These are the crimes and attitude required to actually go to jail for real estate fraud:
A former Fannie Mae employee will spend more than the next six years in prison after being found guilty of accepting more than a million dollars in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for selling Fannie Mae-owned foreclosures for less than market value.
Back in January 2018, Shirene Hernandez was charged with accepting bribes for steering foreclosures to certain brokers and even allegedly buying some foreclosures herself at below market value. And nearly a year ago, Hernandez was found guilty of two wire fraud counts that involved the deprivation of honest services as a result of the scheme.
Hernandez formerly worked at Fannie Mae in California as an REO foreclosure specialist and was tasked with the sale of properties foreclosed on by Fannie Mae.
As a sales representative, a position she held from 2010 through 2015, Hernandez would assign Fannie Mae-owned properties to certain real estate brokers and approve sales of the properties based on offers the brokers submitted.
But, court documents showed that Hernandez demanded and received bribes – mostly in the form of cash – in exchange for brokers getting the listings and commissions those brokers earned on real estate sales in question.
Hernandez also approved sales of Fannie Mae REOs at discounted prices to both herself and to brokers who paid her kickbacks.
As part of the scheme, Hernandez also received bribes for approving below-market sale prices of Fannie Mae properties to the brokers, all of which were violations of Fannie Mae rules and federal law.
Hernandez also helped several family members become Fannie Mae-approved brokers, and then steered nearly $80 million in Fannie Mae listings to them, resulting in nearly $2 million in commissions in less than three years.
According to court documents, Hernandez received more than $1 million in benefits from the scheme, including cash kickbacks and equity in a Fannie Mae property she bought using said kickbacks.
And, according to court documents, Hernandez paid for that property using a duffle bag filled with $286,450 in cash, which she gave to her sister-in-law to bring to the closing.
“The crime that [Hernandez] committed was egregious,” the prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. “Rather than act in the public’s best interests…she used her position to line her own pockets. [She] is unremorseful and unrepentant, and would seemingly do it all again if she could avoid being caught.”
In addition to the 76-month prison sentence, Hernandez was also ordered her to pay $982,516 in restitution to Fannie Mae.
If you break into an empty house, move in your family and your belongings and call it home, can you ever stake a legal claim to the property?
The answer is yes. But it’s a difficult process, and it rarely ends successfully.
“Sometimes I’m just overwhelmed with a sense of appreciation for the privilege of having a house,” said Steven DeCaprio, who moved into a vacant and dilapidated Oakland house in 2008, sued to be declared the home’s rightful owner — and won.
DeCaprio took advantage of “adverse possession” or “squatters rights” laws, which have a long history in California. Squatters can sue for legal possession after living in and taking care of an abandoned house for five years — as long as they meet certain strict conditions.
The California law allows a squatter to claim possession of a house after establishing his or her residency — by having mail and bills sent to the house, openly coming and going through the front door and paying the property taxes — for at least five years, said attorney Dan Siegel. If the owner catches wind and objects, the squatter could be arrested for trespassing or evicted in civil court, depending on the common practice in that jurisdiction, Siegel said.
An elaborate short-term rental scheme in Carlsbad tricked a young renter and property owner into losing thousands, according to the victims.
The victims, property owner Nick Foster and renter Courtney Hulla, told NBC 7 the scammer used both Airbnb and Craigslist to carry out the scheme.
On Saturday, Hulla found a Carlsbad condo available to rent on Craigslist, or so she thought.
“$650 deposit, $650 rent. We were like it’s a nice area. That seems too good to be true,” said Hulla.
She contacted a man named David, who told her he was the owner of a rental near the Carlsbad Village. He even invited her to the condo, Hulla told NBC 7.
NBC 7 is not publishing the alleged scammer’s last name because he has not been charged with any crime at this point in time.
“Walked up to the place and checked it out. He was doing laundry at the time,” said Hulla. “He said ‘Check out the place,’ you know, ‘You can walk around. I’m packing stuff up and leaving for Chicago on Thursday. This person bailed. Let me know if you like it. We can start moving forward.’
Hulla met David in person twice and said the man shared details about his life, his work and even signed a lease agreement with her.
She paid him one month’s rent and a deposit, as agreed, totaling $1,300. He gave her a set of keys.
“There’s no way this guy’s trying to do anything, scam me. He’s being too real about it,” said Hulla.
Hulla still felt uneasy, so she went to test out the keys at the condo. She noticed a light on inside and texted David, the so-called owner.
“‘I think that there are people, there are people in there. Can you explain that?’ He was like, ‘Oh they’re my aunt and uncle, just don’t scare them,’” Hulla said.
Turns out that the couple had rented the place through Airbnb from the real condo owner, Nick Foster, a Carlsbad resident.
“He made the condo his own. He acted like he owned it to sell his con to someone,” Foster said.
Foster told NBC 7, David, who had rented the condo through Airbnb before, also stole two portable AC units and other belongings over his two-week stay.
Both Hulla and Foster have reported the incident to the police. Foster has also contacted Airbnb.
“You have a conman on your platform and that he’s clearly done this before and he’s gonna do it again,” said Foster.
Neither has heard from David again.
Hulla was not able to cancel the payments she had made through the Facebook app and PayPal.
The most susceptible to home thievery are those properties that are paid off, and all you need is a crooked notary. This was more of a vengeful act by an ex-boyfriend that could be unwound a little easier because it had a mortgage and harder to re-sell. Hat tip to SM for sending!
Rohina Husseini had no idea someone could steal a house, but the first small clue that the home she owned for nearly a decade was no longer hers was a piece of junk mail that most of us ignore.
The Springfield, Virginia, mother said she initially tossed the mortgage refinancing offers that began arriving over the summer in the trash, but one detail bugged her: The letters were addressed to another woman. Curious, Husseini said she finally opened one.
“You bought a new house, congratulations,” read the letter addressed to Masooda Persia Hashimi.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t seem right,’ ” Husseini said. “I don’t know this person at all. She never lived in my house even before [I moved in].”
In the frantic hours that followed, Husseini discovered the total stranger was now the legal owner of the brick Colonial worth about $525,000 that forms the center of her life with her husband and daughter.
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced it has filed charges and obtained a consented-to asset freeze against San Diego-based ANI Development LLC, its principal, Gina Champion-Cain, and a relief defendant, for operating a multi-year $300 million scheme that defrauded approximately 50 retail investors.
According to the SEC’s complaint, beginning in 2012, defendants fraudulently raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors by claiming to offer investors an opportunity to make short-term, high-interest loans to parties seeking to acquire California alcohol licenses. In truth, the SEC alleges, the investment opportunity was a sham. Contrary to defendants’ representations, the SEC asserts, defendants did not use investor funds to make loans to alcohol license applicants. Instead, Cain directed significant amounts of investor funds to a relief defendant that she controlled.
“The SEC took emergency action to stop what we allege is an egregious fraud,” said Los Angeles Regional Director Michele Wein Layne. “Importantly, the agreement we reached with the defendants to freeze their assets during the litigation will give investors the best chance to maximize their recovery going forward.”
The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal district court in San Diego on August 28, 2019, charges defendants with violating the antifraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933. Without admitting any violations of federal law, defendants have agreed to preliminary injunctions against violations of these provisions of the federal securities laws, asset freezes, and the appointment of a receiver over ANI and the relief defendant to marshal and preserve assets. The stipulated order is subject to court approval. The complaint seeks disgorgement of allegedly ill-gotten gains and prejudgment interest, monetary penalties, and permanent injunctions.
Buyer-agents are heralding this as the Big Turning Point is real estate because the lawsuit aims to ‘break up the cartel’ and unbundle real estate commissions.
There is a whole legion of agents that offer a fee-for-service menu who think they are doing the consumer a favor. But it is a great dis-service to tempt consumers to select their agent based on their fee. This is where NAR and others have failed us miserably because nobody talks about how important it is for consumers to identify the skill level of agents they are considering.
Agents offer a discounted commission/rebate/fee-for-service because they don’t have the skill level to earn a higher fee. In effect, they ‘buy the business’ with lower cost/less service, and the consumer gets what they pay for.
But if this lawsuit prevails, causing MLS companies to be run out of business and ‘broker cooperation’ to get dismantled (seller paying the buyer-agent fee), the buyer agents will be the first casualty.
On this blog we talk about street-level impact.
Here’s an example that happened to Kayla in Manhattan, where the rental market is so hot that tenants have to pay their broker directly – and the typical fee is two months of rent.
Kayla is showing rentals to her old college roommate plus one other woman. The listing agent is present, and when Kayla goes into a bedroom with one of the women, the listing broker pulls the other aside and says, ‘if you don’t want to pay Kayla’s fee, just go through me directly’.
The two women rented the apartment directly through the listing agent, and burned Kayla.
We’re sliding into single agency, where buyers/tenants will just go directly to the listing agent. They will never know if they saved any money, they won’t know if they got proper representation (unlikely), and they will just take what they get.
The reason disintermediation worked in the travel business because consumers don’t worry about a bad vacation costing them an additional five- or six-figures in resale costs (and major disruption of life) to unwind one.
Without constant reminders of how important it is to Get Good Help, buyers will be left to their own devices and just go directly to the guy who has the product – the listing agent.
Single agency is not what’s best for consumers or agents – yet the market forces are heading in that direction without recognizing the ramifications. Watch what you wish for!
Obviously, my rantings on this topic have done nothing to slow down the trend, so joining Compass was the best way to position myself for my clients.
This scam is very real – confirm with escrow company before wiring funds.
A local family lost their entire life savings to scammers while they were in the process of buying a home after they unknowingly wired their money to a fraudulent escrow account.
Andrew Batson and Erika Urry were close to finally living in their dream home. The just needed to send their down payment. When Andrew received an email from the escrow company asking for a wire, he obliged.
“I did so that day thinking I was under pressure and we were supposed to close in that week,” said Andrew.
However, the next week, Andrew received a call from their real estate agent asking for the money because it was missing and was needed so they could close. It was at that moment when Andrew and Erika realized they had been scammed.
“I had to call Erika to let her know all the money was gone,” said Andrew.
It’s happening everywhere – hackers are stealing funds thought to be wired to escrow companies. It’s a real threat – be careful! Hat tip GW:
James and Candace Butcher were ready to finalize the purchase of their dream retirement home, and at closing time wired $272,000 from their bank following instructions they received by email.
Within hours, the money had vanished.
Unbeknownst to the Colorado couple, the email account for the real estate settlement company had been hacked, and fraudsters had altered the wiring instruction to make off with the hefty sum representing a big chunk of the Butchers’ life savings, according to a lawsuit filed in state court.
A report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said the number of victims of email fraud involving real estate transactions rose 1,110 percent between 2015 to 2017 and losses rose nearly 2,200 percent.
Nearly 10,000 people reported being victims of this kind of fraud in 2017 with losses over $56 million, the FBI report said.
The Butchers, forced to move into their son’s basement instead of their dream home, eventually reached a confidential settlement in a lawsuit against their real estate agent, bank and settlement company, according to their lawyer Ian Hicks.
The problem is growing as hackers take advantage of lax security in the chain of businesses involved in real estate and a potential for a large payoff.
“In these cases, the fraudster knows all of the particulars of the transaction, things that are completely confidential, things they should not know,” said Hicks, who is involved in more than a dozen similar cases across the United States.
Numerous cases have been filed in courts around the country seeking restitution from various parties. One couple in the US capital Washington claimed to have lost $1.5 million in a similar fraud scheme.
Real estate is just one segment of what the FBI calls “business email compromise” fraud which has resulted in some $12 billion in losses over the past five years. But for home buyers, the fraud can be particularly catastrophic.
“In these cases, the loss can be devastating and life-altering,” Hicks said.
Real estate transactions have become a lucrative target for hackers “because they handle a lot of money and because they have employees who are not the most technically savvy,” said Sherrod DeGrippo, director of threat research for the security firm Proofpoint.
Additionally, hackers often do their homework and “sometimes they know more about the business than the employees do,” she said.
People question how big of a problem it is that listing agents withhold their listings and sell them before inputting them onto the MLS – which denies their own sellers the benefit of open-market exposure, and potentially a better offer.
Above is a sample from today’s MLS hotsheet.
There were a total of 51 properties that were marked either pending or sold, and of those, eight were sold prior to MLS input.
Sellers don’t get open-market exposure.
Buyers get robbed of a chance to purchase the home that might be the perfect fit, AND then wonder why their current buyer’s agent isn’t getting those deals for them.
Other agents are denied the opportunity to earn a living.
But the listing agents get to double-end the commission, so it’s allowed – at least by broker management, NAR, CAR, and the MLS itself; the entities who could do something about it – but who look the other way instead.
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