Three Individuals Charged in Manhattan Federal Court in Multi-Million-Dollar Scheme to Deceive Homeowners into Selling Their Homes
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Christy Goldsmith Romero, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“SIGTARP”), and Shirin Emami, Acting Superintendent of Financial Services for the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”), announced that SAMANTHA BOUBERT, CHRISTINE MAHARAJ, and OWEN REID were taken into custody this week for participating in a scheme to fraudulently induce distressed homeowners to sell their homes to a company associated with the defendants. BOUBERT was presented this afternoon in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman. MAHARAJ and REID were presented yesterday afternoon in Manhattan federal court, also before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, these defendants preyed upon distressed homeowners and, through lies and front companies, tricked people into giving up their homes. The damage allegedly caused by these defendants went far beyond financial harm; as charged, their schemes often resulted in victims being evicted from their homes.”
FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez said: “All too often, desperate homeowners fall prey to elaborate homeowner relief schemes. As alleged, the defendants knowingly exploited the vulnerabilities of their victims, making it their goal to capitalize on the misfortune of others. This behavior caused serious damage to a number of struggling families who were forced out of their homes. The FBI continues to support partnerships within the mortgage industry and law enforcement as we work together to combat this serious crime.”
SIGTARP Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero said: “As part of TARP, the government implemented the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program which contains many free mortgage assistance programs for distressed homeowners. For homeowners seeking mortgage modifications, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) is available and, like the other government programs, it is free to apply. Homeowners need to avoid anyone asking to take the title to their home, or selling their home as part of a loan modification or assistance program.”
DFS Acting Superintendent of Financial Services Shirin Emami said: “As alleged in these charges, these arrests shut down an elaborate scheme that preyed on innocent people seeking to save their homes from foreclosure. Victimizing financially distressed homeowners is a despicable crime and the Department of Financial Services will continue to aggressively investigate cases such as this. We thank the U.S. Attorney’s office for their cooperation and diligent work pursuing this matter.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court:
From January 2013 through May 2015, SAMANTHA BOUBERT, CHRISTINE MAHARAJ, OWEN REID, and others, (collectively, the “Hillside Fraud Team”) targeted distressed homeowners in the New York City area, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. The Hillside Fraud Team, which primarily operated from a Hillside Avenue address, tricked and coerced homeowners into selling or deeding their properties to a Hillside business they controlled.
The Hillside Fraud Team sent mailings to the owners of distressed properties on the letterhead of the Homeowners Assistance Services of New York (“HASNY”), inviting the homeowners to seek assistance from HASNY to avoid foreclosure and save their homes. The Hillside Fraud Team also hired telemarketers to contact homeowners and to invite them to meet with HASNY representatives to learn more about avoiding foreclosure.
REID and others trained and directed the telemarketers to appeal to the emotions of the owners of distressed properties. They developed a script for telemarketers to use in their calls, which included, in substance, a statement that a short sale would be a means for homeowners to lower their monthly payments and still remain in their homes.
Many of the homeowners who sought assistance from HASNY met with a member of the Hillside Fraud team, who typically advised the homeowner that HASNY could assist him or her with a loan modification. In other cases, homeowners were advised that a loan modification could not be completed, but a particular type of short sale could be arranged in which the homeowner would sell the property to a third party, Launch Development, and then a relative of the homeowner could repurchase the property from Launch Development within 90 days. Homeowners typically were told they could remain in their homes throughout the entire process. REID and MAHARAJ both participated in these meetings.
After an initial meeting with homeowners, a closing typically was scheduled during which the homeowner would meet with another co-conspirator who was described as the homeowner’s attorney for the transaction. The homeowners, who had been led to believe that they were about to receive a loan modification or would be able to transfer their property to a trusted relative, were encouraged to sign documents, which in some cases were blank. Unbeknownst to the homeowners, by signing some of those documents, they were agreeing to sell their homes to a Hillside Business – often Launch Development – and would be forced to vacate their homes soon thereafter.
As part of the fraud, the Hillside Fraud Team often used Uniform Commercial Code liens to coerce victims into participating in these deals. BOUBERT filed liens on homeowner properties, even when those homeowners owed no debt to a Hillside Business.
After purchasing a property from a homeowner, members of the Hillside Fraud Team typically appeared at the homeowner’s residence and demanded that the homeowner vacate the premises, or commenced eviction proceedings against the homeowner, or both.
The Hillside Fraud Team generated millions of dollars as a result of their fraudulent scheme.
BOUBERT, MAHARAJ, and REID are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, which carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Amir Meiri, Mario Alvarenga, and Rajesh Maddiwar have previously been charged in connection with the Hillside Fraud, in the case United States v. Alvarenga, et al., 15 Cr. 627 (ER).
* * *
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding work of the FBI, SIGTARP, and the New York State Department of Financial Services for their investigative efforts and ongoing support and assistance with the case.
The prosecution of this case is being overseen by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jaimie L. Nawaday and Andrew M. Thomas are in charge of the case.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.