Jury Convicts 3 of Scam Involving 432 Straw Buyer Transactions
Eve Mazzarella, 34, San Diego, California, Steven Grimm, 48, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Melissa Beecroft, 32, Las Vegas, were convicted by a jury following a 37-day jury trial that began in October 2011. The defendants include a former Las Vegas real estate broker, her husband, and a third woman who worked in the Nevada real estate industry and were convicted of conspiracy and fraud charges for their involvement in a mortgage fraud scheme that caused over $24 million in losses to federally-insured banks.
The defendants were convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud, seven counts of bank fraud, five counts of mail fraud, and two counts of wire fraud. Mazzarella and Grimm were first charged in March 2008. In June 2008, four more defendants, including Beecroft, were added to the indictment. The other three defendants, Christina R. Thompson, Amy R. Ortiz, and Jyothi Panikkar, pleaded guilty before trial. Five other defendants, Daicy Vargas, Benjamin Labee, Shauna Labee, Craig Christians, and Robert Samora, were also charged in the scheme and pleaded guilty.
The evidence presented by the government at trial indicated that Eve Mazzarella and her husband Steven Grimm controlled and operated numerous Nevada limited-liability companies that conducted business in Las Vegas. Melissa Beecroft was resident agent and manager of Secured Mortgage Services, LLC, also registered in Nevada.
The object of the conspiracy was to obtain money and property by causing false information to be placed in the mortgage loan applications of straw buyers. A straw buyer is an individual who allows residential real estate to be purchased in his or her name. It is alleged that the straw buyers were paid to participate in the conspiracy. After the mortgage loans were funded, defendants Grimm and Mazzarella caused title and escrow companies to disperse a portion of each loan to one of their limited liability companies, and caused mortgage brokers, loan officers and others to remit a portion of their commissions and fees to Grimm and Mazzarella. Once Grimm and Mazarrella obtained control over a property, they re-sold the same property to another straw buyer at an inflated price.
Grimm and Mazzarella also concealed receipt of the monies they obtained through this scheme by causing disbursements to be made to shell companies under their control and by moving money between multiple accounts.
Beecroft assisted in the scheme as a mortgage broker, loan officer and loan processor on the majority of the fraudulent mortgage loan transactions.
Grimm and Mazarrella engaged in approximately 432 straw buyer transactions involving approximately 227 properties with a total purchase price of over $107 million.
Grimm and Mazzarella defaulted on mortgage payments on many of the loans which caused the properties to go into foreclosure. At least 143 of the approximately 227 properties purchased by the defendants are in default causing losses to the banks estimated at more than $24 million.
The defendants face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million on each count. Sentencing is scheduled for March 23, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Roger L. Hunt.
Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada, announced the verdict.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI with the assistance of the members of the Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Task Force, including the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Nevada Attorney General's Office, Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Secret Service. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Pugh and Sarah Griswold.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office has made the prosecution of mortgage fraud crime a priority, and continues to work closely with its partners on the Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Task Force to aggressively investigate and prosecute these cases," said U.S. Attorney Bogden. "Since our mortgage fraud program started in the spring of 2008, we have charged approximately190 persons with mortgage fraud crimes."
"Today's verdict should send a clear message to all real estate and mortgage professionals who engage in these types of schemes that they will be held responsible for their actions," said Kevin Favreau, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Las Vegas Division.
Courtesy Mortgage Fraud Blog