Florida $30 million mortgage fraud scheme nets 27 charges
Federal and state authorities charged dozens of South Florida residents in a series of mortgage fraud schemes that produced $30 million in fraudulent loans. The 27 Floridians conducted separate schemes, with many of the players obtaining funds illegally through the use of straw buyers and inflated home values on mortgage applications, according to authorities. At least one scheme involved a combination of arson, insurance fraud and mortgage fraud. The four cases stemming from the statewide investigation are the work of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, a law enforcement initiative led by the U.S. Attorney's Office and state authorities to crack down on parties involved in mortgage fraud. Since the program's creation in 2007, more than 500 defendants have been charged for involvement in mortgage-related schemes. In the first case from the new investigation — U.S. v. Luis A. Oramas — 17 defendants were charged in a 40-count indictment for engaging straw buyers, placing their names on mortgage applications, and inflating home values to later pocket the proceeds. The scheme involved defendants tied to Kasa Mortgage brokerage in Miami and New Line Realty, a real estate company, also from Miami. In U.S. v. Ghaith Al Nahar, six defendants were charged in a six-count indictment for creating $9.2 million in fraudulent loans. The indictment claims Ghaith Al Nahar operated Best Decisions Home Mortgage Inc. in Lake Worth, Fla. The indictment claims he and other defendants located properties for-sale and paid individuals to act as straw buyers. The parties then submitted loan applications with false information for those homes. After the lenders approved the loans, a title agent involved in the scheme prepared false HUD-1 settlement statements, claiming the straw buyers would bring their money to the closing, federal authorities claim. Rather than distributing the funds using the lender's instructions, authorities say the parties made unauthorized disbursements of loan proceeds. The defendants are facing accusations of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and substantive wire fraud. In U.S. v. Gerardo Wilhelm, three defendants were charged in an 8-count indictment for their involvement in a scheme that allegedly involved arson, insurance fraud and mortgage fraud. Authorities claim defendant Wilhelm, a real estate agent, partnered with a broker and an insurance adjuster to profit from a fire set at a South Florida town home. After having the home set on fire, investigators claim a fraudulent insurance claim for fire damage was obtained in the amount of $180,000. The defendant kept the money and allegedly misappropriated the insurance money by then obtaining a short sale from the lender that held mortgage loans on the town home. The scheme eventually led to $500,000 in losses. The defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit arson and arson. Wilhelm also faces charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, three counts of substantive mail fraud and one count of check fraud. Charges also were filed in the U.S. v. David Donet Sr. case. In that investigation, Donet, an attorney from Miami, caused lenders and other parties to disburse loan proceeds into his attorney trust account. He allegedly moved the funds to his law firm business account and misappropriated them. He faces eight counts of mail and wire fraud. Write to Kerri Panchuk.