A California woman will spend the next 14 years in prison after being convicted for her role in a mortgage fraud scheme that involved straw buyers, cost financial institutions over $16 million, and subsequently lead to attempts to coerce witnesses to lie to the FBI and blame a dead woman for the fraud.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, Vera Kuzmenko was convicted on multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, witness tampering, and money laundering for her involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme involving more than 30 properties in the Sacramento area from late 2006 through early 2008.
Kuzmenko and a co-conspirator, Rachel Siders, were responsible for securing more than $30 million in residential mortgage loans on more than 30 homes purchased through straw buyers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Court documents revealed during the trials of Kuzmenko and Siders showed that Kuzmenko, who was a licensed real estate agent for part of the scheme, fraudulently obtained millions of dollars by creating fraudulent loan applications on behalf of the straw buyers.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the loan applications contained “materially false” information about the straw buyers’ income, employment, assets and intent to occupy the residences.
The loan paperwork also hid from lenders millions of dollars of payments that went to Kuzmenko and Siders. Kuzmenko also served as a straw buyer.
Evidence disclosed during the trial showed that after Kuzmenko learned the FBI was investigating her, she tried to get various witnesses to lie to the FBI and blame a dead woman for the fraud.
For her part in the scheme, Siders is scheduled to be sentenced on June 21, 2016.
“There were many causes for the mortgage crisis that decimated the national economy and hit the Sacramento region so especially hard,” United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.
“One factor that did not help, and that contributed to the explosion of foreclosures in our neighborhoods was the proliferation of mortgage fraud schemes like the one operated by Vera Kuzmenko,” Wagner continued. “My office will continue to seek to hold accountable those who profited from such schemes, and the sentence imposed today is a significant reminder that there is a heavy price to pay for those who seek to profit through fraud.”
In October 2015, a federal judge sentenced co-defendants Peter Kuzmenko to 19 years in prison; Aaron New to 11 years and three months in prison; Nadia Kuzmenko to eight years in prison; and Edward Shevtsov eight years in prison.
They were found guilty on Feb. 13, 2015, after a 21-day trial, of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud associated with the mortgage fraud scheme. In addition, Peter Kuzmenko, Edward Shevtsov and Aaron New were found guilty of money laundering associated with the scheme, and Nadia Kuzmenko was found guilty of witness tampering.
“As the mastermind of a scheme to intentionally defraud members of her own community, Vera Kuzmenko coordinated a network of individuals who perpetrated a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Manuel Alvarez of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Sacramento field office. “Her sentence cannot undo the damage done to her community’s trust and financial well-being, but it will ensure justice for victims and serve as a warning to other would-be fraudsters.”