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.