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Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force Announces Regional Results of “Operation Stolen Dreams” Targeting Mortgage Fraudsters

U.S. Attorney’s Office June 17, 2010
  • Western District of North Carolina (704) 344-6222

CHARLOTTE, NC—Following an announcement today by Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, DC, representatives of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force in Charlotte, NC, including U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins of the Western District of North Carolina, Owen D. Harris Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI, and Jeannine A. Hammett, Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS, announced regional results of the nationwide takedown "Operation Stolen Dreams," which targeted mortgage fraudsters in the Western District of North Carolina, and throughout the country and is the largest collective enforcement effort ever brought to bear in confronting mortgage fraud.

The sweep was organized by President Obama’s interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was established to lead an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. Starting on March 1, to date Operation Stolen Dreams has involved 1,215 criminal defendants nationwide, including 485 arrests, who are allegedly responsible for more than $2.3 billion in losses. Additionally, to date the operation has resulted in 191 civil enforcement actions which have resulted in the recovery of more than $147 million.

“Mortgage fraud ruins lives, destroys families and devastates whole communities, so attacking the problem from every possible direction is vital,” said Attorney General Holder. “We will use every tool available to investigate, prosecute, and prevent mortgage fraud, and we will not rest until anyone preying on vulnerable American homeowners is brought to justice.”

A federal indictment in the Western District of North Carolina charging 10 individuals with various criminal counts including mortgage fraud conspiracy and bank bribery conspiracy was unsealed today upon the arrests of most of the defendants. Certain of the 10 defendants are also charged with related criminal counts which include bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, false statement in relation to a loan, perjury, and money laundering conspiracy. The indictment was returned by the federal grand jury sitting in Charlotte on June 15, 2010, but sealed until the arrests.

The mortgage fraud and bank bribery conspiracies alleged in today’s indictment represent activities of “cell number two” of an ongoing investigation, “Operation Wax House,” by the FBI and IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division into mortgage fraud in the Mecklenburg and Union County communities of North Carolina’s Western District. The 10 new defendants (list attached) brings to a total of 35 the number of defendants charged in connection with “Operation Wax House” to date. Today’s indictment charges those involved in mortgage fraud cell number two, one of a number of mortgage fraud cells under investigation.

U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins for North Carolina’s Western District said, “Mortgage fraud lowers property values, destabilizes entire neighborhoods, and makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to obtain home loans. Working with our partners in the FBI and IRS, this District has been on the front line of attack against mortgage fraud for a number of years. Investigating and prosecuting these cases will continue to be a top priority for this office.”

“There are thousands of people facing foreclosure and the nightmare of losing their homes because greedy opportunists thought they had found a way to beat the system. The amount of indictments and guilty pleas in Operation Wax House alone should prove that they’re not getting away with their crimes,” said Owen D. Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI. “Many people may believe since the housing market crashed that mortgage fraud is not an issue anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. The FBI and our law enforcement partners want people to know there are still fraudsters in the world going after victims already facing dire circumstances. They’re never going to stop looking for the next opportunity—and neither is the FBI.”

Jeannine A. Hammett, Special Agent in Charge IRS-CI stated, “These types of crimes create a significant loss of tax revenue, drive buyers into foreclosure, leave lenders burdened with bad loans, and neighborhoods with abandoned and deteriorating properties. IRS CI is committed to pursuing individuals who create such havoc.”

According to the indictment, from about September 2006 through about January 2008, a mortgage fraud cell was operating in Union and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina, primarily targeting the neighborhoods of Providence Downs South, Woodhall, Chatelaine, Skyecroft, Firethorne, Piper Glen, and Stratford on Providence. Operations of the mortgage fraud cell, according to the charges, generally began when a promoter would agree with a builder to purchase a property at the “true price.” The cell would then arrange for a buyer to purchase the property at an inflated price—usually between $200,000 and $500,000 above the true price. In most circumstances, the buyer would agree to purchase the property in his or her own name and sign whatever documents were necessary, in exchange for a hidden kickback, or in some instances, the promoter would steal the identity of a victim and use that victim’s name and identifying information to purchase the property, the indictment alleges. The builder would sell the property at the inflated price, the lender would make a mortgage loan on the basis of that inflated price, and the difference between the inflated price and the true price would be extracted at closing, and distributed among cell members, all according to the allegations contained in the indictment.

Individuals and entities participating in the alleged mortgage fraud activities included promoters, mortgage brokers, lawyers, real estate agents, builders, and buyers. In the allegations contained in the bill of indictment, the government describes a bank bribery scheme in which facilitators, a financier, and bank insiders participated. The alleged bank bribery scheme was carried out from about September 2007 through about January 2008, according to the indictment, and served to bribe bank employees to supply false letters of credit in the names of local banks to attempt to obtain financing from other financial institutions and to support bids for contracts.

In addition to mortgage fraud conspiracy or bank bribery conspiracy with which each of the defendants is charged, all defendants are charged in at least one substantive count alleging bank fraud or bank bribery. Bank fraud carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison, as does bank bribery. Mortgage fraud conspiracy and bank bribery conspiracy each carry a maximum term of five years in prison. Charges in an indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Western District of North Carolina’s Operation Wax House resulted from joint efforts of the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

The President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov

U.S. v. Sharreff-El, et al
Docket Number: 3:10cr124

Drew Sharreff-El
Also known as “Mack Ahizi”
Alleged role: Promoter
Age: 46
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; two counts alleging bank fraud; two counts alleging aggravated identity theft; one count alleging money laundering conspiracy; and two counts alleging concealment money laundering
Current Status: In custody pending detention hearing June 21, 2010

Ericka L. Flood
Also known as “Ericka Lomick”
Alleged role: Mortgage Broker, Promoter
Age: 35
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; four counts alleging bank fraud; one count alleging money laundering conspiracy; and two counts alleging concealment money laundering
Current Status: Released on bond with condition that she not be employed in banking, financial services, or mortgage industry

Todd C. Snead
Alleged role: Promoter
Age: 42
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; four counts alleging bank fraud; one count alleging money laundering conspiracy; and three counts alleging concealment money laundering
Current Status: Released on bond with condition that he not be employed in banking, financial services, or mortgage industry

Stephen E. Carr
Alleged role: Promoter
Age: 54
Last known address: Union City, Georgia
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; two counts alleging bank fraud; two counts alleging perjury; one count alleging money laundering conspiracy; and two counts alleging concealment money laundering
Current Status: Arrest warrant pending

Alicia Renee Taylor
Alleged role: Facilitator
Age: 38
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; and three counts alleging bank fraud
Current Status: Released on bond with condition that she not be employed in banking, financial services, or mortgage industry

Vic F. Henson
Formerly known as “Vic F. Gray”
Alleged role: Facilitator, Bank Insider in bank bribery scheme
Age: 41
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; one count alleging bank fraud; one count alleging false statement in relation to a loan; one count alleging bank bribery conspiracy; and two counts alleging accepting bribes as a bank employee
Current Status: Released on bond with condition that she not work in certain positions in the financial industry

Landrick O.A. McClain
Alleged role: Financier, Bank bribery scheme
Age: 47
Last known address: Silver Spring, Maryland
Charged with: One count alleging bank bribery conspiracy and two counts alleging bribing bank employees
Current Status: Arrest warrant pending

Jamilia N. Brown
Alleged role: Bank Insider in bank bribery scheme
Age: 29
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging bank bribery conspiracy; one count alleging accepting bribes as a bank employee; and one count alleging money laundering
Current Status: Released on bond with condition that she not be employed in banking, financial services, or mortgage industry

Bonnie S. Ramey
Alleged Role: Bank Insider in bank bribery scheme
Age: 43
Last known address: Charlotte, NC
Charged with: One count alleging bank bribery conspiracy and one count alleging accepting bribes as a bank employee
Current Status: Released on bond with condition that she not be employed in banking, financial services, or mortgage industry

Sarena A. Mobley
Alleged Role: Buyer
Age: 44
Last known address: Marina Del Rey, California
Charged with: One count alleging mortgage fraud conspiracy; two counts alleging bank fraud; one count alleging money laundering conspiracy; and one count alleging concealment money laundering
Current Status: Arrest warrant pending

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