Courts & Crime

Mortgage fraud indictments cite 27 people in South Florida

Four separate indictments were unsealed Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami accusing 27 people in various mortgage fraud schemes against banks and South Florida homeowners.

The charges range from mail fraud to insurance fraud to arson, and highlight the problems that South Florida faces as the nation’s top market for mortgage loan fraud, U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer said.

“We keep leading the nation in mortgage fraud, and that is something we are working to stem,” he said. “The perpetrators of this fraud have infiltrated every level of the mortgage industry.”

The schemes unveiled Tuesday resulted in more than $30 million in bad loans, Ferrer said.

Two of the cases involve typical mortgage fraud schemes, with straw buyers using falsified loan applications to buy homes at inflated prices while the fraud orchestrators pocketed large portions of the bank loans.

According to the first unsealed indictment, businessman Luis A. Oramas, loan processor Mariela Hernandez, closing agent Elayne Gutierrez, all of Miami-Dade County, and real estate agent Keskea Hernandez-Frei, of Broward County, recruited 13 straw buyers to orchestrate a $20 million fraud on mortgage lenders.

From January 2006 to March 2008, the group purchased 22 properties in Miami-Dade using bogus loan documents and taking out multiple loans on some properties. Straw buyers allegedly received kickback payments of $30,000 to $100,000 for the use of their credit information.

The second unsealed indictment describes a similar scheme, allegedly carried out in Palm Beach County by mortgage professionals Ghaith Al Nahar, of Lake Worth, Michelle Austin-Wilks, of Boca Raton and Romy Defay, of West Palm Beach. That case involves more than $9.2 million in bank loans for homes bought by straw buyers, the indictment states.

“Criminals are always looking for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and devising new methods to defraud,” said John V. Gillies, special agent with the FBI’s Miami office.

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