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Ringleader of elaborate mortgage fraud scheme gets 10 years in prison

Scheme involved fake sellers, fake lawyers, fake title agents, fake notaries, and more

The alleged ringleader of a complex mortgage fraud scheme will spend the next 10 years in New Jersey state prison for his involvement in a scheme that involved using fake sellers, fake attorneys, fake title insurance agents, fake notaries, and a number of fake businesses to steal nearly $1 million from mortgage lenders in a series of transactions.

According to the office of New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino, Artis Hunter pleaded guilty earlier this year to a charge of first-degree money laundering.

Two of Hunter’s alleged co-conspirators, Laquan Jones and Melissa Phillip, also pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the scheme.

Porrino’s office stated that Harris, Jones, Phillip and additional unidentified co-conspirators used stolen identities to steal more than $930,000 from lenders through at least eight fraudulent loan transactions, including four mortgage loans, three home equity lines of credit, and one auto loan.

Court documents showed that Harris and his co-conspirators used stolen or fictitious identities for basically all parts of the deals in question.

“(Harris and his co-conspirators) created all of the hallmarks of a legitimate residential loan transaction by using stolen and fictitious identities to fill all of the required roles: seller, attorneys, settlement agent, title agent, homeowner’s insurance company, notary and other parties,” Porrino’s office said in a statement.

Porrino’s office added that the loan applications contained “many” falsified documents, including closing documents, wire transfer documents and title insurance documents, all of which were supposedly witnessed, prepared, or reviewed by people either did not actually exist or were wholly unaware of the transactions.

Additionally, the owners of the homes connected to the loans in questions were never parties in the supposed sales, nor where any of the homes in question actually sold.

Court documents also showed that Harris and his co-conspirators established virtual offices for individuals and businesses involved in the loan transactions by setting up dozens of phone numbers, email addresses, fax numbers, websites, and mail drop addresses, all of which was done to maintain the appearance that lawyers, employers, borrowers, sellers, settlement agents, title insurance companies, homeowner’s insurance companies, notaries, and others were actively involved in legitimate lending transactions.

Going through all of those steps allowed Harris and his co-conspirators to deceive a number of lenders into processing fraudulent loan applications.

Once the loan was approved, the lender disbursed the loan proceeds, which for the mortgages ranged from $196,000 to $230,000, to a bank account opened in the fictitious or stolen name of a title company or law firm.

Then, Harris and his co-conspirators would withdraw the loan proceeds by visiting ATMs and bank branches in New Jersey to make “numerous and frequent” withdrawals over a period of time ranging from several weeks to several months until the entire amount stolen from the lender was withdrawn.

“These defendants used multiple stolen and fictitious identities to stage loan closings that were entirely illusory, with the exception of the very real money they stole from lenders, totaling nearly $1 million,” Porrino said. “Through our joint investigation, we closed the curtain on their costly scheme.”

Elie Honig, the director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, added: “As illustrated by these prolific con artists, mortgage fraud is an expensive drain on the lending industry which ultimately raises the cost of borrowing for all consumers. I commend the state and federal investigators who handled this complex case and ensured that this ringleader will serve a lengthy prison sentence.”

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