California Real Estate Fraud Report

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Archive for the 'Equity Skimming' Category

October 13th, 2016 at 9:32am

Nancy Russell Kempis, 64, of Santa Clara, has been sentenced for more than six-months in jail for scamming a family out of their home and defrauding four banks.

The former real estate agent  convinced the family to sell her their home at a “dramatically reduced price” in order to avoid foreclosure. She rented them the home and promised to return it. Instead, she secured a number of fraudulent mortgages, sucking all the equity out of the house and defaulting between 2006 and 2009. The home was then lost to foreclosure and the family evicted.

Kempis’ scam cost lenders $750,000.

Kempis eventually fled to New York, went into hiding under the false name Morpheus Daw Pud Ko and helped run a women’s ministry.

“Ms. Kempis scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars and drove a family into homelessness,” Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Charles Huang said in a statement.

Read the original article in KRON4.com

Tony Huy Havens pleads guilty in two real estate fraud cases

September 30th, 2015 at 6:24am

Tony Huy Havens, a Modesto store owner, pleaded guilty to federal wire and mail fraud charges in relation to two real estate schemes investigated by the FBI and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.

In the first case, Havens, 42, conned who were “desperate for financing to keep their projects from foreclosure,” according to his plead deal. He promised the 15 victims a total of $1.1 billion and collected over $240,000 by claiming he had ties to a wealthy investor in Hong Kong.

In a separate case dating back to 2006 scam, Havens bought homes in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and scammed lenders by reporting much higher sales prices, keeping the spread for himself. In one of those purchases, he used the names of his in-laws, who were unaware he had done so.

Havens’ sentencing is scheduled for for January 11, 2015.

Read the original article in the Modesto Bee.

 

Archbishop of Nevada City Spiritual Organization and Six Others Indicted in $8 Million Mortgage Fraud Conspiracy

September 25th, 2015 at 9:01am

The following is a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Three persons were arrested today on felony charges contained in a 42-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Sacramento on September 10, 2015, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

The indictment, unsealed today, charges John Michael DiChiara, 57, of Nevada City; James C. Castle, 51, formerly of Santa Rosa; Remus A. Kirkpatrick, 58, formerly of Oceanside; George B. Larsen, 54, formerly of San Rafael; Laura Pezzi, 59, of Roseville; Larry Todt, 63, formerly of Malibu; and Michael Romano, 68, of Benicia, charging them with conspiracy, bank fraud, false making of documents, and money laundering. Tisha Trites, 49, and Todd Smith, 44, both of San Diego, pleaded guilty to related charges before U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on September 4, 2015.

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

According to the indictment, DiChiara held himself out as the Archbishop of a spiritual organization named Shon-te-East-a, Walks With Spirit, the mission of which was to help individuals spiritually by alleviating them of their home mortgages. DiChiara and Castle (along with Trites who pleaded guilty to a related charge) are alleged to have orchestrated a mortgage-elimination program that fraudulently altered the chain of title on residential properties, selling the properties, and receiving the sales proceeds. Kirkpatrick, Larsen, Todt, Romano, and others allegedly recruited homeowners into the program with the promise of relief from foreclosure and a share of the sales proceeds. DiChiara and others used Shon-te-East to control the sale of the properties.

The indictment alleges that, once the homeowners were enrolled in the program, Pezzi and others created fictitious deeds of trust, a falsely made deed of reconveyance, and, where necessary, a falsely made notice of rescission of notice of default. The fictitious deed of trust was recorded at the county recorder’s office, and gave the appearance that the homeowner had refinanced the mortgage with a new lender. Todd Smith (who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy) or an entity controlled by the defendants was listed as the new lender, ensuring that when the properties were sold, the defendants would receive the sales proceeds. The defendants then caused to be recorded at the county recorder’s office a falsely made deed of reconveyance, indicating that the mortgage debt had been repaid to the financial institution holding the mortgage and reconveying title back to the homeowner. With these fraudulent documents on file at the county recorder’s office, a title search on the property would give the impression that the homeowner had refinanced, and no other debt was owing on the property. When the defendants caused the sale of these properties, they were able to divert the sale proceeds away from the lending institutions to their own benefit.

The defendants are alleged to have sold 37 properties through the mortgage elimination program, and attempted to sell at least an additional 97 properties, obtaining profits in excess of $8 million. They attempted to extinguish in excess of $60 million in legitimate mortgage loans.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Audrey Hemesath is prosecuting the case.

If convicted of the conspiracy count, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for bank fraud is 30 years and a $1 million fine. The maximum penalty for false making of documents is 10 years and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for money laundering is 10 years and an additional fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Glendale Gets $189,000 to Fight Real Estate Fraud

July 23rd, 2013 at 7:57am

The residents of Glendale can rest assured that officials there take real estate fraud very seriously.

In the past five years, the Glendale Police Department has received over $570,000 in grants from the Los Angeles County Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust to investigate and prosecute suspected cases of real estate fraud. The Trust is funded by a $3 fee added to the cost of filing fees for documents entered into the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

According to Glendale Police Det. Shawn Milligan, victims of real estate fraud suffer extreme stress from losing their homes to con artists or finding out that a criminal has taken a loan out against their home (equity stripping). At that point, it’s up to the Glendale Police Department’s Financial Crimes unit to investigate the alleged crimes, which can take up to 18 months.

Last week, the unit received an additional $189,000 grant from the City Council. One of those who supported the grant motion was Councilman Ara Najarian, who said he experienced real estate agents trying to get him to pay unnecessary fees on his purchase.

Read the original article in the Glendale News Press.

Tampa Man Gets 26 Years for Short Sale Fraud and Foreclosure Fraud

May 3rd, 2013 at 11:58am

I love the justice system in Florida – this would NEVER happen in California.

John W. Lebron, 33, already on probation for possession with intent to sell GHB, an illegal steroid with strong sedative properties, has been sentenced to 26 years in prison for committing short sale fraud and foreclosure fraud.

Lebron, a formerly licensed real estate agent, opened a business called EZ Investments with his wife in 2005. Their first sale was consummated when John Lebron helped his sister Cynthia Lebron to buy a home that was in foreclosure. He not only collected both sides of the commission (dual agency), he got the mortgage broker’s commission after placing the name of another loan officer (loan fraud, mortgage fraud) on the paperwork to conceal his plan.

Emboldened by a successful and very profitable transaction, John Lebron next set up a short sale to his brother-in-law and at the same time arranged a second sale to a straw buyer (“flopping”). Since the straw buyer happened to be unemployed, Lebron submitted phony pay stubs on behalf of the buyer. As with the previous sale to his sister, Lebron received both sides of the real estate sale from both sales as well as the commissions from the loans. The straw buyers earned $5,000 for their troubles.

John Lebron’s fortunes reversed when he defaulted on loans valued at $1.4 million. He was arrested in 2011, lost his real estate license and has been ordered by the trial judge to return $1.5 million.

Read the original article in the Tampa Bay Times.

Phony Broker Pleads Guilty to Mortgage Fraud, Costing Lenders & Taxpayers $20 Million

May 1st, 2013 at 10:39am

A San Diego woman who brazenly brokered loans without possessing the necessary license has pleaded guilty to operating a a loan origination fraud scheme that included kickbacks.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mary Armstrong, 51, wrote over $100 million in fraudulent loans (mortgage fraud, loan fraud) and skimmed $14.5 million from it (equity skimming). Armstrong confessed to selling $100 million of real estate around the country at puffed-up prices (appraisal fraud) and took the overpayments for herself. Her admitted crimes included fabricating loan applications for her straw buyers and  getting supporting fraudulent documents from her co-conspirators.

Prior to Armstrong’s guilty pleas, the following co-conspirators also pled guilty:

Teresa Rose, a Ramona real estate agent

Audrey Yeboah, Mary Armstrong’s accountant

– Seattle businessman Justin Mensen

Still awaiting their turn to face the scales of justice are John Allen, 44, of Laguna Hills, and William Fountain, 57, of Los Angeles.

Prosecutors said that the straw buyers were recruited in Southern California and other states by the defendants advertising on the Internet and placing ads in the Los Angeles Times seeking “investors.” The straw buyers were paid $10,000 for each property they “purchased.” Taking advantage of greed by institutional lenders to capture more loan business, the straw buyers were able to obtain 100% financing, relieving them of the risk to make down-payments, as occurred back in the good old days of prudent underwriting. When the straw buyers defaulted, the originators and their secondary market victims, e.g., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, lost upwards of $20 million.

My pet peeve with prosecutors is their consistent lack of interest in prosecuting the straw buyers in mortgage fraud cases. Let’s see if this case is any different.

Read the original article in Courthouse News. You can also read earlier postings about these defendants by using the Search tool on the left side of the California Real Estate Fraud Report.

Hendrix Montecastro, Helen Pedrino Convicted in $142 Million Ponzi Scheme in Riverside

April 1st, 2013 at 12:30pm

Hendrix Montecastro, 40, of Maryland, was convicted on March 25 of 304 counts in a complex real estate fraud case that prosecutors say cost the victims $142 million in total. According to Riverside County Chief Deputy District Attorney Vicki Hightower, the jury convicted Montecastro on charges that included grand theft, destruction of evidence and felony fraud against 26 of 27 named victims — with asset losses totaling $3.6 millions.

He faces a prison sentence of more than 100 years.

Helen Pedrino, 61, of Murrieta – the mother of Hendrix Montecastro, was found guilty of 54 felonies based on her recruitment of five victim investors. When she is sentenced, she could spend up to 30 years in prison.

James Benjamin Duncan, who orchestrated the fraud, testified against Montecastro and Pedrino after making a deal with prosecutors. He is going to be sentenced for his crimes this month, along with Maurice McLeod, who also played a prominent role. A third man, Christopher Oetting, hanged himself on February 16, 2010 in his home, after admitting he to charges of conspiracy, money laundering and multiple counts of filing fraudulent tax returns.

The remaining defendants: Charlie Choi, Cindy Kelly and Thuan Nhan Du pleaded guilty to selling securities without a license and received probation.

As with all Ponzi schemes, this one worked well because friends and relatives convinced each other that the defendants’ “real estate investment” program was profitable. Good judgment was suspended and people refinanced their homes to draw out equity, cashed in their retirement plants and charged up their credit cards. Almost all of the victims were completely ruined as no monies have been recovered.

In a nutshell, the real estate investment fraud worked by the use of two companies set up by the defendants: Jovane Investments and Stonewood Consulting. The investors placed their money into Jovane, a shell company. The investors paid the seller the asking price or close to it and Jovane Investments funded the loans, but at 20-25% more than the appraised value.

The investors were unaware that Stonewood would locate the properties, also arrange financing and do so also at inflated values.

To understand the depth of this real estate fraud, refer to the article published in the Press Enterprise.

Part of Hendrix Montecastro’s defense was that he was a victim of James Benjamin Duncan too, but Prosecutor Hightower showed that Montecastro was anything but poor, spending $500,000 just before the Ponzi scheme collapsed on a non-profit called the Biocybernaut Institute.

Two Westwood Men Charged in Distressed Homeowner Initiative Sting

October 22nd, 2012 at 9:24am

Two men who were managers at Westwood-based Direct Money Source (DMS) have been indicted as part of a nationwide investigation dubbed “Distressed Homeowner Initiative” by the U.S. Department of Justice.  The purpose of the nationwide opeation was to target businesses that lured distressed homeowners by promising “foreclosure avoidance” but which allgedly skimmed equity from many of the same homeowners. Over 500 people have been criminally charge in 285 cases filed by the Department of Justice across the country. The DOJ identified a staggering 73,000 homeowners as victims and losses to them and to lenders (loan fraud, mortgage fraud) as exceeding $1 billion.

David Singui, 49, the owner of Direct Money Source, and Aziz Meghji, 35, a DMS manager, were arrested last month and charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, loan fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Two other locals, Kiet Truong, 27, of Hawthorne, and Starr Smith, 31, face charges all of the same charges in the 42-count indictment except for money laundering.

Commenting on the arrests, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. said “Shameless con artists seeking to prey on homeowners in financial distress need to know that law enforcement is hot on their trail. The results of this initiative demonstrate that the combined resources of federal, state and local authorities will be brought to the table in a concerted effort to bring fraudsters to justice and protect the nation’s homeowners.”

Read the original article in the Century City Patch and DSNews (Default Servicing News).

 

© Copyright 2007-2017 Monique Bryher

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The information and notices contained on The California Real Estate Fraud Report are intended to summarize recent developments in real estate fraud, mortgage fraud, short sale fraud, REO fraud, appraisal fraud, loan modification scams, loan modification fraud and other real estate related crimes occurring in Los Angeles and California. The posts on this site are presented as general research and information and are expressly not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice. Much of the information on this site concerns allegations made in civil lawsuits and in criminal indictments. All persons are presumed innocent until convicted of a crime. Readers who have particular questions about real estate fraud, mortgage fraud and appraisal fraud matters or who believe they require legal counsel should seek the advice of an attorney.

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