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January 12, 2013

Five Arrested in Orange County-Based ‘Builder Bailout’ Mortgage Fraud Scheme That Fraudulently Purchased Condos

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 5:01 am

SANTA ANA, CA—Federal authorities have arrested five people allegedly involved in a “builder bailout” real estate scheme that fraudulently purchased more than 100 condominium units around the country with mortgages that mostly went into default, resulting in foreclosures and millions of dollars in losses.

The scheme, which was operated out of Excel Investments and related companies that were based in Irvine and then Santa Ana, allegedly identified new condominium developments in which the builder-owners were struggling to sell units and arranged with the builders to sell the units in return for large commissions. The builders benefitted by making it appear that their condos were selling and maintaining their value, while those involved with the fraudulent sale of the units financially benefitted from the hefty commissions that were concealed from the mortgage lenders. The defendants recruited a number of straw buyers to purchase the properties as “investors” and ensured that they qualified for financing by fabricating important aspects of their loan applications.

The five defendants were arrested yesterday by special agents with the FBI, the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of Inspector General, and IRS-Criminal Investigation. Those taken into custody are:

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


November 29, 2012

Con Man Agrees to Plead Guilty in Three Fraud Schemes, Including Multi-Million Dollar Ponzi and Separate Mortgage Fraud Scheme

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 7:34 pm

LOS ANGELES – A Glendale man has agreed to plead guilty to federal fraud charges, admitting that he ran three separate scams, including a Ponzi scheme that defrauded 30 families out of more than $8 million.

Kaveh Vahedi has also admitted his role in a mortgage fraud scheme that submitted hundreds of falsified loan applications to banks through his brokerage firm, Countywide Financial. Vahedi has also acknowledged stealing more than $700,000 from his parents by draining their bank account and taking out a loan on their home.

Vahedi, 51, who has been in federal custody since last May, entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors that was filed late Monday in United States District Court. Vahedi agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the Ponzi scheme and one count of conspiracy in relation to the mortgage fraud scheme. Vahedi also agreed to plead guilty to one count of bank fraud to resolve a previously filed criminal case related to the fraud against his parents.

Vahedi is scheduled to plead guilty tomorrow morning before United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson. Once he pleads guilty to the three felony counts stemming from the three schemes, Vahedi will face a statutory maximum sentence of 55 years in federal prison.


November 3, 2012

Woman Who Organized $20 Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme in Southern California Pleads Guilty in Oregon Federal Court

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 10:27 am

A former Southern California resident pleaded guilty today in federal court in Portland, Oregon to mail fraud charges for orchestrating a mortgage fraud scheme that used fraudulent loan applications and supporting documents to convince lenders to fund more than $20 million in loans on approximately three dozen properties in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

Wanda Coleman, 59, a former resident of Pauma Valley who now lives in Glenoma, Washington, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud pursuant to a plea agreement filed under seal in United States District Court in Portland. As a result of today’s guilty plea, Coleman faces a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison when she is sentenced on January 25, 2013 by United States District Judge Michael H. Simon.

The case against Coleman was brought by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was transferred to the District of Oregon, which is near Coleman’s new residence, for the entry of the guilty plea and sentencing.

According to court documents, Coleman and several co-conspirators fraudulently obtained funds from financial institutions by making false statements on, and omitting material information from, loan applications submitted to purchase houses in the names of “straw buyers.” Coleman identified properties for sale across Southern California and offered to pay the sellers substantially more than their asking price, in return for the sellers’ agreement to refund the excess amount to Coleman or companies that she controlled. Coleman recruited straw buyers to submit fraudulent applications for loans to buy the houses. Various participants in the scheme prepared fraudulent mortgage applications that contained false information regarding the buyers’ employment, income and assets, and then submitted the bogus applications to lenders. To corroborate the false claims, co-conspirators forged bank statements and prepared other fraudulent documents, which were submitted to lenders.

As a result of the scheme, financial institutions funded loans totaling more than $20 million in relation to approximately 30 properties across Southern California. The straw buyers ultimately defaulted on the loans, resulting in foreclosure of the properties and losses of more than $11 million to the lenders.

October 9, 2012

Department of Justice Announces Results of Distressed Homeowner Initiative

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , — fayarfa @ 7:27 pm

First Law Enforcement Effort Focused on Crimes Against Struggling Homeowners

LOS ANGELES, CA — Today, Attorney General Eric Holder, Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) Secretary Shaun Donovan, FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin L. Perkins and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz  announced the results of the Distressed Homeowner Initiative, the first-ever nationwide effort to target fraud schemes that prey upon suffering homeowners. The yearlong initiative, organized by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s Mortgage Fraud Working Group, resulted in 530 criminal defendants charged in 285 federal cases filed in U.S. District Courts across the country. These cases involved more than 73,000 homeowner victims and total losses by those victims are estimated by law enforcement at more than $1 billion.

From October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012, the Distressed Homeowner Initiative focused on fraud targeting homeowners, such as foreclosure rescue schemes that take advantage of homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. Typically, the con artist in such a scheme promises the homeowner that he can prevent foreclosure for a substantial fee by, for example, having so-called investors purchase the mortgage, or transferring title in the home to persons in league with the con artist. In the end, the homeowner can lose everything. Other targets of the Distressed Homeowner Initiative include perpetrators of loan modification schemes who obtained advance fees from homeowners after falsely promising that they would negotiate more favorable mortgage terms on behalf of the homeowners.

“These comprehensive efforts represent an historic, government-wide commitment to eradicating mortgage fraud and related offenses,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in announcing the national initiative. “The success of the Distressed Homeowner Initiative, and the developments we announce today, underscore our determination to pursue these and other financial fraud criminals around the country.”


September 7, 2012

Actor and Accountant Agree to Plead Guilty to Conspiracy Charges in Mortgage Fraud Scheme that Cost Banks $3.8 Million

Filed under: Los Angeles Criminal attorney — Tags: — fayarfa @ 3:13 pm

LOS ANGELES – Actor Tommy Lister, who has appeared in approximately 100 movies, and a San Fernando Valley accountant were charged today in federal court with conspiring to commit mortgage fraud in a scheme that led to $3.8 million in losses.

Lister, who is also known as “Tiny” and “Zeus,” a 54-year-old Chatsworth resident, was charged this afternoon in a criminal information with one count of conspiracy.

A second person involved in the scheme – Arcelia Chavez, 48, of Northridge, who is a self-employed certified tax preparer – was also charged today with conspiracy.

In plea agreements that were also filed this afternoon in United States District Court, both Lister and Chavez agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy charges.

The court documents filed today outline a scheme that ran from November 2005 through June 2007 and involved Lister, Chavez and several other individuals, including: Sami Sager Sweiss, formerly a mortgage loan officer based in Woodland Hills; Jason Patterson, a real estate agent in Long Beach; J.R., formerly a manager of a Washington Mutual Bank branch in Woodland Hills; and Wanda Tenney, formerly an escrow officer based in the San Fernando Valley.


August 2, 2012

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Judgment in National Multi-Million Dollar Mortgage Scam

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , — fayarfa @ 3:57 pm

LOS ANGELES — Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced defendants who ran a national loan modification scam were ordered to pay more than $4 million in penalties and restitution, including $2 million to consumers who were falsely promised modifications of their mortgage loans.

More than 1,000 customers paid more than $2 million for loan modification services to Statewide Financial Group, Inc., which did business as US Homeowners Assistance and, and was based in Orange County. In July 2009, the Attorney General’s office shut down the business, which had been in operation since January 2008.

“These defendants took advantage of vulnerable people in extremely difficult circumstances, including many who faced imminent loss of their homes,” said Attorney General Harris. “The significant financial penalties imposed by the court let scammers know that severe consequences will flow to those who defraud California consumers.”

The Orange County Superior Court ordered that every US Homeowners Assistance loan modification customer should receive a full refund upon request.  The defendants were also permanently enjoined from engaging in the conduct that led to the lawsuit and were ordered to pay $2 million in civil penalties.  It is unclear, however, how much money will be recovered and available to pay refunds or penalties.

The prosecution of this action took nearly three years, culminating in a multi-week bench trial in March 2012. The business’ owners, Zulmai Nazarzai and Hakimullah Sarpas and Fasela Sheren (who went by the name Sharon Fasela), were all found liable for violating California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law.

In a separate proceeding in late 2010, Attorney General Harris successfully prosecuted Nazarzai for contempt of court for his refusal to turn over $360,000 unlawfully taken by defendants as ordered by the court. He has been incarcerated in the Orange County jail since December 2010 because of his continued refusal to comply with the court’s order.

April 26, 2012

Six Face Federal Wire Fraud Charges in Real Estate ‘Flipping’ Scheme that Cost Victims More Than $4 Million

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 7:48 am

SANTA ANA, California – Federal prosecutors have charged six people – including women from Orange County and Tennessee who were arrested this week – in relation to a multi-million dollar real estate “flipping” scheme in which investors were promised title to homes that could be easily resold, but in fact did not have “clean” titles, were uninhabitable, or were simply worthless.

According to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 18, the six defendants participated in a real estate scheme in which they sold victims Real Estate Owned – REO, or bank owned – properties for as much as $45,000. Even though the defendants had paid less than $10,000 per property, they told buyers that the properties were valuable and could be resold – or flipped – for a profit within a year.

During a scheme that ran from mid-2009 through mid-2010, victims were promised that the properties came with clean titles, property management services and guaranteed rentals for the first three months, according to the indictment. Furthermore, the defendants allegedly claimed they had an “exit strategy” in which buyers could choose to sell the properties back to them for $60,000.

In some cases, victims did not receive the properties because they simply did not exist. In other cases, the properties were condemned or other issues with the titles meant victims were not able to take control of the properties. Of those victims who did receive titles, some found that the titles were encumbered by tax liens, fines or building code violations. Furthermore, the indictment alleges that investor funds were immediately disbursed upon receipt, rather than being held in escrow.

The indictment alleges that there are more than three dozen victims who suffered losses of at least $4.2 million.

The defendants solicited investors to purchase properties at seminars held in Irvine and Costa Mesa; Orlando, Florida; Dallas, Texas; and in “webinars” conducted on the Internet.

This six defendants named in the indictment are:

Sylvia Melkonian, 48, of Laguna Beach, who was arrested yesterday morning by special agents with the FBI;

Sheridan Snyder, 65, of Turtletown, Tennessee, who was also arrested yesterday by the FBI;

Andrew Wardein, 38, of Irvine, who surrendered to authorities on April 20 and was released on a $25,000 bond after a judge scheduled a trial in the case for June 12;

Craig Shults, 41, of Huntington Beach, who has agreed to appear for an arraignment in federal court tomorrow afternoon;

Paul LiCausi, 47, of Fort Pierce, Florida, who is expect to appear in court in Santa Ana on April 30; and

Joseph Haymore, 31, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, who is also expected to appear in court in Santa Ana on April 30.

After being arrested yesterday, Melkonian was arraigned in federal court in Santa Ana, where she pleaded not guilty and was released on a $20,000 bond. Snyder appeared yesterday in United States District Court in Tennessee and was released on a $30,000 bond with instructions to appear in federal court in Santa Ana on May 14 for an arraignment.

All of the defendants named in the indictment are named in at least five counts of wire fraud. Therefore, if they are convicted, each defendant would face statutory maximum sentences of at least 100 years in federal prison.

March 23, 2012

Modesto Developer Arrested in Mortgage Fraud Scheme

Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 1:51 am

FRESNO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced the arrest today of Aruna Kumari Chopra, 63, of Modesto. A federal grand jury returned an indictment against her on March 15, 2012, charging her with two counts of mail fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The indictment was unsealed following her arrest.

According to the indictment, in 2009, Chopra purchased property at 4754 Dale Road in Modesto. She sought to finance the development of the property by trying to convince the city of Modesto to put into place a Communities Funding District that would issue bonds for infrastructure improvements. She allegedly concealed from the city of Modesto that there were pre-existing liens on the property. She also allegedly provided the City of Modesto with fictitious contracts of potential sales of a fully developed property to support a higher appraisal of the property. The indictment alleges that Chopra attempted to defraud other lenders, including the persons who sold her the property, by filing documents with the Stanislaus County Recorder’s Office that contained forged signatures. She is charged with aggravated identity theft for two instances when she allegedly forged the signature and used the seal of a notary public on a publicly filed document.

This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office; and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General, working with the San Joaquin Valley Mortgage Fraud Task Force. The U.S. Attorney and the FBI created the San Joaquin Valley Mortgage Fraud Task Force in 2009 to further the prosecution of mortgage fraud cases arising out of the southern half of the Central Valley. Assistant United States Attorney Mark J. McKeon is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Chopra faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of mail fraud, and she faces a mandatory penalty of two years in prison on each count of aggravated identity theft, which must run consecutive to any other sentence. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

September 17, 2011


Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 3:31 am

Former Bank Insider Has Paid $3.6 Million in Restitution

LOS ANGELES – A West Los Angeles mortgage banker has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his role in a massive mortgage fraud scam that caused more than $18.5 million in losses to banks, including his former employer.

Richard A. Maize, 53, of Beverly Hills, was sentenced late yesterday afternoon by United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson. In addition to the prison term, which Maize was ordered to begin serving on December 2, Judge Pregerson ordered Maize to pay $4 million in restitution, about $3.6 million of which has already been paid to victims Lehman Brothers Bank and RBC Mortgage Company.

Maize previously pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and loan fraud, three counts of bank fraud and one count of making a false statement on a federal tax return.

According to court documents, Maize and others charged in the case were involved in a wide-ranging and sophisticated conspiracy to defraud federally insured mortgage lenders out of tens of millions of dollars. As part of the scam, the conspirators obtained inflated mortgage loans on expensive homes in some of California’s most exclusive neighborhoods, including Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills and Malibu.


September 16, 2011


Filed under: California Defense Attorney — Tags: , , — fayarfa @ 12:53 am

LOS ANGELES – A former real estate agent and mortgage broker charged with running a multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme was ordered held without bond this afternoon after arriving in the United States earlier this week to face federal fraud, identity theft and tax charges.

Matthew Paul Kay, 36, a British citizen who formerly lived in West Los Angeles and the Park La Brea district of Los Angeles, was ordered detained late today by United States Magistrate Judge Jay C. Gandhi.

After being named in a 25-count indictment returned by a federal grand last month, Kay was arrested August 20 and subsequently deported by authorities in the Independent State of Samoa, a Pacific island nation. Kay had been living and working at a beach resort on the Samoan island of Upolu since October 2010, when he left Los Angeles.

After arriving in Los Angeles last weekend, Kay was arraigned in United States District Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, at which time he pleaded not guilty to the charges in the indictment.  The case was assigned to United States District Judge Manuel L. Real, who scheduled a trial for November 1.


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