By Mike Colpitts
Twenty-seven South Florida residents were indicted on charges related to a series of mortgage fraud schemes after being arrested by the U.S. Mortgage Fraud Strike Force. The busts produced by the special task force now account for more than 500 arrests since it was started four years ago involving more than $620-million in mortgages.
Seventeen defendants were charged in a 40-count indictment alleging a scheme that produced $20-million in fraudulent mortgages. Those charged included a wide cross section of individuals in the real estate and mortgage industries, including real estate agents, mortgage lenders, closing agents and home buyers.
Luis A. Oramas, 43, Keskea Hernandez-Frei, 40, Mariela Hernandez, 46, Elayne Gutierrez, Ana Taveras, Joaquin Gomez, and Manuel Valdes targeted homes in the Miami area that were for sale over a four year period, and then recruited and paid individuals to act as straw buyers of the homes, according to federal prosecutors.
In a separate case , six defendants were charged in an indictment for participating in a nine-month mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in $9.2-million in fraudulent loans. In another case, three persons were charged in an eight count indictment for taking part in an arson, mortgage fraud and insurance fraud scheme that resulted in losses of more than $500,000.
Hernandez-Frei allegedly used her companies, Kasa Mortgage, a mortgage brokerage firm and New Line Realty to conduct most of the transactions.
Hernandez worked at Kasa as a loan processor, and Ana Taveras worked as a Realtor for New Line. Federal prosecutors say that through Kasa and New Line, Hernandez-Frei, Mariela Hernandez, and Taveras prepared fraudulent sale contracts, mortgage and home equity lines of credit applications on behalf of straw buyers.
The documents reportedly contained false information, including inflated sales prices, false employment verifications, pay stubs, false statements about income and funds on deposit with bogus checks to close the transactions.
In one of the schemes, referred to as a “Double HUD” scheme, the defendants created and submitted to banks false duplicate HUD-Settlement Statements, which grossly inflated the purchase price of homes. In other cases, the defendants applied for and obtained multiple mortgages on the same homes.
Once the mortgage applications were approved, the lenders wired the loan proceeds to closing, where federal investigators say Gutierrez sent the difference between the inflated mortgage loan proceeds and the actual selling price to Oramas, who then disbursed kickback payments to straw buyers and others in the scheme.
In efforts to avoid being caught, the defendants failed to record or falsely recorded mortgage deeds and other loan documents. In an effort to protect themselves from getting into trouble, federal investigators say the defendants made mortgage payments until the properties were resold.
The indictment charges the 17 defendants with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and substantive mail fraud and wire fraud. Convictions carry a term of 20 years on the conspiracy charges and another 20 years on substantive mail fraud charges.