President of Investment Firm Pleads Guilty to Paying Hundreds of Thousands in Bribes Targeting Secondary Mortgage Market
SAN DIEGO—Ben Keisari, the owner and president of Southern California-based BGK Investments (“BKG”), admitted today that he paid $350,000 in bribes to a banker who sold mortgage loans on behalf of GMAC. In exchange, the banker, Robert Moreno, arranged for Keisari to win bids to purchase mortgage loans issued by GMAC and sold on the secondary market.
BGK is a “full scale loan acquisitions fund” located in Encino, California. It was founded in 2010 by Mr. Keisari and worked with private investors and national companies (e.g., Chase, GE Commercial Finance, GMAC, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC formerly known as National City Mortgage) to purchase notes from California and elsewhere. According to its website, BGK valued potential notes for purchase using “market research” and various online tools to assess “accurate property values in this ever changing market.” Omitted from its description, however, was the fact that from 2011 to 2013, Keisari paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Moreno in order to both assess and obtain notes for purchase.
Moreno pled guilty in October 2014 and admitted that he accepted a total of more than $1 million in bribes from Keisari and other customers while working at GMAC. As detailed during his guilty plea, in return, Moreno used his position and influence to ensure that his favored customers, including Keisari, won their bids to purchase mortgage notes. Moreno corrupted GMAC’s bidding process by altering bids, rejecting other bids, and erasing or ignoring bids from qualified competitors. He also rigged the bidding by supplying his customers with confidential information about prices and competing bids.
Moreno took the bulk of his bribe payments from San Diego businessman Israel Hechter, the owner of mortgage investment firms Ocean 18, LLC, and Note Tracker Corporation. Hechter pled guilty in September and admitted paying $1 million in bribes to Moreno and other bank insiders at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and National City Bank.
Moreno initially accepted his 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, Keisari flew to Las Vegas, Nevada, or to Moreno’s home near Scottsdale, Arizona, where he hand-delivered cash bribe payments. Moreno also accepted large cash deliveries from Israel Hechter’s father Zeev Hechter. Moreno met Zeev Hechter several times on New York City street corners and at a car wash, where Zeev Hechter delivered “laundered” cash payments totaling $330,000. Hechter’s brother Amir Hechter and their business associate Jack Prober also delivered bribe payments to Moreno, in the form of personal checks.
Later, Moreno set up a sham “Consulting Agreement” and a phony business, Phoenix Asset & Acquisition, Inc., to disguise the bribe payments and make them look like legitimate consulting fees unrelated to Moreno’s work at GMAC. Moreno used this bogus contract to hide his bribe payments from both Keisari and Hechter, and took in a total of more than $500,000 in bribe payments using this method.
The mortgages Moreno sold on behalf of GMAC were mostly non-performing or distressed second mortgages. After purchase, the investors 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.
Israel Hechter, Zeev Hechter, Amir Hechter, and Prober each pled guilty in September to participating in the conspiracy and making hidden payments to Moreno. In addition, Lynda Sanabria, a banker from J.P. Morgan Chase, pled guilty in October 2014 to accepting bribes from Hechter and others.
Zeev Hechter (who acted as a “bagman” for his son) was sentenced earlier this week by United States District Judge Roger T. Benitez. He was ordered to serve six months in custody, pay $165,000 in restitution to GMAC, and pay a $50,000 fine.
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.
- Ben Keisari, 15CR0550-BEN
- Age: 31
- Woodland Hills, CA
- Sentencing: June 1, 2015 @ 9:00 a.m.
- Conspiracy to commit bank bribery 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.
DEFENDANTS PREVIOUSLY CHARGED:
|Zeev Hechter, 14CR2702-BEN||Age: 68||Aventura, FL||Sentenced: March 2, 2015|
|Robert Moreno, 14CR2277-BEN||Age: 42||Tempe, AZ||Sentencing: March 30, 2015|
|Israel Hechter, 14CR2703-BEN||Age: 47||San Diego, CA||Sentencing: May 4, 2015|
|Amir Hechter, 14CR2701-BEN||Age: 42||San Diego, CA||Sentencing: May 11, 2015|
|Jack Prober, 14CR2704-BEN||Age: 56||La Jolla, CA||Sentencing: May 18, 2015|
|John Crisci, 14CR3269-BEN||Age: 32||San Diego, CA||Sentencing: March 30, 2015|
|Lynda Sanabria, 14CR2980-BEN||Age: 51||Rockwall, TX||Sentencing: April 20, 2015|
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Federal Housing Finance Agency—Office of Inspector General
- Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation