The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, the Office of the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office have announced the arrest of 11 individuals for their role in a mortgage fraud case that spanned Flagler, Volusia and Lake Counties in Florida, involving 23 homes and resulting in more than $9 million in losses. Four people are still wanted in relation to this case. All individuals are charged with one count of criminal racketeering and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, both first-degree felonies.
The two-year investigation, named “Operation Fast Cash Kickback,” focused on a complex scheme involving homebuyers, realtors, appraisers and mortgage brokers. Investigators allege the charged individuals artificially raised home prices, falsified appraisals and pocketed large amounts of cash by facilitating a series of fraudulent home sales. The scam involved using straw buyers to purchase a home. The straw buyer’s realtor then asked the seller to raise the price of the home in order for the difference to be provided back to the straw buyer for alleged “renovations.” The appraiser would then inflate the price of the home to meet the contract sales price. At closing, a designated third-party individual or shell company received the proceeds for “renovations,” which ranged from $25,000 to $320,000 for each sale. The third-party recipient then returned a majority of the funds back to the straw buyer via check or wire transfer. No renovations were ever conducted on the homes and each of the properties foreclosed a short time after the sale. The estimated loss to date is approximately $9 million.
The following individuals were arrested: Jonathan Bravo of Miami; Cristian Diaz of Doral, Fla.; Jamie De La Roche of Lake Worth, Fla.; Carlos Esteller of Miami; Edith Esteller of Miami; Patricia De La Espiella of Miramar, Fla.; Carmen Ganem of Miami; Claudia Ganem of Miami; Argenis Lugo of Doral, Fla.; Adrian Pena of Miami and Linda Kasper of Flagler Beach, Fla.
The following are still being sought by authorities: Nieves Alvarez of Miami; Nelson Pinzon of Delray Beach, Fla.; Cruz Urbano of Hialeah, Fla. and Randy Ly of Seattle, Wash.