Tag Archives: FBI

A Simple Way to Avoid Getting Scammed

When we read CNN’s story about the FBI’s investigation of a massive Ponzi scheme operated out of the University of Miami, what struck us as most instructive was the statement from one of the scam’s victims that he had been promised an 18 percent return on his short-term investment.

The victim, Victor Gonzalez, said he put more than $3.5 million into the scheme.

Here is a simple rule to follow if you want to avoid being scammed:

Do not believe someone who promises you an 18 percent return on a short term investment.

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FBI Hits Mortgage Fraud with “Operation Malicious Mortgage” — 400+ Indictments and the Arrests of Two Bear Stearns Execs

The FBI announced today that the Justice Department’s crackdown on mortgage fraud has resulted in more than 400 indictments since March — including dozens over the last two days.

Those arrested run the gamut of players in the mortgage industry, including lenders, real estate developers, brokers, agents, lawyers, appraisers, and so-called straw buyers.

The Department of Justice’s name for the crackdown is “Operation Malicious Mortgage,” which it describes as “a massive multiagency takedown of mortgage fraud schemes.”

According to the FBI, the on-going “Operation Malicious Mortgage” focuses primarily on three types of mortgage fraud — lending fraud, foreclosure rescue schemes, and mortgage-related bankruptcy schemes.

“To persons who are involved in such schemes, we will find you, you will be investigated, and you will be prosecuted,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller. “To those who would contemplate misleading, engaging in such schemes, you will spend time in jail.”

In its statement, the FBI said that “Among the 400-plus subjects of Operation Malicious Mortgage, there have been 173 convictions and 81 sentencings so far for crimes that have accounted for more than $1 billion in estimated losses. Forty-six of our 56 field offices around the country took part in the operation, which has secured more than $60 million in assets.”

While most of those indicted so far are relatively small players in the industry-wide fraud crisis, Mueller today repeated his earlier promise that federal authorities are not ignoring the major players in the mortgage industry, but are investigating some “relatively large corporations” as part of its sweeping mortgage-fraud probe, including some 19 large companies, including mortgage lenders, investment banks, hedge funds, credit-rating agencies and accounting firms.

Most of these corporate fraud investigations, said Mueller, deal with accounting fraud, insider trading, and the intentional failure to disclose the proper valuations of securitized loans and derivatives.

The FBI’s announcement of Operation Malicious Mortgage coincided with the indictment and arrest in New York on Thursday of two former Bear Stearns managers, Ralph R. Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, who are charged with nine counts of securities, mail and wire fraud resulting in $1.4 billion in losses on mortgage-related assets.

According to the New York Times,  Cioffi and Tannin “are the first senior executives from Wall Street investment banks to face criminal charges, and the investigation by federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn is likely to become a test case of the government’s ability to make successful prosecutions of arcane financial transactions.”

“This is not about mismanagement of a hedge fund investment strategy,” said Mark J. Mershon, the head of the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “It’s about premeditated lies to investors and lenders. Its about the defendants prostituting their client’s trust in order to salvage their personal wealth.”

 

Don’t Get Scammed! — 10 Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by Real Estate and Foreclosure Investment Scams

There are a lot of real estate scams out there and many of them are now offering the bait of making easy money in the foreclosure market.

Scammers like to run with the hot trend — and right now the hot trend in real estate is foreclosures and distressed property.

Of course, there is money to be made by investing in distressed and foreclosed real estate.

But as with any other kind of investing, making money in distressed property and foreclosures requires significant expertise and experience and adequate capitalization. 

Before you trust your money to a stranger who tells you he has a sure-fire way to make lots of cash by investing in the hot, once-in-a-lifetime foreclosure and distressed property market, make sure that he has the expertise and experience and the capital (not just yours!) to back up his claims.

Here are 10 tips to avoid being taken in by scammers who promise you quick and easy returns on your real estate investment:

1. Be very skeptical and ask lots of questions. 

2. Get the names of the people who will be running the investment fund.  In particular, get the names of the people who will be making the investment decisions.  Demand that they tell you their business and investment track record and that they provide you with documentation of their claims. 

3. Check their qualifications.  Make sure that they are licensed securities or real estate professionals and not just telemarketers. 

4. Research all the names you get.  Use the Internet.  Do a google search for the investment fund and for anyone involved in the fund or business.  Search for their names and the name of the investment fund on scam.com, the Securities Fraud Search Engine, and  other community web sites and bulletin boards, as well as the Better Business Bureau.  Also check their names with your state Attorney General and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Carefully read the online material on telemarketing fraud put out by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

5. Find out whether the people raising the money for the investment fund are licensed securities brokers.  If not, don’t invest.  You can check their broker status here.

6. Before you invest, get the advice of people you trust.  Ask your attorney, your real estate broker, your financial advisor, and your adult children what they think about the investment.  On the other hand, avoid pressure from relatives and friends to invest in “can’t miss” schemes.

7. Get all promises or claims in writing and save copies of the paperwork. Verbal agreements don’t mean anything. Demand documents and then review them carefully.  Ask your attorney, your real estate broker, your financial advisor, and your adult children to review them as well.  Even when you get promises in writing, remain skeptical, especially regarding revenue projections.  At best, these projections are guesses; at worst, they’re outright lies.  Be particularly skeptical about projections in a business plan.  Remember that a business plan is not a legal document — you can put anything you want in a business plan and scammers always do.

8. Take your time before deciding whether to invest.  Scammers use lots of tactics to pressure you to make a decision.  Don’t let anyone rush you into an investment.  If they tell you, “only a few lucky investors can get in, so you must act right away,” it is almost certainly a scam.

9. Demand to know how much of your investment, or the total fund raise, is actually going to purchase property and how much is going to pay the people who are raising the money.  Don’t trust any investment where more than 10-15 percent of the total raise is going into the pockets of the fund-raisers. 

10. Live by the rule: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.  If someone tells you that there is a “guaranteed return on your investment,”  it is almost certain that you should invest your money somewhere else.  Scammers play on greed and fear.  Deals that promise exceptional returns — and deals that must be done now — are the hallmarks of a scam.

 

Who is Elham Assadi Jouzani?

Last March, we wrote about the federal indictment of 19 people for mortgage fraud-related offenses under what the government called “Operation Homewrecker.”

The indictment alleged that a scam operated by Charles Head, 33, of Los Angeles, California, along with 18 others under his direction, targeted homeowners in dire financial straits, and fraudulently obtained title to over 100 homes and stole millions of dollars through fraudulently obtained loans and mortgages.

Among the alleged conspirators was Elham Assadi, aka Elham Assadi Jouzani, aka Ely Assadi, 30, of Irvine, California.

In the past two weeks, many of our readers have found this blog by searching for the name Elham Assadi Jouzani (and, somewhat less frequently, by searching for Ely Assadi and Elham Assadi).

Who is Elham Assadi Jouzani?

Jouzani is alleged by federal prosecutors to have been part of a “foreclosure rescue” scam that netted approximately $6.7 million in fraudulently obtained funds taken from 47 homeowners, nearly all located in California.

The allegations are that from January 1, 2004 to March 14, 2006, the defendants contacted desperate homeowners, offering two “options” allowing them to avoid foreclosure and obtain thousands of dollars up-front to help pay mounting bills. If the homeowner could not qualify for the “ first option,” which virtually none could, they would be offered the “second option.” An “investor” would be added to the title of the home, to whom the homeowner would make a “rental” payment of an amount allegedly less than their mortgage payment, thereby allowing the homeowner to repair their credit by having the mortgage payments made in a timely fashion.

All of this was a scam.

The defendants recruited straw buyers as the “investors” who would then replace the homeowners on the titles of the properties without the homeowners’ knowledge. Once the straw buyer had title to the home, the defendants immediately applied for a mortgage to extract the maximum available equity from the home. The defendants would then share the proceeds of the ill-gotten equity and “rent” being paid by the victim homeowner.

When the defendants ultimately would sell the home, stop making the mortgage payment, and/or pursue an eviction proceeding, the victim homeowner was left without their home, equity, or credit.

These facts explain the interest in Operation Homewrecker.

But these facts don’t explain the recent particular interest in Jouzani.

We’ve searched the Internet ourselves, and we can’t find any reference to Elham Assadi, Ely Assadi, or Elham Assadi Jouzani outside of this case.

Nor can we find anything in the news that explains the current interest in Jouzani as compared to the other Operation Homewrecker conspirators.

If you’ve come to this blog by searching for Jouzani, please tell us why there is so much special interest in this particular Homewrecker.

And why the interest at this time?

We’d love to provide more reporting on Jouzani, so if you know something, please tell us so that we can pass it on to our readers.

 

Disgraced Ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer Starting Real Estate ‘Vulture’ Fund

Do you want to profit from the housing crisis and the mortgage meltdown?

Disgraced ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer might have just the opportunity you’ve been looking for.

Spitzer is putting together a real estate “vulture fund” to buy and flip distressed property, envisioning projects valued between $100 million and $500 million.

According to the New York Sun, “Eliot Spitzer, in his first big business venture since he was shamed out of office by a prostitution scandal, is shopping around a plan to start a vulture fund that would scoop up distressed real estate assets around the country, revamp them, and flip the properties for a profit. Late last month, the former governor of New York gathered a group of high-level Washington, D.C.-based labor union officials in a conference room at the headquarters of his father’s real estate business in Manhattan and pitched them his idea for starting such a fund, a source said.”

Eliot Spitzer’s father is multi-millionaire Manhattan real estate developer Bernard Spitzer, known for building one of New York City’s largest real estate firms (one of his properties is The Corinthian, a spectacular 55-story, 1.1 million square foot apartment building), as well as for bank-rolling his son’s political career.  The ex-Governor has been working with his father’s firm since resigning last March.

The Sun stated that “In the half-hour meeting, Mr. Spitzer told the officials that he was determined to take his ailing father’s real estate company to ‘the next level’, the source said. Mr. Spitzer said he would lay out his business plan in greater detail at a later date, and would ask the labor officials to consider investing pension fund money under their control.”

“Mr. Spitzer is moving aggressively to occupy a niche created by the credit crunch, the subprime mortgage crisis, a surge in foreclosures, and a declining real estate market. He is looking to mine for riches in projects that banks are no longer willing to finance.”

Spitzer apparently believes that the prostitution scandal that cost him the Governor’s office (and a fast-track to even higher political office) was really a blessing in disguise:

“During the meeting, Mr. Spitzer expressed relief that he was no longer burdened with the frustrations of being governor, according to the source. And, in contrast to his repentant resignation speech that he delivered beside his tearful wife, Silda Wall, he took a more relaxed view of his indiscretions. He has told friends and associates that he is consoled by passersby who stop him on the city sidewalks and tell him that sex is ‘no big deal’ and that the disclosure that he frequented prostitutes was distorted out of proportion, the source said. Europeans, the former governor has noted, have been especially supportive of him and perplexed by the fallout from the scandal.”

Spitzer’s real estate dreams may have to be put on hold, however, as federal law enforcement authorities might force him to make other plans.

The New York Post reports that ” The noose appears to be tightening around sex-crazed ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.”

According to The Post, “The federal case against him is so strong that prosecutors had no interest in striking cooperation agreements with the ringleader of Spitzer’s hooker-supplier, Emperors Club VIP, and his second in command, sources told The Post‘s Murray Weiss. Prosecutors have records of Spitzer’s transactions, phone records and taped conversations with Emperors Club, and are confident they need little more to nail him on charges that could include violating prostitution laws and money laundering, sources said. Probers are also said to be looking into whether he used campaign funds to pay for his pleasures.”

“The case against Spitzer includes the cooperation of curvy call girl Ashley ‘Kristen’ Dupre and a second hooker. Her old boss, Mark Brener, 62, will plead guilty Thursday without the sweetheart deal he was hoping for – he’ll have to serve up to 30 months in the slammer on money-laundering and prostitution-conspiracy charges.”

In addition, Temeka Lewis, who worked for Brener at the Emperor’s Club, pled guilty in a cooperation agreement that requires her to testify about Spitzer’s involvement with the prostitution ring and his alleged attempts to conceal payments for sex.

We think that a “vulture fund” meeting with Eliot Spitzer where he pitches cashing in on the foreclosure crisis doesn’t help improve the image of labor unions or union leaders.

We also think that anyone considering investing in Spitzer’s real estate project should think about whether the fund could do without the presence of the ex-Governor for several years while he stays at the Gray Bar Hotel.

 

One of Charles Head’s “Operation Homewrecker” Scammers Still Listed as Broker on Reverse Mortgage Website

Keith Brotemarkle, one of the people indicted with Charles Head in an alleged “equity stripping” scheme called Operation Homewrecker, was also involved in a reverse mortgage company called Reverse Mortgage Resources.

The company’s website “invites qualified brokers to become Approved Reverse Mortgage Advisors” with Reverse Mortgage Resources.  It asks potential affiliated brokers ” Who did you speak with at Reverse Mortgage Resources?” 

One of the brokers listed as being at Reverse Mortgage Resources is Keith Brotemarkle.

Brotemarkle was allegedly a participant in Charles Head’s “equity stripping” scheme that netted approximately $5.9 million in stolen equity from 68 homeowners in states across the nation. Targeting distressed homeowners and defrauding mortgage lenders through the use of straw buyers, Head would receive approximately 97 percent of the stolen equity, while the other defendants received either the remaining 3 percent of equity or a salary from the fraudulently-obtained funding. The defendants used referrals from mortgage brokers to identify and solicit new victim homeowners, and also sent “blast faxes” to mortgage brokers throughout the country and mass emails to potential victims. Through misrepresentations and omissions, desperate homeowners would be offered what appeared to be their last best chance to save their homes. Victims were left without their homes, equity, or credit.

The FBI has recently announced that it has begun an investigation to the misuse of reverse mortgages.  Reverse mortgages release the equity in a property to the homeowner in one lump sum or multiple payments. The homeowner’s obligation to repay the loan is deferred until the owner dies, the home is sold, or the owner leaves the home.  In the U.S., reverse mortgages are available for people 62 years old or older. Reverse mortgages are typically used to finance retirement or pay unexpected medical bills.  While reverse mortgages can make sense for seniors, the FBI is concerned about possible abusive sales practices that prey on seniors, such as aggressive and untruthful marketing and excessive fees.

Reverse Mortgage Resources is run by mortgage broker Don Marginson.  Its website states that it is located in Ranch Bernardo, California, and that it is “expanding again with offices to cover the Southeast and Northeast United States.”

We have no reason to believe that Reverse Mortgage Resources is not legitimate, and we would not want to assume that it is illegitimate simply because of its association with Brotemarkle.

But we would suggest that they remove Brotemarkle’s name from its website.

 

 

FBI Expands and Intensifies Criminal Investigation of Mortgage Industry

The New York Times reported today that the federal taskforce established in January to investigate the mortgage industry is intensifying its efforts. 

The initial purpose of the taskforce, comprised of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service, as well as federal prosecutors in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and Atlanta, was to examine mortgages that were made with little or no documentation of the earnings or assets of the borrowers. 

The investigation is now also focusing on how these loans were bundled into securities.

The taskforce began with an investigation of 14 unnamed mortgage companies; in March, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that the FBI’s probe into potential mortgage fraud had grown to include investigations into 19 separate mortgage companies and involved an estimated 1,300 home mortgage fraud cases.

It is now believed that the investigation has expanded even further.

According to an unnamed official, the expansion of the probe was triggered by the financial industry’s disclosure last week of additional billions of dollars in write-downs from bad mortgage investments.

“This is a look at the mortgage industry across the board,” the official said, “and it has gotten a lot more momentum in recent weeks because of the banks’ earnings shortfalls.”