene, traveled from New York to the Eastern District of Virginia on multiple occasions throughout 2012 and 2013. Continue Reading…

Matthew Goldreich, 46, East Lyme, Connecticut, pleaded guilty in New Haven federal court to a false advertising offense stemming from his production and dissemination of false advertisements for mortgage modification services.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Goldreich used his New London-based media agency, National Media Connection, LLC, to produce and air television, radio, and Internet advertisements for the National Mortgage Help Center, LLC (“NMHC”), a shell company incorporated by Goldreich. The advertisements falsely claimed that NMHC could help struggling homeowners obtain home mortgage loan modifications. For example, one advertisement that aired in 2010 stated: “Attention homeowners. We know it’s tough out there. And while America’s homeowners are facing more challenges than ever before, the National Mortgage Help Center is ready to help.” The same advertisement also stated: “We may be able to lower your rate to as low as 1% and cut your mortgage payment in half. Our trained specialists know all the new regulations to get you quick relief. We help thousands of homeowners every day.” Continue Reading…

Glorvina Constant, 36, New Haven, Connecticut, was sentenced  to one year of probation for participating in a mortgage fraud scheme.  Her husband, Jason Sheehan, 41, New Haven, Connecticut, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for a bankruptcy and tax fraud scheme involving his company, Infinistaff, LLC.  As part of that scheme, Constant received Infinistaff payroll checks totaling $354,000 during the pendency of Infinistaff’s bankruptcy proceedings even though she performed no work for the company. Continue Reading…

Ann Hils, 55, East Hampton, Connecticut, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson to 63 months of imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release, for operating a real estate appraisal scheme.

Continue Reading…