Archives For Mortgage Elimination

Bruce Lewis, 65, Jacqueline Graham, 47, Anthony Vigna, 59, Rocco Cermele, 54, and Paula Guadagno, 58, were indicted and charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud in connection with a debt-elimination scheme to defraud homeowners and banks.

The Indictment alleges that in 2011 and 2012, Lewis, Graham, and an unindicted co-conspirator were partners in a business that they called the Pillow Foundation or the Terra Foundation (collectively, “Terra”).  Terra held itself out as a business that would investigate and eliminate mortgage debt in exchange for a fee.  Terra solicited clients who were having difficulties making their mortgage payments.

Vigna was a lawyer who worked in-house at Terra and provided legal services to it and its clients.  Cermele was Terra’s director of operations who recruited clients, among other duties.  Guadagno was a real estate title professional who performed real estate title work for Terra.

Lewis, Graham, Vigna, Cermele, Guadagno, and others at Terra told potential clients that Terra could eliminate their mortgage debt in exchange for a fee.  In reality, Terra filed fraudulent discharges of mortgages at local county clerk’s offices in Westchester and Putnam Counties, New York and in Connecticut.  These fraudulent documents made it appear as if Terra’s clients’ mortgages had been discharged, when in fact they had not.

To profit from their scheme, Terra and the defendants charged monthly fees that they said covered, among other things, audits of the clients’ properties that they often failed to perform.  Terra and the defendants also encouraged their clients to take out second or reverse mortgages on the properties for which Terra had claimed to have discharged the first mortgages.  Once the clients had taken out these second or reverse mortgages, Terra and the defendants retained substantial portions of the proceeds.  Some of these second or reverse mortgages were made under HUD’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Program.

In total, Terra and the defendants filed nearly 60 fraudulent discharges in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York and in Connecticut.  The fraudulent discharges claimed to discharge mortgages with a total loan principal of over $33 million.  In reality, the Terra clients for whom the fraudulent discharges were filed were often left with both a second or reverse mortgage and their original mortgage that had not actually been discharged.

Vigna, Cermele, and Guadagno were taken into federal custody.  Lewis and Graham remain at large.

Each defendant is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, and mail fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jennifer Beidel, Michael Maimin, and James McMahon are in charge of the

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Christina Scaringi, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Northeast Region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the unsealing of the Indictment.  Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and HUD-OIG.  Mr. Bharara also thanked the Westchester and Putnam County District Attorney’s Offices and the Cheshire Police Department in Cheshire, Connecticut, for their ongoing assistance in the case.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated:  “The defendants allegedly preyed on vulnerable homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments and, with their greed, victimized them further.  When the defendants were done with the victims, after falsely promising to reduce or even eliminate their mortgage debt for fees, these homeowners were left much worse off, in even greater debt.  With the charges today, and thanks to the investigative work of the FBI and HUD, the defendants now face federal fraud charges.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney stated:  “As charged, the defendants exploited a program designed to help cost-burdened individuals enjoy the privilege of affordable housing.  Crimes of this nature not only hurt their victims financially, but often force upon them other forms of anguish while harming the financial integrity of the very programs established to help them. We urge everyone to protect themselves against this type of fraud and abuse.  If something doesn’t sound right, trust your instincts and do some checking. If you think you may be or have been a victim of mortgage fraud, we urge you to contact your nearest FBI office.”

HUD-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Christina Scaringi stated:  “HUD’s reverse mortgage program was created to help our senior citizens find greater financial security through FHA-insured loans.  The defendants’ alleged scheme to unjustly enrich themselves through the victimization of our senior citizens is a shameful act that will not be tolerated by the HUD OIG.  We will continue to aggressively pursue those who would prey on America’s senior citizens and encourage anyone having knowledge of such schemes to contact our HUD hotline.”

Denise Bruce, 56, Hingham, Massachusetts, was sentenced  for defrauding mortgage companies in connection with multiple mortgages she obtained on a single residence.  U.S. District Court Senior Judge Douglas P. Woodlock imposed the sentence of two years in prison, five years of supervised release and restitution of $2,810,497.  In May 2016, Bruce pleaded guilty to five counts of bank fraud.

Between 2004 and 2008, Bruce fraudulently obtained five mortgage loans from different banks in amounts ranging from $325,000 to $487,500 on her Hingham property by submitting false information regarding her employment history, income, assets, and debt.  Bruce also filed fraudulent discharges of mortgages with the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds to create the appearance that earlier loans had been paid in full, when in fact, none of the loans had been paid.  In total, Bruce obtained $2,129,000 in proceeds from her fraudulent loans.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Steven Perez, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; and Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, made the announcement.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor A. Wild of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Unit.

David Tyrone Johnson, 48, Washington, D.C. was indicted on charges that he conspired to commit bank fraud and other crimes arising from a real estate scheme involving a forged mortgage satisfaction document.

Johnson was named in a six-count indictment that was returned on August 9, 2016. He is charged with federal violations of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, engaging in illegal monetary transactions, and making a false statement, as well as uttering, which is a District of Columbia offense.  The indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation seeking all proceeds that can be traced to the fraud scheme. Johnson pled not guilty to the charges at his first court appearance.

According to the indictment, SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. loaned a friend of Johnson’s approximately $470,000 to purchase residential real estate in the 100 block of 57th Street SE in 2008.  By 2009, the friend had failed to repay the mortgage loans, and in 2010, SunTrust Mortgage filed a notice of foreclosure with the District of Columbia’s Recorder of Deeds. In April 2013, SunTrust Mortgage began the process of foreclosing on the mortgage and taking possession of the property, due to the friend’s failure to make good and timely payments on the mortgage loans.

The indictment alleges that sometime before October 2, 2013, Johnson caused the creation of two phony and forged certificates of satisfaction, which falsely represented that the SunTrust Mortgage loans at the property on 57th Street SE had been paid and that his friend owned the property “free and clear.”  The indictment also alleges that on October 2, 2013, Johnson filed these two phony certificates of satisfaction with the Recorder of Deeds.

In or about December 2013, after the fake certificates of satisfaction allowed the friend to sell the property without paying the outstanding mortgages, the title and escrow company wired out the sales proceeds of $337,105, of which approximately $170,688 was obtained by Johnson.

The indictment, which was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.In announcing the charges, U.S. Attorney Phillips and Assistant Director in Charge Abbate expressed appreciation for the work performed by those who investigated the case from the FBI’s Washington Field Office. They also acknowledged the efforts of those working on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including former Paralegal Specialist Corinne Kleinman, Paralegal Specialist Kaitlyn Kruger, Litigation Tech Specialist Ron Royal, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Swanton, who is assisting with forfeiture issues. Finally, they commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Cheatham who is prosecuting the case.

Leigh Fiske, 52, formerly of Tampa, Florida, was indicted and charged with two counts of bank fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison on each count.

According to the indictment, Fiske submitted two fraudulent financial instruments to the servicer and the bank trustee of a mortgage that he had used to finance the purchase of property in Tampa, Florida in 2005. The fraudulent instruments and accompanying documentation directed the financial institutions, both of which had received funds from the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, to apply the face value of the instruments to his outstanding mortgage debt in separate attempts to extinguish that obligation. In truth, neither instrument had or conveyed anything of monetary value. The intended loss of the scheme was over $650,000.

In March 2016, Fiske was indicted in a separate fraud case for a scheme in which he allegedly funneled monies obtained from counterfeit or altered business checks through a trust account that he had created for a shell company he controlled. That case is pending trial.

United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announced the indictment. The case was investigated by the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Eric K. Gerard.

Amaziah Yahalom, who also goes by Andre C. Page, 35, Los Angeles, California pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, arising from his role in a mortgage fraud scheme in which he failed to report the proceeds of the fraud on his income tax return.  He admitted in court that the mortgage fraud scheme in which he participated caused losses of $800,000 to WMC Mortgage and $425,000 to PHH Mortgage.

According to documents filed with the court, in 2005, after falling behind on his mortgage payments for his Beachwood Drive home in Los Angeles, California, co-schemer William Beard was referred to Yahalom and another unidentified co-defendant for assistance in eliminating his mortgage on the property. That scheme involved a series of false documents, including a fraudulent Full Reconveyance purportedly authorized by the lender that was instead signed by Beard’s two roommates. The purpose of the Reconveyance was to make it appear as if Beard had paid off his mortgage through the false representation that Beard’s roommates were authorized to declare the mortgage satisfied.  Continue Reading…

Adel Afkarian, 42, Carlsbad, California, and Atef Afkarian, 40, Slidell, Louisiana, were sentencedto prison for their role in a fraudulent “debt elimination” scheme that purported to eliminate the mortgages on several million-dollar homes in San Diego, California.

U.S. District Judge John A. Houston sentenced Adel Afkarian to serve 18 months in custody and Atef Afkarian to serve 13 months.  In addition to the time in custody, the brothers who are both former real estate brokers, were both ordered to pay more than $5.5 million in restitution to the victims of the scheme.

To implement the scheme, the Afkarians identified underwater homeowners—including themselves—and began a process to make it appear as though the homeowners’ debts had been satisfied.  To do so, they recorded fraudulent deeds that purported to extinguish the large mortgage loans encumbering each property.  They then sold the properties to innocent purchasers, deceiving the buyers into paying the full purchase price to the Afkarians or their co-conspirators.  The mortgage lenders, unaware of the fraudulent documents recorded on title or unable to prevent the sale in time, were left unpaid.  Continue Reading…

Martin Calzada, 28, Los Angeles, California was indicted by a federal grand jury with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud, in connection with a scheme to defraud homeowners facing foreclosure. Calzada entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment.

According to court documents, between August 2010 and October 2011, Calzada, and other employees of Star Reliable Mortgage, which had offices in Bakersfield, Visalia, and Salinas, California, targeted distressed homeowners with a fraudulent “loan elimination” scheme. Star Reliable charged clients an upfront fee — ranging from $2,500 to $4,500 — as well as monthly fees, based on false promises that the clients could own their homes “free and clear” as a result of Star Reliable’s services. In furtherance of the scheme, Calzada and other employees filed at county recorders’ offices fraudulent documents on behalf of the homeowner-clients that purported to replace the legitimate property trustees with fictitious trusts affiliated with Calzada and Star Reliable, all in an effort to “cloud title” and halt or stall the foreclosure process. Additionally, Calzada, and other employees working at his direction, told clients to stop paying their mortgages. They also falsely represented that each client had one million dollars in a U.S. government account that could be used to pay off a homeowner’s mortgage. Continue Reading…

John Michael DiChiara, 57, Nevada City, California; James C. Castle, 51, formerly of Santa Rosa, California; Remus A. Kirkpatrick, 58, formerly of Oceanside, California; George B. Larsen, 54, formerly of San Rafael, California; Laura Pezzi, 59, Roseville, California; Larry Todt, 63, formerly of Malibu, California; and Michael Romano, 68, Benicia, California, were charged by a federal grand jury in a 42-count indictment, with conspiracy, bank fraud, false making of documents, and money laundering in connection with a mortgage elimination scheme. Tisha Trites, 49, San Diego, California and Todd Smith, 44, San Diego, California, pleaded guilty to related charges before U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on September 4, 2015.

DiChiara was arrested in Cool, California. Pezzi and Romano were arrested at their homes. The other four defendants listed in the indictment have yet to be arrested. Continue Reading…

Jennifer McTigue, 48, Honolulu, Hawaii pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering, as well as committing wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. McTigue pled guilty in federal district court before Senior District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall a day after jury selection for her trial was to have commenced.

In connection with her guilty plea, McTigue, who is representing herself and identifies herself as a “private non-citizen American national” stated:

“I feel I must take responsibility for people being damaged and that’s why I’m here today to plead guilty.”

Documents filed by McTigue in the court case had caused the Judge to order that she undergo a competency evaluation.

Continue Reading…

Alan David Tikal, 46, the principal operator of a large-scale mortgage fraud/mortgage elimination scheme, was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Continue Reading…