The South Florida mortgage banking community is immersed in scandal, as a result of four indictments released this week by the ""U.S. Attorney's Office"":http://www.justice.gov/usao/ in Miami, Florida. The separate filings target 27 individuals who are accused of diverse fraud schemes waged against lenders and homeowners in the region.[IMAGE]
Charges including mail fraud, insurance fraud, and even arson don't do much to resolve the area's reputation as a hot-bed of fraudulent loan practices. Commenting on the problems, U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, stated, ""We keep leading the nation in mortgage fraud, and that is something we are working to stem. The perpetrators of this fraud have infiltrated every level of the mortgage industry.""
Ferrer went on to note that the current indictments encompass more than $30 million in questionable mortgage loans, and that, in at least two of the cases, the schemes were highly coordinated and elaborate, with fraud rings using straw buyers and faked applications to purchase properties at elevated prices while raking in large sums from the bank loans.
The first filing to be unveiled included business professional, Luis A. Oramas; loan processor, Mariela Hernandez; closing agent, Elayne Gutierrez; and real estate agent, Keskea Hernandez-Frei. Those listed in the indictment allegedly utilized 13 straw borrowers to concoct a $20 million scam.[COLUMN_BREAK]
The second item released by the U.S. Attorney's Office targets a comparable scheme conducted in Palm Beach County; those named in the documents are Ghaith Al Nahar, Michelle Austin-Wilks, and Romy Defay. Their fraudulent activities encompassed an estimated $9.2 million in loan money.
A third indictment focuses on criminal behavior surrounding a single holding, and Miami real estate pro, Gerardo Wilhelm, is named as a coconspirator in an arson and insurance scam involving the property in question. Co-defendants are Juan J. Flores and Alejandro Figueredo, who are both accused of conspiracy to commit arson.
David Donet, Sr., a Miami attorney, was named in the fourth and final filing, and he is accused misappropriating around $1 million in funds during a real estate closing. Donet appears to have pocketed client money that was intended for refinancing.
Twenty-five of the 27 individuals included in the indictments are in custody, and it's estimated that each could ultimately face up to 20 years in jail. Straw buyers named as defendants are as follows: Ana Taveras, Joaquin Gomez, Manuel Valdes, Yudith Padilla, Ivan Padilla, Martha Fernandez, Maribel Diarth, Carlos Sanchez, Ivett Lorenzo, Guillermo Rivero, Napoleon Cadalzo, Hisamara Esponda, Rafael Bonne, Lucien Laguerre, Jeffrey Gilbert, and Philip Jay Newman.
Finishing his statement on the newly unsealed indictments, Ferrer had a warning for people who may have been approached about similar schemes, saying, ""If someone is willing to pay money for the use of your name or your credit information, that should send a clear signal to you that it could be, and most likely is, a fraud.""
For five consecutive years, Florida has remained the national leader in mortgage and real estate fraud, with South Florida ranking the highest among areas rife with such activity, according to information from LexisNexis.
The region's Mortgage Fraud Task Force, founded in 2007, has roped in approximately 600 con-artists to date.