Accountant Pleads Guilty in $1.4 Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme Involving Baltimore City Properties
BALTIMORE, MD—Cecil Sylvester Chester, age 68, of Mitchellville, Maryland pleaded guilty today to charges arising from the fraudulent purchase of seven properties in Baltimore, using fraudulent loan documentation and straw purchasers, resulting in losses of over $1.7 million.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Special Agent in Charge Cary A. Rubenstein of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General; and Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service—Baltimore Field Office.
“Mortgage fraud perpetrators steal by inducing lenders to make loans that will never be repaid, and they harm neighborhoods when the inevitable foreclosures drive down property values,” stated U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
Chester worked as an accountant from an office located on New Hampshire Avenue in Hyattsville, Maryland. Co-conspirator Andreas Tamaris purchased, renovated, and then resold distressed row houses in Baltimore City, primarily in the Highlandtown.
According to his guilty plea, from February 2008 to July 2009, Chester and his co-conspirators, including Alexander Sivels, found buyers for Tamaris’ properties and for other property owners. Chester persuaded individuals, who were inexperienced with residential real estate transactions and who lacked the funds needed to pay the down payment and closing costs, to purchase Baltimore row houses owned by Tamaris or otherwise located by the conspirators. Chester advised these “straw purchasers” that they didn’t need to contribute funds for the down payment or closing costs to buy these properties. Chester also advised that he would place tenants in the properties whose rent payments would cover the monthly mortgage payments after the transactions closed, and that Chester would collect the rent and make the mortgage payments.
Chester and his co-conspirators set the purchase price for the properties to exceed their actual fair market value, thereby generating excess proceeds from the transactions from which they could profit.
The conspirators provided false information about the straw purchasers’ employment, income and financial assets, as well as fraudulent supporting documentation to the mortgage loan brokers to enable the straw purchasers to qualify for home mortgage loans. The conspirators falsely indicated to the mortgage loan brokers that the straw purchasers each intended to use the property as their primary residence following the purchase. Tamaris and other individuals supplied the funds needed for the down payment and closing costs on each of the transactions, and were in turn reimbursed from the loan proceeds at settlement.
Chester brought the straw purchasers to the closing, and then caused the straw purchasers to falsely sign certifications in the closing documents affirming that they intended to use the properties as their primary residence and that no portion of the down payment and closing costs were borrowed. Following the settlement on each transaction in which they participated, Chester and the other conspirators received substantial payments drawn from the proceeds of the loan.
Few, if any, payments were made towards the mortgages. All of the seven properties which Chester was involved in went into foreclosure, resulting in a loss of at least $1,482,207.
Chester faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud, and for wire fraud. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing for March 23, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.
In a related proceeding involving two of the properties at issue in the instant case, co-conspirator Andreas E. Tamaris, age 44, of Bel Air, Maryland, previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Alexander Sivels, II, age 32, of Baltimore, previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud involving the fraudulent purchase of at least nine properties in Baltimore. Both Tamaris and Sivels are scheduled to be sentenced on September 27, 2016.
The Maryland Mortgage Fraud Task Force was established to unify the agencies that regulate and investigate mortgage fraud and promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of mortgage fraud schemes. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Task Force, demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement agencies to protect consumers from fraud and promote the integrity of the credit markets. Information about mortgage fraud prosecutions is available at http://www.justice.gov/usao-md/financial-fraud-and-identity-theft.
Today’s announcement is part of the efforts undertaken in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI , HUD OIG—Office of Investigations and the U.S. Secret Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Jefferson M. Gray, who is prosecuting the case.