Attorney General Bill McCollum and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Commissioner Gerald Bailey have announced the arrest of 10 members of a criminal mortgage fraud and identity theft operation. The group is charged with defrauding numerous financial institutions out of more than $8 million, and using the identities of unsuspecting individuals as part of the conspiracy to obtain the mortgages and properties. The arrests are the result of a four-year investigation conducted by FDLE’s Miami Regional Operations Center and the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution. The individuals arrested face charges including racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, grand theft, and title insurance fraud.
Investigators allege the scheme included the recruitment of straw buyers, who were provided with fraudulent Florida and New Jersey driver licenses and the personal identification information of unsuspecting victims. Using the victims’ identities, the straw buyers obtained credit and purchased properties for which they never intended to make any mortgage payments. The same properties were resold or “flipped” numerous times, often using the same scheme.
Investigators discovered that several times the scheme involved stealing the property from legitimate owners by forging a Quit Claim Deed or Warranty Deed, and then transferring ownership of the property to one of the co-conspirators. The scheme was used to obtain mortgages on 14 different properties in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The majority of these properties are currently in foreclosure as a result of the nonpayment of the mortgage loans.
Authorities estimate approximately $8 million in mortgage fraud/theft has been committed by the ring.
Those arrested include Michelle Minikus f/k/a Michelle Mediavilla-Camacho of Hollywood, Fla.; Donald Lee of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Stephnine Jean of Hialeah, Fla.; Judith Clemow of Miami; Lise Bessette of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Brandi Brown of Miramar, Fla.; Wesley Grant of Miramar, Fla.; Wonder Ragin Knowles of Coconut Creek, Fla.; Magaly Rosa of Miami; and Ofelia Torres of Hialeah Gardens, Fla. Additional arrests are pending.
One subject, Theophilus Alcantara was arrested in 2006 and four additional defendants, Oliver Gayle, Keturah Ferguson, Jorge Villanueva and George Powers, were arrested earlier this year for their involvement in the conspiracy. This brings the total number of indictments in this case to 20. Gayle and Ferguson have already pled guilty to racketeering charges, while the other two defendants are awaiting trial.
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