Archives For Straw Buyer

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…

Alberic Okou Agodio, 31, Bethesda, Maryland, was sentenced to 61 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft, arising from a mortgage fraud scheme in which he used the names of immigrants and students, along with false financial information, to obtain $3.8 million in home mortgage loans to buy approximately three dozen row houses in Baltimore, Maryland, all but one of which are in default or foreclosure. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar sentenced  also entered an order that Agodio pay restitution of $3,356,581.78.

According to his plea agreement, Agodio agreed to purchase row houses in Baltimore City, Maryland, from co-conspirator Kevin Campbell, 53, Baltimore, Maryland, who had acquired the houses as part of his real estate business.  Agodio purchased the houses at prices far in excess of their actual market value.  In return, Campbell kicked back a substantial portion of the purchase price to Agodio, which Agodio used to pay for the down payments and closing costs for most of the properties; to pay a commission to the straw purchasers whom he persuaded to allow him to use their names to purchase the properties; to pay referral fees to individuals who referred other straw purchasers to him; and to compensate himself for his participation in the scheme.  In all, from June 2009 to November 2010, Agodio purchased 35 row houses from Campbell.  The financing received on these transactions totaled approximately $3.8 million and Agodio received commission payments from Campbell in excess of $1.2 million. Continue Reading…

Felicia Muhammad, 45, Lakewood, California was found guilty of five felony charges for lying to banks that funded mortgages for three properties that later went into default, causing about $660,000 in losses to the lenders.  Muhammad was a licensed real estate broker living in Long Beach, California at the time of the conduct.  She was convicted of five counts of making false statements to federally-insured financial institutions, specifically U.S. Bank, Countrywide Bank, and First Horizon Home Loans (a subsidiary of First Tennessee Bank).

According to the evidence at trial, in the summer of 2008, Muhammad applied for three loans so she could purchase condominium units in North Hollywood, California, and Canoga Park, California. The total value of the loans was more than $1.1 million. Continue Reading…