January 29th, 2010 at 6:52pm
Lila Rizk, an appraiser who was part of a ring of real estate professionals that fleeced Lehman Brothers and other lending institutions, was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
Ms. Rizk was also ordered to repay an undefined portion of the $46 million in restitution that has been ordered by the federal judge hearing the trial. In all, the losses to Bank of America Corp., Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and other lenders were thought to have totaled $142 million, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Matz.
The case, worthy of a Hollywood movie, included the participation and cooperation of real estate professionals at all levels and resulted in 11 convictions. Some of those yet to be sentenced are fellow appraiser L. Scott Robinson, bird-dog Jamieson Matykowski, who found the houses used in the scheme and Timothy Holland, an escrow officer.
According to prosecutors, properties in expensive Westside neighborhoods such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades, were bought and sold using straw buyers, inflated appraisals and mortgage underwriting that caused massive losses to the institutions that funded them.
To see earlier articles on this story, please search the California Real Estate Fraud Report using the term “Beverly Hills”.
Read the Full Article on ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Orange County Register.
January 29th, 2010 at 11:37am
Mojgan Cox, a formerly licensed real estate broker in Rancho Cucamonga, pleaded guilty on January 27 to felony charges in relation to a conspiracy and which she and other co-defendants were charged with money laundering from an escrow account. Originally charged with conspiracy, grand theft, forgery and money laundering, Cox received a sentence of five years in state prison.
Read the full article in the San Bernardino Sun.
January 29th, 2010 at 11:19am
Kahram Zamani, a licensed real estate broker and president of Infinity Group Services, was arraigned on January 28 for defrauding 165 distressed homeowners out of $177,000 by illegally charging them upfront fees to modify their home loans. Zamani is charged with 165 counts of grand theft with additional sentencing possible for aggravated white collar crime and could face up to 113 years in prison if he is convicted. The period for which he is charged was February 2008 through December 2009.
Zamani found his clients-victims by running radio ads to find homeowners in distress. In a ploy to convince homeowners his company had something to do with the Bush Administration’s “hope to Homeowners” program, Infinity Group Services was previously called “Hope to Homeowners”. Distressed homeowners were made false promises that Infinity Group Services could obtain loan modifications or even loan forgiveness for a fee of $995, paid upfront.
The investigation was a result of a collaboration between the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Although both the FTC and the DRE have filed actions against Zamani, the DRE‘s website shows no action regarding Zamani’s real estate license as of today.
Zamani and Infinity Group Services have also been profiled in RipOffReport.
Read more at the website for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Consumers: remember that upfront or advance fees for loan modification services are illegal in California.
January 26th, 2010 at 11:48pm
In a story reported last year in the California Real Estate Fraud Report, Milton Retana, a citizen of Salvador, was convicted in federal court on six counts of mail fraud one one additional count of making false statements to investigators. His attorney William S. Harris says he will appeal the verdict, which, if upheld, could send Mr. Retana to prison for a couple of lifetimes: 125 years.
Los Angeles U.S. Attorney spokesman Jim Bowman said that Retana operated a Ponzi scheme that targeted Spanish-speaking individuals. In Retana’s case, he was found guilty of fleecing his investor-victims out of more than $62 million. He was charged after U.S. postal inspectors found $3 million in cash while raiding the Libreria del Exito Mundo Spanish-language bookstore owned by Mrs. Retana, Lydia Campos. The bookstore is located next to Milton Retana’s real estate brokerage and mortgage firm, called Best Diamond Funding Corp. Ms. Campos has not been charged with any crimes related to her husband’s case.
Read the Full Article in the Los Angeles Times.
January 25th, 2010 at 9:37pm
The next time you see a home for rent in Craigslist at a price that looks too good to be true, think twice: it might be.
Both prospective renters and property owners wanting to rent their homes are finding themselves victimized by con artists, who troll Craigslist for vacant properties and post their own ads in the hopes of scamming a few hundred or thousand dollars by “renting” a house.
Some of the frauds are caught by the tenants, who see multiple ads for the same property but at different monthly rents. And one ad posted recently by a property owner boldly stated that her property was being fraudulently “listed” by a person she named outright.
According to Laura Upland of the Solano County District Attorney’s Office, many of the suspects are Nigerian, having honed their careers previously in credit card fraud.
In one instance in Vallejo, a woman seeking to rent a house called the number in the ad after her rental application was approved in 20 minutes without her providing her social security number or bank account numbers. She was uncomfortable about sending her deposit via Western Union. When she asked the so-called owner to describe where Vallejo was, he hung up the phone.
Renters: one way to protect yourselves is to ask a Realtor to run a title report to see if the name of the owner on title matches that of the caller. It’s not a perfect system but could help the renter lose his or her money to a thief.
Read the Full Article in the Vallejo Times Herald.
January 25th, 2010 at 9:21pm
In yet another case of ethnic-based crime, a former felon and two real esate brokers have been indicted and charged with 54 felony counts that include foreclosure consultant fraud, grand theft and securities fraud. The crimes were exposed in March 2009 by the San Diego Tribune.
Prosecutors from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office charge that Edmundo Rubi operated a scheme while he was in prison, opening a bank account under Amerisian Trust. He, Joseph Encarnacion, and co-defendants Benjamin Hebron and Gloria Hebron set themselves up as consultants, using a sales pitch on their now-closed website that encouraged “American and Asian brothers and sisters” to “let your estate work for you”. Many of the victims were Filipinos struggling to pay their mortgages after the interest rates accelerated but none of them obtained loan modifications as a result of their working with the defendants.
It is illegal in California to charge upfront fees for loan modification consulting. Read here to be linked to the California Attorney General’s Office.
Read the Full Article in the San Diego Union Tribune.
January 25th, 2010 at 8:44pm
Appraiser Kirksey J. “Mark” Newton Jr. recently faced and administrative law judge who could decide whether Newton gets to keep his appraiser’s license.
Newton, who performed appraisals regularly for defunct Crisp and Cole in Bakersfield, was accused by California Deputy Attorney General Gillian E. Friedman of being “an integral part of a real estate fraud that continued from 2005 to 2007”. Newton’s defense attorney in turn accused fellow appraisers Gary Crabtree and his son-in-law James Henderson of turning his client in to the FBI in order to remove him as a competitor.
The Office of Real Estate Appraisers (OREA), the licensing agency for appraisers in Californa, is conducting itw own investigation of Newton and his company, San Joaquin Appraisals.
Read the Full Article in the Bakersfield Californian.
January 25th, 2010 at 8:33pm
* Hot off the press *
Kevin and Leslie Sluga, the father and mother-in-law of former Realtor David Crisp, have signed plea agreements with federal prosecutors in which they admitted they were guilty of wire fraud and other charges. Their guilty plea is dependant upon a similar guilty plea from Megan Balod, their daughter but does not include their other daughter, Jennifer Crisp. Jennifer Crisp is married to David Crisp but has not been charged with any crimes.
The Slugas were allged by federal prosecutors of having created fraudulent employment and other documents so that borrowers could obtain mortgage loans. For their crimes, they could each receive up to 20 years in prison and financial penalties of up to $250,000.
Note: after this original article was posted, Megan Balod was formally charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fresno on four counts of wire fraud and aiding and abetting.
Read the Full Article in the Bakersfield Californian.
January 25th, 2010 at 8:23pm
Kevin and Leslie Sluga, reported to be relatives of defrocked Realtor David Crisp, are facing multiple counts of wire fraud and aiding abetting in a fraud case that brought down the powerhouse brokerage of Crisp and Cole in Bakersfield, California.
David Crisp and his partner Carl Cole are being investigated on suspicion that they defrauded mortgage companies and federally insured (FDIC) institutions by submitting fraudulent documents and information that amounted to up to $11 million in loans, all of which later defaulted. While both men have lost their real estate licenses, neither has been charged criminally.
Jerald Texeira admitted to processing fraudulents loans for Crisp and Cole and accepted a plea arrangement in September 2009.
Kevin Sluga, a CPA, was a co-owner of his own business; he and Leslie Sluga are accused of creating false documents. Sluga operated his firm under two different names: California Business Solutions first and then later Comprehensive Business Solutions.
Read the Full Article in BakersfieldNow.com
January 25th, 2010 at 8:08pm
Terry and Cheri Tucker, who operated Tucker Mortgage in Thousand Oaks and San Diego, are appealing their 10 year sentences, handed out by U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real on November 30 of last year.
Both defendants pleaded guilty to bank fraud after soliciting private investors, mostly elderly, for money for real estate investments. That investment money was used to purchase up to $80 million in conventional loans. Those loans were used to convince sellers that the borrowers had down-payments, which they did not. The borrowers in fact were told by the Tuckers that they could purchase a home with no money down.
The Tuckers’ appeal does not affect an upcoming restitution hearing for the victims that is scheduled on February 22, according to Assistant U.S. District Attorney Mark Avei.
Read the Full Article in the Thousand Oaks Acorn.