John Vescera, 60, Dana Point, California, was to 12 months and one day of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for false advertising and misusing a government seal in connection with the provision of mortgage modification services. On May 3, 2016, Vescera pleaded guilty to one count of misuse of a government seal and one count of false advertising.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Vescera was the President of First One Lending Corporation (“First One”) in San Juan Capistrano, California. During the peak of the national mortgage crisis, Vescera and First One offered home mortgage loan modification assistance to homeowners across the United States, including in Connecticut, who were having difficulty repaying their mortgage loans.
From approximately February 2010 until approximately February 2012, Vescera and First One solicited clients through television advertisements and infomercials produced by National Media Connection of New London, Connecticut. These advertisements touted the mortgage modification services of an entity known as the National Mortgage Help Center (“NMHC”).
Matthew Goldreich, of East Lyme, Connecticut, had incorporated NMHC approximately two months after the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would partner with financial institutions to reduce struggling homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments through a program called the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”). HAMP consisted of a number of incentives to encourage homeowners and financial institutions to modify existing loans on owner-occupied primary residences in order to help keep these properties out of foreclosure.
NMHC advertisements misrepresented NMHC as being affiliated with or regulated by the U.S. government and falsely stated that NMHC “help[ed] thousands of homeowners every day.” When viewers called the advertised telephone number, they were connected not to NMHC, which operated only as a front and did not provide mortgage modification services for any homeowners, but to clients of National Media Connection, including First One.
Vescera and First One used NMHC’s name and logo in First One’s promotional materials, application package and other documents. Vescera also instructed First One employees to introduce themselves to prospective clients as “with the National Mortgage Help Center.”
First One also misrepresented its status with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). First One employees were instructed to inform homeowners that “[w]e’re a HUD approved lender and we represent the government loan modification programs.” In addition, certain of First One’s forms claimed that the company provided “HUD . . . Housing Counseling assistance” and bore HUD’s seal. In truth, First One had no affiliation with the government mortgage loan assistance programs and was not licensed or approved by HUD for housing counseling or home mortgage loan modification services.
Through this scheme, 302 victims lost a total of $374,622. Many of these victims were previously compensated after Vescera and First One paid approximately $1.5 million to the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America in March 2013 to resolve a federal lawsuit in the Central District of California. As part of this criminal case, Vescera paid restitution of $30,320 to 24 of the victims who were not identified at the time the federal lawsuit was settled.
Goldreich previously pleaded guilty to one count of false advertising. On November 5, 2015, he was sentenced to two years of probation, including three months of home confinement. He also was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and $75,794 in restitution.
Vescera was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in New Haven, Connecticut. Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut announced the sentence. The investigation was conducted by the 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, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Avi Perry and Liam Brennan.