Banker Convicted of Taking More Than $1 Million in Bribes
SAN DIEGO—Robert Moreno, a banker who sold mortgages on behalf of GMAC, admitted receiving more than one million dollars in bribe payments while working on behalf of GMAC. As detailed during his guilty plea, in return, Moreno used his position and influence to ensure that his customers won their bids to purchase mortgage notes. Moreno took the bulk of these bribe payments from San Diego businessman Israel Hechter, who pled guilty in September and admitted paying $1,000,000 in bribes to Moreno and others. Moreno also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from another customer based in Woodland Hills, California.
Moreno initially accepted the bribes in cash and personal checks, so that he could conceal the payments from the IRS and avoid paying taxes on the illegal income. Several times in 2012, Hechter’s father, Zeev Hechter, met Moreno in New York City at the car wash he owned, where he delivered “laundered” cash payments totaling $330,000. Moreno travelled around the country, including Las Vegas, New York City, and Scottsdale, Arizona, arranging hand-to-hand cash deliveries of the bribes from Zeev Hechter and others. He also accepted personal checks from Israel’s brother Amir Hechter and their business associate Jack Prober.
Moreno and Israel Hechter later set up a sham “Consulting Agreement” and a phony consulting business, Phoenix Asset & Acquisition, Inc., to disguise the bribe payments and make them look like legitimate consulting fees unrelated to Moreno’s work with GMAC. Moreno then copied this sham contract and used it with other customers who paid him bribes, all to cover up the payments. Moreno took in over $500,000 in bribe payments under these bogus contracts.
Israel Hechter, the owner of San Diego-based mortgage investment firms Ocean 18, LLC, and Note Tracker Corporation, admitted as part of his guilty plea that he paid a million dollars in bribes to Moreno and other bank insiders at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and National City Bank. In order to make sure that Israel Hechter’s bids were accepted, the bankers, including Moreno, corrupted the process by altering bids, rejecting other bids, and erasing or ignoring bids from qualified competitors. The bankers also rigged the bidding by supplying Israel Hechter with confidential information about prices and competing bids.
The mortgages Moreno sold on behalf of GMAC were mostly non-performing or distressed second mortgages. After purchase, Israel Hechter pooled the loans and sold shares of the pools to investors, usually friends and family members including Zeev Hechter, Amir Hechter, and Prober, each of whom invested in the pools. After purchase, Ocean 18, LLC would service the loans and collect monthly payments from the borrowers, or would initiate foreclosure proceedings when the borrowers defaulted. The investors made money when borrowers made payments, sold the properties, or after foreclosure and re-sale.
Moreno was arrested on July 15, 2014, for his role in the conspiracy. He entered his guilty plea today before United States Magistrate Judge Mitchell D. Dembin. Moreno is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Roger T. Benitez on January 19, 2015, at 9:00 a.m.
Israel Hechter, Zeev Hechter, Amir Hechter, and Prober each pled guilty in September to participating in the conspiracy and making hidden payments to Moreno. They are all scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Benitez on January 5, 2014, at 9:00 a.m..
The swift resolution of these bribery and tax charges was the result of coordinated investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency—Office of Inspector General, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation.
DEFENDANT PLEADING GUILTY:
Robert Moreno, 14CR2277-BEN Age: 42 Tempe, AZ
DEFENDANTS PREVIOUSLY CHARGED:
Israel Hechter, 14CR2703-BEN Age: 47 San Diego, CA Amir Hechter, 14CR2701-BEN Age: 42 San Diego, CA Jack Prober, 14CR2704-BEN Age: 56 La Jolla, CA Zeev Hechter, 14CR2702-BEN Age: 68 Aventura, FL
Conspiracy to commit bank bribery and tax evasion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Maximum Penalties: Five years’ imprisonment, $250,000 fine or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, $100 special assessment, restitution.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Housing Finance Agency—Office of Inspector General Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation