Several Guyanese including two Queens attorneys have been charged with defrauding legitimate homeowners and various lending institutions out of more than $3M in equity that had been stripped from 26 refinanced residential properties valued at $13M.
Many of the loans subsequently went into default, leaving lending institutions with insufficient collateral and substantial losses, or into foreclosure, leaving homeowners, in some cases, homeless.
Twelve of the defendants are in custody and five are presently being sought. “In trying to hide their elaborate scheme from law enforcement and regulatory scrutiny, the two main defendants are alleged to have used unscrupulous attorneys and straw buyers and the fragmented structure of the real estate settlement process to funnel millions of dollars through various shell corporations that they either owned or which were controlled by other defendants”, Queens district attorney Richard A. Brown said.
“Money loss aside, the defendants are accused of creating a human tragedy of immense proportions for the homeowners who had turned to them in a desperate hope of saving their homes from foreclosure.”
The defendants are variously charged with first- and second-degree grand larceny, first degree criminal possession of stolen property, first-degree money laundering, first-degree identity theft, second-degree forgery, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, first-degree falsifying business records, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, first-degree scheme to defraud and fourth-degree criminal facilitation. If convicted, the defendants face as much as 25 years in prison.
Brown said that the investigation leading to the arrests is alleged to have revealed that the two ringleaders of the mortgage fraud scheme were Guyanese Roger Huggins and Inderpaul Sookraj who owned and operated a Richmond Hill, Queens, company that went by various names – Home Solutions Management, Home Solutions Enterprises and Home Solutions Limited – and held itself out to be a home foreclosure rescue company.
It is further alleged that both Huggins and Sookraj also owned shell corporations which were created, in part, to launder the ill-gotten gains from the foreclosure rescue scam. Huggins was also allegedly employed as a loan officer with the defendant DMV Mortgage, a licensed mortgage brokerage firm owned by defendant Mangal Singh, who allegedly received a share of the profits of the alleged scheme from Huggins and Sookraj.
The investigation further allegedly revealed that Huggins and Sookraj targeted homeowners in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx who had substantial equity in their residences but either faced foreclosure due to their inability to make monthly mortgage payments or were simply behind in their mortgage payments and looking to refinance or modify their loans with their lenders.
It is alleged that Huggins and Sookraj offered to help the homeowners by instructing them to put permit titles to their homes in the name of a third-party purchaser (a “straw buyer”) for one year, during which time the two defendants promised to improve the homeowners’ credit rating, help them obtain more favourable mortgages on their homes and ultimately, return to them the title to their homes.
What allegedly occurred at the closings, however, was that Huggins and Sookraj – in order to keep as much of the mortgage proceeds as possible – fabricated reasons why they needed to hold the homeowners’ funds in escrow – such as that the equity withdrawn from the properties would be used to pay the mortgages and expenses on the homes and to repair the homeowners’ credit.
In some cases, it is alleged, Huggins and Sookraj induced distressed homeowners to sell or transfer their properties directly to them for reduced prices.
Huggins and Sookraj then allegedly resold or “flipped” the properties to straw buyers at inflated prices, usually within a short period of time. In some of these cases, the two defendants allegedly paid off the homeowners by using the home mortgage loan funds obtained from the lenders for the straw buyers.
In those cases, the difference between the inflated home mortgage loan amounts and the reduced sale amounts represented, in part, the defendants’ profits from the scheme.
In another instance, it is alleged, Huggins and Sookraj drafted and filed fraudulent documents which purported that they had purchased a home from a homeowner who, in fact, had died a year prior to the closing.
The defendants subsequently flipped the property to a straw buyer at an inflated price ($420,000), thus allowing them to keep and split the entire loan proceeds between themselves and their co-defendants as there was no actual seller of the property.
To date, the Jamaica, Queens, property remains vacant and the loan has gone into default.
It is additionally charged that Huggins and Sookraj stole the property deeds of at least two homes outright by fraudulently creating documents – complete with such identifying information of the homeowners as their social security numbers, dates of birth and driver’s licenses – which purported that the homeowner had sold their homes to Huggins and Sookraj, who then turned around and sold the properties to straw buyers.
The homeowners neither had any knowledge of the fraudulent transactions, nor did they realise that their homes had been stolen.
In both instances, the original homeowners allegedly had met Huggins when he offered to assist them with the “short sale” of their properties. In one case, the homeowner had gone to Huggins because he had lost his job and his wife was stricken with cancer.
In carrying out their scheme, it is alleged that Huggins and Sookraj paid various individuals to recruit homeowners to sell or refinance their properties or to act as straw buyers to carry out the fraudulent real estate deals by applying for loans.
In most cases, it is alleged, the mortgage applications submitted to the lending institutions contained falsified income statements of the straw buyers.
For example, it is alleged that straw buyer, Aneesa Mohammed obtained two home mortgage loans in the aggregate amount of $410,000 from Freemont Investment and Loans to fund the purchase of a home.
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