DOJ Busts Large California Mortgage Fraud Ring
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service said Monday that they'd busted a California-based mortgage fraud ring responsible for a large equity stripping and foreclosure rescue scam that had impacted more than 100 properties throughout the state. Nineteen inviduals were indicted for fraud-related offenses under the aptly-title Operation Homewrecker sting, a joint effort spanning various federal law enforcement agencies. A federal grand jury returned charges in two seperate indictments, totalling nearly 20 counts of mail fraud, money laudering, and related offenses, according to assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura Ferris, Rob Tice-Raskin, and Ellen Endrizzi, who are prosecuting the case. The first indictment involves an alleged foreclosure rescue scam headed up by Charles Head, 33, of Los Angeles. As part of the scam, Head and his associates would approach troubled homeowners and offer them help in avoiding foreclosure by titling to property to an "investor" -- really just a straw man -- who would then collect rental payments from the homeowner under the auspices that the lower rental payments would help them keep their home while the investor paid the mortgage. In a seperate indictment, Head is alleged to have headed up a classic equity-stripping scheme, similar in approach to the scam described above -- but in this case, rather than using known associates from Irvine, Calif. and related areas, his operation recruited strangers via the Internet. If you've worked in default management before, this is all too common a story; the only difference is that it's now a whole heck of a lot more prevalent than it used to be, because there are that many more troubled borrowers out there. The indictments come as Feds begin to zero in on California and mortgage fraud in the state. In recent months, an Eastern District of California Mortgage Fraud Task Force was established to address a huge jump in reported mortgage fraud, and includes representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI, IRS-CI, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the United States Bankruptcy Trustee's Office, and the California Department of Real Estate. "Federal law enforcement here in the Eastern District is fully committed to holding responsible those who in their greed have stolen from their fellow citizens," said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott. "It is our duty to do all we can to restore faith and confidence in the marketplace by placing these thieves where they belong: in prison." The task force allows for a more targeted, coordinated approach in prioritizing the massive volume of referrals being made to federal and state agencies, he said.