Union County Pastor Admits Role in $15 Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme
CAMDEN, NJ—A pastor of the now-defunct ReBirth International Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey, admitted today to defrauding financial institutions as part of a $15 million mortgage fraud scam that used phony documents and “straw buyers” to make illegal profits on overbuilt condos, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Sean A. Souels, 44, of Linden, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle in Camden federal court to a second superseding indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Souels was among 11 defendants charged in July 2012 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Two additional defendants, Nicholas Tarsia, 65, of Totowa, N.J., and Mashon Onque, 43, of East Orange, N.J., were charged in November 2013 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Tarsia was also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Souel’s conspirators, including Darryl Henry, 48, of Somerset, New Jersey, and Jerry Smith, 48, of Rahway, New Jersey—who both pleaded guilty before Judge Simandle; Henry in March of 2009 and Smith in December, 2011—located oceanfront condominiums overbuilt by financially distressed developers and negotiated a buyout price with the sellers. They then caused the sales prices for the properties—located in Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood, New Jersey, other locations in New Jersey and in Naples, Fla.—to be much higher than the buyout price to ensure large proceeds. Other defendants helped conceal the true sales prices of certain properties through inflated sales contracts and finder’s fee agreements.
In 2007, Souels agreed with Henry and Smith to recruit a church member to purchase a Wildwood Crest property at an inflated rate. In order for the “straw purchaser” to appear more creditworthy, Souels submitted documents fraudulently claiming that the church member was employed as the president of operations at ReBirth International Church. Once the loan was approved and the mortgage lender sent the loan proceeds in connection with real estate closing, Souels received $30,000 from his conspirators.
The wire fraud conspiracy charge is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Souels is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 20, 2015.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark, and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew T. Smith and Jacqueline M. Carle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.