Archives For Straw Buyer

Rachel Siders, 41, Roseville, California, was sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison for her involvement in mortgage fraud schemes that cost financial institutions over $17 million.

Federal juries returned verdicts in two trials, in March 2015 and December 2015 finding her guilty of multiple counts of bank fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, making a false loan application, and committing aggravated identity theft.

According to evidence presented at the first trial, in 2008 Siders and co-defendant Theo Adams, 50, Roseville, California, applied for a home equity line of credit using his relative’s name on an underwater Roseville property owned by Adams. They submitted false tax returns in the relative’s name with significantly inflated income along with mortgage application documents with forged signatures. Siders, a notary public, falsely notarized the loan application documents, which were sent to Washington Mutual Bank. The bank relied upon the false documents to provide a $250,000 line of credit. Siders received $170,000 of the proceeds. After making minimal payments, the defendants defaulted on the loan.

According to evidence presented at the second trial, from mid-2006 through early 2008, Siders and Vera Kuzmenko, 46, Loomis, California, and other defendants engaged in a mortgage fraud scheme involving over 30 properties in the Sacramento area. They secured more than $30 million in residential mortgage loans on more than 30 homes purchased through straw buyers. The loan applications contained materially false information as to the straw buyers’ income, employment, assets, and intent to occupy the residences. Records introduced at trial showed that Vera Kuzmenko received millions of dollars, and that Rachel Siders received hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Vera Kuzmenko, was a licensed real estate agent for part of the scheme, and Rachel Siders ran the Rocklin office of the escrow company used on the majority of the transactions. She helped funnel millions of dollars to her co-defendants, which was not disclosed to the lenders.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez imposed the sentence.

On March 15, 2016, Judge Mendez sentenced Vera Kuzmenko to 14 years in prison. She was found guilty of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and witness tampering. On April 19, 2016, Theo Adams, 50, of Roseville, was sentenced to two years in prison. Previously, Judge Mendez sentenced co-defendants Peter Kuzmenko, 38, West Sacramento, California, to 19 years in prison; Aaron New, 42, Sacramento, California, to 11 years and three months in prison; Nadia Kuzmenko, 37, formerly of Loomis, California, to eight years in prison; and Edward Shevtsov, 52, North Highlands, California, to eight years in prison. They were found guilty on February 13, 2015, after a 21-day trial, of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud associated with the mortgage fraud scheme. In addition, Peter Kuzmenko, Edward Shevtsov, and Aaron New were found guilty of money laundering associated with the scheme, and Nadia Kuzmenko was found guilty of witness tampering.

The sentence today reflects the seriousness of Siders’ crimes, which included participation in two separate mortgage fraud schemes. Over the course of two years, Siders oversaw and participated in numerous fraudulent loans and diverted money into shell accounts for her own benefit. She abused her position as an escrow officer and as a notary public to make this criminal enterprise succeed,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Talbert. “The sentence imposed is a significant reminder that those who engage in such conduct will be held accountable.”

Today’s sentence sends a clear message; anyone profits from fraudulent mortgage transactions—whether by creating the scheme or facilitating it—will not escape justice,” said Supervisory Special Agent Dan Bryant at the FBI Sacramento field office. “The FBI aggressively pursues those involved in such large-scale, complex financial fraud matters to seek justice for the victims and protect the regional economy.”

Rachel Siders was driven by greed in her participation in this mortgage fraud which targeted the Sacramento area,” said Michael T. Batdorf, Special Agent in Charge, IRS‑Criminal Investigation. “Today’s sentencing is a reminder how serious our courts consider this criminal activity and our commitment in providing financial expertise to our federal partners in these types of crimes.”

This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lee S. Bickley, Michael D. Anderson, and Matthew D. Segal prosecuted the case.

 

Alla Samchuk, 45, Roseville, California, was found guilty in a mortgage fraud scheme involving three properties after a four day jury trial in Sacramento, California.  Samchuk was convicted of six counts of bank fraud, six counts of making a false statement to a financial institution, one count of money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft. After the verdict, U.S. District Court Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ordered Samchuk taken into custody.

According to court documents, from 2006 through 2008, Samchuk, a licensed real estate salesperson, orchestrated a mortgage fraud scheme involving three properties in the Sacramento area using straw buyers. Two of the houses were purchased so that Samchuk herself could occupy them. She lacked the ability to qualify for a loan, so she instead recruited straw buyers to apply for the loans in their names. Samchuk caused the submission of loan applications containing false representations of income, employment, assets, and a false indication that the straw buyers would occupy the homes as their primary residence.

A second objective of the scheme was to obtain HELOC (home equity line of credit) funds. According to evidence at trial, on two of the properties, Samchuk diverted or attempted to divert HELOC funds to her own benefit. Samchuk caused the HELOC loans to fund by submitting false statements and documents to the lender regarding the qualifications of the straw buyers.

The scheme involved two properties in Roseville, California and one in El Dorado Hills, California. In 2007, Samchuk filed an application for a HELOC on one of the properties without the straw buyer’s knowledge or consent. To obtain the HELOC, she forged the signature of the straw buyer on a short form deed of trust that she caused to be notarized and recorded. The stated purpose of the HELOC was home improvement, but once the line of credit was funded, Samchuk quickly diverted all of the funds to her own use, spending the proceeds on a Lexus and the repayment of a substantial personal debt.

Sentencing is set for October 21, 2016. Samchuk faces a maximum of 30 years in prison for each count of bank fraud and false statements to a financial institution, 10 years in prison for money laundering, and two years in prison for aggravated identity theft.

The verdict was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Audrey B. Hemesath and Andre M. Espinosa are prosecuting the case.

Ravindranauth “Ravi” Roopnarine, 56, Guyana, was sentenced by United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez to 262 months in prison, following his conviction by a federal jury on charges stemming from his leadership and participation in an extensive mortgage fraud scheme.   Following his term of imprisonment, Roopnarine will be placed on supervised release for five years.  Roopnarine was also ordered to pay $9,041,133.46 in restitution to the defrauded lenders and banks.

An indictment charged Roopnarine, Gergawattie “Kamla” Seecharan, Bhaardwaj “Deo” Seecharan and Linda Rovetto for their participation in a mortgage fraud scheme.  The indictment charged Roopnarine with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud.  Roopnarine in mid-2015 waived extradition and returned from Trinidad and Tobago to the Southern District of Florida.

On March 11, 2016, a jury convicted Roopnarine on all three counts.

According to the court documents and statements made in court, Roopnarine recruited and led his co-conspirators in a widespread mortgage fraud scheme involving more than 150 residential real estate properties in Indian River, Miami-Dade, and Orlando-Orange Counties.  Roopnarine, along with Kamla Seecharan and her husband Deo Seecharan, conspired to solicit mainly Guyanese residents of Florida and other States to act as straw buyers on fraudulent mortgage loan applications.  Approximately 80 individuals served as straw buyers of properties in Vero Lake Estates (VLE), in Indian River County, and other developments.  This scheme resulted in the issuance of more than $50 million in fraudulent mortgage loans.  The co-conspirators then used the proceeds to purchase additional properties, fund pre-existing fraudulent mortgage loans, and pay kickbacks to the straw buyers.  In addition, Kamla Seecharan and Rovetto unlawfully diverted more than $3.5 million in mortgage loans from real estate closing escrow accounts to Raviworld New Homes, Inc., a company managed by Roopnarine and Deo Seecharan.

Kamla Seecharan pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy involving more than $50 million dollars in fraudulent mortgage loan funds.  Deo Seecharan and Rovetto each pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud involving $3.5 million dollars in diverted real estate escrow funds.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Kamla Seecharan and Deo Seecharan, to 121 months and 60 months, respectively, in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release.  In addition, Kamla Seecharan and Deo Seecharan were ordered to pay restitution, in the amount of $2,040,343.14 and $9,041,133.46, respectively.  U.S. District Judge Martinez sentenced Rovetto to 42 months in prison.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement. Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI.  Mr. Ferrer also thanked the State of Florida Office of Financial Regulation, Bureau of Finance, West Palm Beach Regional Office for their work on this investigation, and the United States Marshals Service for their assistance with the extradition and return of Roopnarine to Florida from Trinidad & Tobago.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Theodore Cooperstein and James V. Hayes.

I often see press releases that define straw buyers as individuals who did not intend to reside in property that they purchased.  I also receive many emails about these types of situations that conflate straw buyer fraud and occupancy fraud.

Straw buyer fraud is not differentiated by the intent to occupy.  I think that the confusion arises from the fact that straw buyer fraud almost always involves occupancy fraud.  But occupancy fraud is, by itself, mortgage fraud.  Straw buyer fraud has additional elements and is something else entirely.

In general, a straw buyer/borrower is a person who acts as the buyer in a real estate transaction but has no intention of  being financially responsible for the property. The most obvious example is where a person is paid to lend their identity and credit to a transaction.   So, for instance, let’s say that I cannot qualify to buy the $500,000 house I want because I have horrible credit and, while I technically make more money each month than the payment amount, I don’t make enough that my front-end and back-end ratios will allow me to qualify for a mortgage.  So, I agree to pay you $5,000 and you agree to act as the buyer of my dream home.  We apply for the mortgage in your name and use your social security and credit.  The application has all of your financial information on it and we don’t even bother to mention me to the lender at all.  At closing, you sign the promissory note and deed of trust or mortgage and other loan documents.  But, as soon as we walk out of the closing, you hand me the keys, we shake hands, and we go our own separate ways.  I move into the house and place my beautiful new blue sofa in front of the fireplace.  I make the payments every month.  I fix the roof when it needs repair.  I put a swing set in the backyard for my children.  Even though you have title to the house, I was always intended to be the real owner.

There are many variations on this scenario.  For instance, straw buyers are often used in real estate investment schemes.  There are underwriting limits on the number of residential mortgage a single person can have at one time – and there is also generally a point where the carrying costs on properties will cause an individual to lose their ability to qualify for additional mortgages.  If the scheme principals have maxed out their lending ability, they often use straw buyers so that they can extend that ability and purchase more homes.  Sometimes the straw purchasers are relatives or employees – but I have seen ads on Craig’s List looking for ‘investors’ who are paid up front, lend their credit and then allegedly have no further responsibility for the property – and, of course, no right to share in any profits when the property is sold.

Other times, straw buyers are parents that act as credit partners for their children – buying the house in their own names because their offspring cannot qualify – but with no intention of having the ultimate financial responsibility for the property.

There are as many colors of sofas are there are variations on the schemes.

And, unless the intended tenant of the property is the straw buyer (which I have personally never seen), straw buyer schemes always involve occupancy fraud.

Occupancy fraud is purchasing a property and representing to the lender that you will live in the property when you have no intention of living in the property.   You can lie about your intent to live in an investment property in order to get a better interest rate while still intending to own and be financially responsible for the property – you have committed occupancy fraud but not straw buyer fraud.  The majority of occupancy frauds do not involve straw buyers at all.  And, occupancy fraud is mortgage fraud all by itself, regardless of whether there is a straw buyer involved.

 

John Leadbeater, 59, Kearny, New Jersey, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for his role in a $13 million mortgage fraud scam that used phony documents and “straw buyers” to make illegal profits on overbuilt condos in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.  Leadbeater previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle to a superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy to  commit wire fraud.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court: Leadbeater and his conspirators located condominiums overbuilt by financially distressed developers in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. They then recruited “straw buyers” from New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Arkansas, and California, to purchase those properties. The straw buyers had good credit scores, but lacked the financial resources to qualify for the mortgage loans. The conspirators created false documents, including loan applications that contained fraudulent financial and employment information, to make the straw buyers appear more credit-worthy and induce the lenders to make the loans.

Once the loans were approved, Leadbeater and his conspirators created and signed fraudulent closing documents in order to induce the mortgage lenders to send the loan proceeds in connection with real estate closings on the properties. Once the mortgage lenders sent the loan proceeds, Leadbeater and his conspirators took a portion of the proceeds, having funds wired or checks deposited into various accounts they controlled. They also distributed a portion of the proceeds to the other members of the conspiracy for their respective roles.

Leadbeater admitted to personally participating in fraudulent activity related to nine properties in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. He admitted causing mortgage lenders to fund $4,711,557 worth of mortgages based on the bogus loan applications and closing documents prepared by him and his conspirators.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Simandle sentenced Leadbeater to five years of supervised release. A restitution hearing has been set for July 28, 2016. U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced the sentence and credited special agents from the FBI’s Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation in Mays Landing, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen in Newark, for the investigation leading to the sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacqueline M. Carle and Matthew T. Smith of the U.S. Attorney=s Office Criminal Division in Camden.  Defense counsel are Thomas J. Cammarata Esq. and Jeffrey Garrigan Esq., Jersey City

Christopher A. Kwegan, 59, real estate agent, Randallstown, Maryland pled guilty to charges arising from the fraudulent purchase of a Baltimore City property using fraudulent loan documentation and a straw purchaser.

According to his guilty plea, in the summer of 2008, Kwegan learned that Mr. K.D. was trying to sell a row house he owned in Baltimore City, Maryland on Washington Boulevard.  Mr. K.D. had purchased the property 10 years earlier for $11,500.  Kwegan told Mr. K.D. that he could sell it for $75,000.  Mr. K.D. was dubious, but agreed to sell it for that price.

Rather than trying to sell the property at the actual market price, Kwegan requested assistance from accountant Cecil Sylvester Chester, 69, Mitchellville, Maryland, and real estate agent/consultant Michael Gerard Camphor, 60, Baltimore, Maryland, who were already operating a mortgage fraud scheme.  Kwegan arranged to use the personal identifiers of an individual recruited by Chester – Ms. D.B. – to buy the property as a straw purchaser.

Ms. D.B., who lived in Queens, New York, was inexperienced with residential real estate transactions and with the Baltimore real estate market. To encourage Ms. D.B. to buy the property, Chester promised her that she would need to put up little if any money to cover the down payment and closing costs on this property. Ms. D.B. lacked the necessary assets to pay for the down payments and closing costs on the property out of her own resources, or the income to keep up the mortgage payments on the house after the transaction closed, as Kwegan and Chester knew.

Kwegan and Chester set the price not at $75,000, but at $250,000.  Chester provided a mortgage loan broker located in Towson with a false loan application and fraudulent supporting documents which inaccurately represented that Ms. D.B. worked for a fictitious company that Chester had created, and which falsely inflated her annual income. Chester also falsely represented that Ms. D.B. lived in Baltimore City, and the amount of assets she had in a bank account.

Based upon these false representations, a bank wired $242,500 to finance the purchase of the property, at the settlement on September 30, 2008.  As the purchaser, Ms. D.B. was required to provide $9,391.53 to cover the down payment and her share of the closing costs.  Because she lacked the necessary funds, Kwegan used his own funds to obtain a cashier’s check for that amount, which was tendered to the settlement company on her behalf.

After the settlement, just $15,773.65 was disbursed to Mr. K.D., the seller of the property.  In contrast, $145,000 was wired to an entity identified as “CAK,” which were Kwegan’s initials.   These funds were transferred into Kwegan’s bank account.  Kwegan then wrote a check to Chester for $35,000.

No payments were made on the mortgage.  The property went into foreclosure and remains unsold at this time, resulting in a loss of between $150,000 and $235,000.

Kwegan faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud, and for wire fraud.  U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing for November 4, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.

Chester previously pleaded guilty to the same charges arising from the fraudulent purchase of seven properties in Baltimore, resulting in losses of over $1.7 million. Camphor previously pleaded guilty to charges arising from the fraudulent purchase of four properties in Baltimore resulting in losses of over $736,000. Judge Bredar scheduled Camphor and Chester’s sentencings for August 26 and October 4, 2016, respectively.

The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Cary A. Rubenstein of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General; and Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service – Baltimore Field Office.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI , HUD OIG – Office of Investigations and the U.S. Secret Service for their work in the investigation.  Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jefferson M. Gray and Evan T. Shea, who are prosecuting the case.

Antoine Johnson, 40, Davidson, North Carolina was sentenced to 27 months in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud conspiracy involving luxury condominiums in Oak Island, North Carolina.

According to filed court documents and the sentencing hearing, throughout 2007 and 2008,  Johnson, who engaged in the mortgage fraud scheme with seven other co-conspirators, who operated as a promoter for the mortgage fraud conspiracy, controlled A&J Entertainment, Inc. (A&J Entertainment), a company used by the conspiracy to funnel kickbacks derived from the fraudulent scheme and to support false or inflated statements of employment and income in mortgage loan applications.

Court documents show that the co-conspirators perpetrated the scheme by recruiting straw buyers who agreed to buy condominiums in their name but had no intention of living in the properties or making payments to the corresponding mortgage loans.  The builder agreed to sell the units to the conspiracy’s straw buyers at an inflated price, causing the lenders to issue mortgage loans based on the inflated prices.  Then at closing, the closing attorney prepared separate accounting statements instructing the builder to pay the difference between the true price and the inflated price of the condominiums to one or more of the conspirators.

According to court records, the conspirators induced mortgage lenders to issue mortgage loans, by submitting loan packages that contained forged documents and fraudulent information about the buyers’ income and employment.  In some instances, the co-conspirators persuaded and bribed a bank employee to provide a bogus verification of deposit as support for the fraudulently obtained loan.  Over the course of the fraudulent scheme, the conspirators caused a total of loss of approximately $4.5 million involving approximately 20 properties.

Court records indicate that Johnson operated as promoter in the scheme, helping to bring the transactions together, for which he received approximately $200,000 in kickbacks funneled through A&J Entertainment’s bank account.

Johnson waived formal indictment and was charged by information on January 13, 2016 and pled guilty on January 19, 2016.  The factual basis filed with the plea agreement sets forth the details of the scheme.

The other seven defendants involved in this fraudulent scheme were previously sentenced as follows:

  • Robert Davis, Jr., 41, Charlotte, North Carolina, was sentenced to 46 months in prison and two years of supervised release.Davis operated as a real estate agent for the scheme.
  • Robert Mahaney, Jr., 55, of Ridgeway, South Carolina, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and two years of supervised release.Mahaney was a mortgage broker for the conspiracy.
  • Ahmed H. Green, 37, Charlotte, North Carolina, was sentenced to 27 months in prison and three years of supervised release.Green acted as a promoter and sometimes as a straw buyer for the conspiracy.
  • Carisa L. Majesky, 49, Charlotte, North Carolina, was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.Majesky operated as a real estate agent for the scheme.
  • Somer Bey, 51, Charlotte, North Carolina,  was sentenced to 17 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release.Bey was a real estate agent for the scheme.

    Eric Marlon Davis, 43, Charlotte, North Carolina, was sentenced to nine months in prison and one year of supervised release, nine months of which in home detention. Davis was a promoter in the scheme.

  • Danielle Anderson, 41, Charlotte, North Carolina, was sentenced to six months in prison and one year of supervised release six months of which in home confinement. Anderson was a bank employee who participated in the scheme.

Johnson will be ordered to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.  All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.

Johnson was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Frank D. Whitney. The sentenced was announced by Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina who was joined in the announcement by John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division and Miriam Baer, Executive Director of the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.Assistant United States Attorney Maria Vento prosecuted the case.

U.S. Attorney Rose thanked the FBI and the North Carolina Real Estate Commission for their investigation of this case.

Michael Gerard Camphor, 60, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty to charges arising from the fraudulent purchase of four properties in Baltimore, Maryland, using fraudulent loan documentation and straw purchasers, resulting in losses of over $736,000.

According to Camphor’s plea agreement and other court documents, since 2002, co-conspirator Andreas E. Tamaris, 45, Bel Air, Maryland, purchased, renovated, and then resold distressed row houses in Baltimore City, primarily in the Highlandtown neighborhood.  Camphor had worked as a real estate agent for a company and also operated a real estate consulting business called Ron Gerard LLC, a/k/a Ron Gerard & Associates. Continue Reading…

Vera Kuzmenko, 46, Loomis, California was sentenced to 14 years in prison for multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, witness tampering, and money laundering associated with her involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme that cost financial institutions over $16 million.

On December 4, 2015, after a 16-day trial, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts for Kuzmenko and Rachel Siders, 40, Roseville, California. Siders is scheduled to be sentenced on June 21, 2016.

According to evidence presented at trial, from late 2006 through early 2008, Kuzmenko and Siders engaged in a mortgage fraud scheme involving over 30 properties in the Sacramento area. They were responsible for securing more than $30 million in residential mortgage loans on more than 30 homes purchased through straw buyers. Records introduced at trial showed Vera Kuzmenko received millions of dollars. Continue Reading…

Ravindranauth “Ravi” Roopnarine, 56, Guyana, was convicted following a federal jury trial on charges stemming from his leadership and participation in an extensive mortgage fraud scheme.  Roopnarine was charged by indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud.  On Friday, March 11, 2016, a twelve-person jury convicted Roopnarine on all three counts, after a four day trial presided over by United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez.

According to publicly filed documents and statements made in court, on December 9, 2010, a Fort Pierce, Florida federal grand jury indicted Roopnarine, Gergawattie “Kamla” Seecharan, Bhaardwaj “Deo” Seecharan and Linda Rovetto for their participation in a mortgage fraud scheme.  Kamla Seecharan, Deo Seecharan and Rovetto previously pled guilty and were sentenced.  Roopnarine in mid-2015 waived extradition and returned from Trinidad and Tobago to the Southern District of Florida.  Continue Reading…