California Real Estate Fraud Report

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L.A. Dept. of Building & Safety Inspector Pleads Guilty to Bribe-Taking

February 7th, 2013 at 7:25pm

Note: there are earlier articles/postings in the California Real Estate Fraud Report about the public corruption investigations by federal authorities involving Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety employees.

Samuel In, 65, a 37-year employee of the L.A. Department of Building and Safety, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of felony bribery that was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The charge stemmed from a 2008 occasion when he accepted a cash bribe of $5,000 he solicited from a Koreatown man who needed assistance from In’s agency. He is the third employee to have been criminally prosecuted in the past two years.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Akrotirianakis, In, who was a senior inspector, admitted taking more than $30,000 of bribes in the area of Koreatown. He used his Korean-language skills and his position of authority to take advantage of Koreans whose English-speaking skills were limited.

Samuel In, who retired in May 2011, just two days after LADBS General Manager Robert “Bud” Ovrom put him on administrative leave, told the L.A. Times “I always sleep with peace” when he first denied taking bribes.

For my part, as a taxpayer, I’d like to see public employees who plead guilty to felony charges of public corruption or are convicted of such, to completely lose their pensions.

I also believe that the investigations by the feds into corruption at the L.A. Department of Building and Safety don’t even begin to scratch the surface of bribe-demanding, bribe-taking, influence-peddling and corruption that have occurred for decades at this agency.

Read the original article in the Los Angeles Times.


Investor Gilbert Chung the 27th to Plead Guilty in Foreclosure Auctions

February 7th, 2013 at 6:25pm

Read this important press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California about the felony charges filed against Gilbert Chung and Chung’s agreement to plead guilty in the US DOJ’s ongoing investigation into bid-rigging at foreclosure auctions.

A Northern California real estate investor has agreed to plead guilty for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Felony charges were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco against Gilbert Chung of Burlingame, Calif. Chung is the 27th individual to plead guilty or agree to plead guilty as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

According to court documents, Chung conspired with others not to bid against one another, but instead to designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, Calif. Chung was also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out schemes to fraudulently acquire title to selected properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert to co-conspirators money that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and others.

The department said Chung conspired with others to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco and San Mateo counties beginning as early as January 2010 and continuing until about December 2010.

“The conspirators went to great lengths to suppress competition and prices at these foreclosure auctions,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The division will continue to vigorously enforce the antitrust laws and to prosecute those who violate them at the expense of distressed homeowners.”

The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected real estate offered at San Francisco and San Mateo County public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.

“Today’s charges are another example of our resolve to bring to justice those who engaged in fraudulent bid rigging and anticompetitive practices at foreclosure auctions,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the San Francisco Field Office. “We continue our partnership with the Antitrust Division in aggressively pursuing individuals who participate in these criminal acts.”

A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim if either amount is greater than $1 million. A count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

The charges today are the latest filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, Calif. These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office at 415-436-6660, visit or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Today’s charges are part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants, including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit .

U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey Charges Nine People in $10 Million Short Sale Fraud

February 7th, 2013 at 6:15pm

The following is a full reprint of the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, continuing the aggressive actions taken by U.S. Attorneys in Eastern states to prosecute short sale fraud (compared to zip action out here in California by either the feds or the California Department of Justice).

Nine people involved in a long-running, large-scale mortgage fraud scheme that caused losses of approximately $10 million were charged in two Complaints with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Jose Luis Salguero Bedoya, also known as Jose Salguero, 36, of Elizabeth and Verona, N.J.; Paul Chemidlin, Jr., 41, of Morganville, N.J.; Delio Coutinho, 50, of Colonia, N.J.; Joseph DiValli, 44, of Jackson, N.J.; Christopher Ju, 26, of East Brunswick, N.J.; Carmine Fusco, 44, of East Hanover, N.J.; Jose Martins, 31, of Newark, N.J.; Yazmin Soto-Cruz, also known as Yazmin Soto, 32, of Elizabeth, N.J.; and Kenneth Sweetman, 32, of Lyndhurst and Nutley, N.J., were arrested this morning by FBI special agents.

Salguero, Chemidlin, Coutinho, DiValli, Ju, Fusco, Martins, Soto, and Sweetman, are scheduled for initial appearances and bail hearings this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark.

According to the Complaints:

From March 2008 to July 2012, the defendants engaged in multiple mortgage fraud conspiracies targeting at least 15 properties in and around Newark and Elizabeth, N.J. The defendants mortgage frauds took several forms, including obtaining control of properties through fraudulent “short sale”  transactions, short sale flips, and identity theft. They submitted materially false mortgage loan documents to lenders in order to obtain loan proceeds, which the defendants then used for their own financial gain. The defendants also obtained money through various sales to straw buyers.

From March 2008 to June 2010, Salguero, Coutinho, Ju, and Soto conspired with each other and others to release liens on encumbered properties via fraudulently arranged short sale transactions. This allowed the defendants to profit from new fraudulent mortgage loans obtained on the properties from other mortgage lenders. To complete the short sale transactions, the defendants submitted materially false closing and other documents to mortgage lenders. They submitted materially false mortgage loan applications to mortgage lenders to obtain new mortgage loans on properties in and around Elizabeth, New Jersey, including a property on Fulton Street.

From March 2011 to July 2012, Salguero, Chemidlin, DiValli, Fusco, Martins, and Sweetman submitted false mortgage loan applications to mortgage lenders for a property on Smith Street, Elizabeth. The defendants submitted gift letters to mortgage lenders that falsely stated that the borrower was obtaining the funds necessary to close the real estate transaction from a relative or friend in the form of a gift, when the funds used as the borrowers’ down payments were actually provided by Salguero. The defendants also submitted false appraisal reports in order to support inflated property values and therefore obtain mortgage loans in larger amounts. The defendants formed limited liability companies (“LLCs”) in the names of companies similar to those of licensed title companies in order to open bank accounts in the LLC names to conceal the defendants’ identities and to control the receipt and distribution of fraudulently obtained mortgage loan proceeds. They submitted fraudulent documents that misrepresented Salguero’s ownership in various properties and the disposition of mortgage loan proceeds related to various transactions. The defendants then distributed fraudulently obtained mortgage loan proceeds to themselves and others and concealed those distributions by failing to include them on the HUD-1 Settlement Statements.

As a result of the mortgage fraud schemes described in the two Complaints, which involved at least 15 properties, the defendants and others defrauded financial institutions out of approximately $10 million.

The defendants played different roles in the schemes. Salguero was a real estate investor who, along with his girlfriend, Soto, provided much of the funds used by the defendants to perpetuate their fraudulent schemes. Coutinho was a loan officer at a Northern New Jersey mortgage brokerage company; he submitted false documents in support of the schemes. Chemidlin provided fraudulent real estate appraisals for the defendants although he was not a licensed real estate appraiser. DiValli was a loan officer at a Northern New Jersey mortgage brokerage company who also submitted false documents in support of the schemes. Ju negotiated the fraudulent short sale real estate transactions. Fusco and Sweetman conducted fraudulent real estate closings for the defendants although they were not licensed attorneys or title agents. Martins was a bank employee who facilitated certain financial transactions for the defendants.

The criminal Complaints charge each of the defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited law enforcement agents of the FBI Newark Mortgage Fraud Task Force for the investigation leading to today’s charges. Specifically, U.S. Attorney Fishman thanked special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez, postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Acting Inspector in Charge Maria Kelokates, special agents of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG), Northeast Region of Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Cary Rubenstein, special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General (FHA-OIG), under the direction of Inspector General Steve Linick, special agents of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), under the direction of Special Inspector General Christy Romero, and special agents of IRS–Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen, and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Gaetano Gregory.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lakshmi Srinivasan Herman, Aaron Mendelsohn, and Charlton Rugg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.

This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

The charges and allegations contained in the Complaints against each defendant are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Riverside Increases Transaction Fees to Fund Real Estate Fraud Investigations

February 7th, 2013 at 5:57pm

A somewhat controversial proposal to increase fees on property transactions in Riverside that are used to fund real estate fraud investigations was passed after a compromise.

The new few is going to be $6 beginning March 5.

Both the Riverside District Attorney’s Office and the Assessor-Clerk-Recorder pushed for the increase. On the District Attorney Paul Zellerbach argued for the increase due to the continuing volume of complaints of real estate fraud and mortgage fraud in his jurisdiction.

Part of the fee currently goes to the Assessor’s office to help defray its costs for mailing out noticed to property owners when transactions are made concerning their properties. There have been numerous frauds committed when property documents are fabricated and/or forged in order to defraud the lawful owner from his/her property, almost always without the owner’s knowledge (title fraud).

Read the original article in UT San Diego.

Turlock Couple May Have Used 3rd Party Bankruptcy to Forestall Home Foreclosure

February 1st, 2013 at 8:59am

Blas and Nancy Arreola, a married Turlock couple, have been charged with multiple counts of identity theft, recording false or forged documents, and fraud conspiracy by the California Office of the Attorney General’s Mortgage Fraud Strike Force.

The apparent goal of the alleged fraud was for the Arreolas to forestall foreclosure of their home by the bank. The high amounts requested by the prosecutor for the bails for Blas, 37 and Nancy, 34, are $412,000 and $201,000, respectively – indicated that the Attorney General’s Office considers this to be very, very serious.

Investigator Glenn Gulley of the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office indicated in his arrest warrant that the Arreolas were trained in their failed strategy by Jacob and Aide Orona of Highland, which is located in San Bernardino County. The name of the Orona’s business is Document Recovery Forensic LLC. The website, which appears to be dormant, offered “A Life Changing Event” to occur after the reader enrolled in a “Mortgage Note Redemption Seminar” that was held in July 2012. Homeowners would “learn how you may be able to receive a settlement of anywhere up to 80 – 120% of the original amount of your mortgage note.”

The tone of these seminars are related to the settlements the Attorneys General for the 50 states negotiated with the major banks over their robo-signing policies.

According to the Federal Reserve, up to 50,000 homeowners in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties may have been entitled to compensation due to banking errors with respect to foreclosures, but the deadline for review was December 31, 2012.

The Arreolas paid several thousand dollars to learn the tactic of selling a percent “interest” in their two homes to people in bankruptcy. Such a strategy can block foreclosures but the people in bankruptcy never had any idea that the Arreolas and others piggy-backed on their bankruptcy filings and were thus unknowing parties.

Click on these links to get a copy of the Complaint and the Affidavit against the Blas and Nancy Arreloa.

Read the original article in the Modesto Bee.

Three Arrested for Luring Struggling Homeowners by Promising to “Kill” Their Mortgages

January 31st, 2013 at 11:25am

Two men and a woman in the Santa Rosa area are facing serious charges by the Office of the California Attorney General for allegedly defrauding struggling homeowners (foreclosure fraud).

Ronald Cupp, 58, of Santa Rosa; Randall Heyden, 69, of San Rafael; and Angelle Wertz, 38, of Santa Rosa were arrested  and charged with 57 counts that theft, forgery, notary fraud and recording of false documents through their “” website. Randall Heyden is a licensed real estate broker in Rohnert Park.

The three entrepreneus are alleged to have collected thousands of dollars in upfront fees from $1,000 to $10,000. Cupps’ mortgage company, North Bay Trust Services, was used to fabricate documents that delayed the homeowners’ foreclosure, but according to spokesman Nick Pacillo of the California AG’s Office, did not “kill” the mortgage.

The alleged crimes first were reported to prosecutors in Marin and Sonoma counties but it is still unknown how many homeowners may have been victimized.

”” has been seized by the California Attorney General’s Office in order to both announce the State’s action and to provide a portal through which victims can file complaints. So has North Bay Trust Services.

Read the original article in the Mercury News. There is an updated article in the Press Democrat.

Elk Grove Real Estate Broker Found Guilty in Mortgage Fraud

January 23rd, 2013 at 7:37pm

Hoda Samuel, a (still) licensed real estate broker and the owner of Liberty Real Estate & Investment Co., has been found of a conspiracy to commit mortgage fraud, as well as 30 counts of mail fraud.

Prosecutors apparently proved to the jury that Samuel, 60,  acted as the broker on 30 transactions between April 2006 and February 2007, which defrauded lending institutions due to the file of false information on the loan applications (loan fraud, mortgage fraud). Samuel kept tight control of the transactions by representing both the seller and buyer (dual agency) in about have the sales and obtaining funding in all but one. Unfortunately for the lenders, 28 of the 30 properties went into foreclosure, causing losses to the lending institutions of over $5.5 million. The straw buyers were the employees of her brokerage and other persons.

In a decidedly unique angle, Samuel overstated the values of the homes from $15,000 to $40,000 (appraisal fraud) in order to pay for “repairs” to the homes that included making homes wheelchair accessible for (non-existent) family members of the buyers.

When she is sentenced on April 30, Hoda Samuel could get up to 20 years in prison.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Philip Ferrari and Todd Pickles out of the Eastern District of California and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the IRS-Criminal Investigation Unit.

Read the original articles in News10 ABC and the Sacramento Business Journal.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Facing Federal Bank Fraud Charges in Addition to Short Sale Fraud Accusation

January 20th, 2013 at 10:11am

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway, who is already the subject of a civil forfeiture complaint detailed in an earlier posting on the California Real Estate Fraud Report, has more troubles on her personal docket.

The U.S. District Court in Detroit filed a federal bank fraud charge this past Friday against Justice Hathaway, alleging she fraudulently transferred her debt-free Windermere, Florida home to her husband’s daughter using a quit claim in order to avoid having to declare the asset in a hardship letter to ING Direct, to which she had made an application to short sell her Grosse Pointe Park home in Michigan. Failing to fully disclose assets on an application is considered short sale fraud by lenders. By approving the short sale, Hathaway and her husband, Michael Kingsley, erased almost $600,000 in mortgage debt on their Michigan home and per the Mortgage Debt Relief Act, were also spared paying the Internal Revenue Service taxes on the personal gain.

Justice Hathaway’s hearing in federal court is January 29.

After the short sale, the Florida property was transferred back into their names.

Hathaway, who previously had refused to resign her position, decided to retire after the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, citing “blatant and brazen” misconduct, filed its own complaint against her and recommended suspension.

Sounding relieved, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said that Justice Hathaway’s retirement will “bring to a close an unhappy, uncharacteristic chapter in the life of this court.” In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Chief Justice Young said “When any elected official is charged with serious misconduct, the public’s faith in its government institutions can suffer. This court, as an institution, will do what we have always strived to do: to uphold the highest ethical standards, render the best public service in promoting the rule of law for everyone, and do our utmost to deserve the trust the public has placed in us.”

In a unique and, in my opinion, transparent argument, Justice Hathaway’s attorneys have advanced the notion that she and Kingsley saved the bank money by keeping the house from falling into foreclosure. If such was the case, they certainly could have argued that viewpoint to their lender, ING, for its consideration and they certainly wouldn’t have felt the need to allegedly hide their other residential assets.

In the related civil case, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade is attempting forfeiture of Hathaway and Kingsley’s second home in Orlando (one of the ones she had allegedly concealed via quit claim). The home, valued at $664,000 in 2010, would compensate ING for the $600,000 in mortgage debt Hathway and Kingsley are alleged to have defrauded the lender.

Michael Kingsley was not named in the federal bank fraud charge, for which the maximum penalty is 30 years in prison.

Read the original article in the Detroit Free Press and the Huffington Post.

Senior Citizen Sues Daughter for Elder Abuse

January 18th, 2013 at 12:35pm

Law enforcement and advocates for the elderly often state matter-of-factly that many cases of elder financial abuse are committed by the senior citizen’s relatives.

In the Ventura County suburb of Newbury Park, the daughter and son-in-law of 88-year-old June Untalan have been found liable for elder abuse by a jury. The judgement, which will be entered January 22, may result in the couple being ordered to give up their home and pay more than $30,000 in damages.

June Untalan sued Marie and Charles Gutierrez after the couple refused to transfer title to the home she had made payments on since 1985 and for which the Gutierrez’ had loaned her the down-payment. The down-payment was repaid in 1992 and the Gutierrezes subsequently transferred the property from their names into a family trust that omitted June.

In December 2012, a jury  found Marie and Charles Gutierrez liable for elder abuse. They awarded June Untalan the house, now worth about $500,000, $25,000 for emotional suffering and $9,000 for economic damages, and attorney’s fees, said Untalan’s attorney Christoph Nettesheim.

A local resource for elderly victims is the Ventura County Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST). They can be reached at (805) 407-5886 or

Read the original article in the Thousand Oaks Acorn.

Multi-Agency Task Force Arrests Five in Orange County Condo Real Estate Fraud

January 18th, 2013 at 11:51am

Special agents with the FBI, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG), and IRS-Criminal Investigation arrested five people who were alleged to have orchestrated a “builder bailout” scam involving over 100 condominium properties around the country after a federal indictment charged them with various counts of bank fraud and wire fraud.

According to an FBI press release, the scheme, which was operated out of Excel Investments and related companies that were based in Irvine and then Santa Ana, allegedly targeted new condominium developments which the defendants identified the builders as having trouble selling the units. The defendants entered into agreements with the builders, whose project were located in California, Arizona and Florida, and agreed to buy the units in exchange for large commissions. They recruited the straw buyers and fabricated the loan applications (loan fraud, mortgage fraud) by submitting altered or fraudulent W-2 forms, income and asset statements. The lenders were not aware of the excessive commissions because they were disguised as “marketing fees” which were concealed in the form of false HUD-1 Settlement statements by the defendants.

The five defendants who were arrested and taken into custody are as follows:

  • Aref Abaji, 31, of Aliso Viejo, a real estate agent
  • Maher Obagi, 26, of Huntington Beach, the brother of Aref Abaji
  • Jacqueline Burchell, 52, of Orange, an escrow agent
  • Mohamed Salah, 37, of Mission Viejo
  • Mohamed El Tahir, 35, of Glen Burnie, Maryland

Many of the loans obviously went into default and there were subsequent foreclosures. The taxpayer is the ultimate loser because of the $6.2 million in losses suffered, $2.37 million were loans backed by Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).

Defendant Jackie Burchell was named in a previous post on the California Real Estate Fraud Report in June 2012 in which the FBI was investigating cases of short sale fraud in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

© Copyright 2007-2014 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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