Tag Archives: mortgage fraud

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.”

 

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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.

 

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.”

 

 

 

Mortgage Fraud Scammers Plead Guilty in US Foreclosure Capitol

Stockton, California, has been hit harder by the subprime mortgage crisis than any other US city. 

With a population of just over 280,000, Stockton had 22,000 foreclosure filings in 2007 (1 in 27 households), the highest foreclosure rate of any city in America. 

And as home prices continue to fall, the foreclosure crisis in Stockton is getting worse.

Stockton was an agricultural community, the seat of San Joaquin County, the fifth largest agricultural county in the United States and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.  In the past decade, however, Stockton experienced a population boom due to thousands of people settling in the area to escape the higher cost of living in San Francisco and Sacramento. 

Although the median income for a household in Stockton was only $35,453, the per capita income for the city was only $15,405, and 18.9% of families and 23.9% of the population were below the poverty line, subprime loans made houses in Stockton available to thousands who had very little income.

Home construction boomed, house prices soared, and subprime loans kept expanding the bubble further and further. House flippers, speculators and subprime lenders made millions.   

Then, in 2007, the bubble burst.

Few people were more active in profiting from the booming subprime housing market than a young immigrant from Pakistan named Iftikhar Ahmad. 

Between 2003 and 2005, Ahmad made millions of dollars buying and selling more than 100 homes and other properties in the Stockton area.  His company, I & R Investment Properties, LLC, was thriving.  Ahmad deposited at least $8.6 million from escrow closings and was able to send at least $484,000 back home to his native Pakistan.

Ahmad purchased a home at 327 N. Pilgrim Street in Stockton in 1997 for $22,000, then sold and repurchased the same property twice before ultimately selling it a third time in 2005 for $236,000. A house at 2228 E. Stadium Drive in Stockton was bought by Ahmad for $99,000; just 18 months later, he sold the house for $330,000.  In another series of transactions, a house bought and resold several times by Ahmad appreciated in value more than tenfold over an eight-year period.

It sounds like Iftikhar Ahmad was a very smart real estate investor.

The trouble was that Ahmad’s real estate empire was built on fraud.

On October 25, 2007, Ahmad was indicted on federal charges of mail fraud and money laundering, and on April 28, 2008, he pled guilty in federal court to mortgage fraud. 

Ahmad admitted that from July 2003 through October 2005, he participated in a scheme to defraud Long Beach Mortgage, a wholesale lender, in connection with the sale of 10 residential real properties. Between July 2003 and January 2005, Ahmad, through I & R Investment Properties, fraudulently sold 10 residential real properties, obtaining in excess of $1.5 million in loan proceeds.

In each of these transactions, the purchaser financed the property with money borrowed from Long Beach Mortgage.  The scheme involved the use of straw purchasers who lent their name and credit to real estate transactions in which they in fact had no interest. The scheme also involved false statements on loan documents, including those that related to income and occupation, and undisclosed payments by Ahmad of the down payment on behalf of the purchasers.

Many of the mortgages came from subprime lenders and in some cases the buyers used stolen identities. 

And in many of the real estate transactions, the buyers defaulted within a year.

In addition to Ahmad, three other defendants in the scheme have also pled guilty.

John Ngo, 27, of San Ramon, California, a former Senior Loan Coordinator for Long Beach Mortgage, pled guilty to perjury for falsely stating in testimony before the grand jury that he had not received money from a mortgage broker who referred borrowers to Long Beach Mortgage, including borrowers involved in transactions with Ahmad, when in fact he had received more than $100,000 from the mortgage broker.

Manpreet Singh, 24, of Stockton, California, entered a guilty plea to mail fraud for acting as a straw purchaser and borrower in connection with two properties that she purchased from I & R Investments in late 2004 and early 2005. She further admitted that Ahmad paid her in excess of $22,300 for her participation in the scheme.  The properties went into foreclosure within months of the purchase.

Jose Serrano, 44, of Stockton, California, pled guilty to a single count of mail fraud. As part of his plea, Serrano admitted that Ahmad had paid Serrano to recruit straw purchasers, and that Ahmad and Serrano caused several other purchasers to be paid for participating in the scheme.

The case against Iftikhar Ahmad and his co-conspirators was brought by US Attorney McGregor W. Scott, who also indicted mortgage fraud scammer Charles Head

Scott said: “This prosecution begins to bring into focus the ways that fraud occurred in the subprime lending market in the Stockton area in the 2003 to 2005 time frame. False representations were made in loan documents; down payments were secretly made by the seller on behalf of borrowers; buyers and recruiters were paid to participate in the scheme; and a loan coordinator working for a wholesale subprime lender was paid by a mortgage broker handling the transactions. The investigation continues.”

Singh’s sentencing date is set for June 9, 2008.  Sentencing for Ahmad, Ngo, and Serrano is set for July 14, 2008.

 

 

FBI Expands Probe of Mortgage Fraud — Now Involving 19 Mortgage Companies and 1,300 Cases. Reverse Mortgages Also Under Scrutiny.

The FBI is expanding its wide-ranging probe of the mortgage industry.

At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said his agency is currently investigating an estimated 1,300 home mortgage fraud cases, and that the FBI’s probe into potential mortgage fraud now includes investigations into 19 separate mortgage companies.

The FBI, he said, has already “identified 19 corporate fraud matters related to the sub-prime lending crisis … targeting accounting fraud, insider trading, and deceptive sales practices.” 

Mueller also said that the FBI expected to expand its investigation even further. 

There was, he said, “no end in sight” to the growing number of fraud cases. 

“We’ve had a tremendous surge in cases related to the sub-prime mortgage debacle,” Mueller told a Senate Appropriations panel. “We expect them to grow even further.”

“I’m not sure at this point we can see the extent of the surge,” he added.

Mueller declined to go into the specifics of the investigation, but in previous announcements the FBI said it was looking into possible accounting fraud, insider trading or other violations in connection with loans made to borrowers with weak, or subprime, credit.

Mueller said he believes part of the problem is “rampant conflicts of interest in the corporate suites.” He said that FBI investigations “further emphasize the need for independent board members, auditors, and outside counsel. Shareholders rely on the board of directors to serve as the corporate watchdog. … [But] board members are often beholden to the executives they are expected to oversee.”

With one exception, the agency declined to identify the companies under investigation but has said that the inquiry, which began last spring, involves companies across the financial industry, including mortgage lenders, loan brokers and Wall Street banks that packaged home loans into securities.

The FBI has also said that the “hotspots” for its mortgage fraud investigations include California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Utah.

The one company that Mueller did acknowlege as being involved in the probe, Doral Financial Corp., had its former treasurer indicted last month for investment fraud. 

The FBI has also acknowledged in the past that the largest U.S. mortgage lender, Countrywide, is under investigation for misrepresenting its financial position and the quality of its mortgage loans.

It is also known that several major investment banks, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Bear Stearns, have been asked to provide information to the government, and Beazer Homes has said that it had received a federal grand jury subpoena related to its mortgage business.

In addition to announcing an expansion of the number of cases and companies being investigated, Mueller also indicated a new direction for the FBI’s inquiry: 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.

Mueller said that the increasing number of mortgage cases has forced the FBI to shift agents from other areas, such as health care fraud and other financial crimes, to focus on mortgage lending practices.

The FBI has also previously indicated that it is cooperating with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is conducting more than three dozen civil investigations into how subprime loans were made and packaged, and how securities backed by them were valued. 

UPDATE:

For the latest news of the FBI’s expanding probe of the mortgage industry, click here.