Straw Buyer Schemes Lead to $34 Million in Fraud Indictments

Two separate mortgage fraud rings in two different states made headlines Thursday morning, with federal indictments accusing them of more than $34 million dollars worth of mortgage fraud. In Idaho, five were indicted in a scheme that is alleged to have defrauded a bank in the state of more than $20 million, while a $14 million indictment in New York followed a similar track. Both cases involve alleged “straw buyer” schemes, in which buyers are fronted and used to flip properties for inflated values. In the Idaho case, the accused include two building contractors, a mortgage broker and a realtor, all from the Boise, Idaho area; the group attempted to buy and flip 49 different properties, Reuters reported Thursday. In New York, eleven defendants include brokers, realtors and attorneys that are accused of conspiracy, wire fraud and bank fraud, as part of a scheme to recruit straw buyers and flip properties in the Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx areas. A press statement Wednesday evening detailed the charges. In the New York case — as in Idaho — the alleged scheme is the same. A group of real estate agents, brokers and attorneys recruit straw buyers with good credit ratings to purchase residential properties lby promising that, among other things, rental incomes from the properties would ensure that the purchasers would never have to make payments on the mortgages or take possession of the houses. Once the buyers were signed up, conspiring brokers allegedly generate false documents to support inflated income and asset statements in the mortgage applications. At closing, the alleged fraudsters assigned their rights to purchase the properties to the straw buyers for fees totaling up to $600,000. The straw buyers’ mortgages — which had been secured through fraudulently inflated financial statements — covered both the sales prices and the assignment fees, which were then distributed among all parties. The banks and mortgage companies, of course, were never made aware of the assignments or the true market value of the purchased properties. “Earlier this month we announced the formation of an EDNY task force comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agents and investigators to address the burgeoning problem of mortgage fraud in the Eastern District of New York,” said Benton J. Campbell, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Investigating and prosecuting mortgage-related fraud is a priority program, and we and our partners in the task force are determined to bring to justice those who line their pockets at the expense of mortgage lenders.” The FBI noted in a report last week that mortgage fraud continues to be a large problem for lenders and investors; the number of of Suspicious Activity Reports forwarded to law enforcement officials rose 31 percent in 2007 relative to one year earlier.

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