Lori J. Macakanja of Dunkirk, N.Y. has entered a guilty plea to mail fraud and the theft of government money, charges that carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, announced U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. and Christy L. Romero, the Acting Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP). Macakanja, in her capacity as a housing counselor employed by HomeFront Inc., inappropriately requested money from clients. The defendant told HomeFront clients that the money would be used toward loan modifications to prevent foreclosure on their homes.
However, after receiving the funds, Macakanja used the money for her own personal use, including gambling, and failed to obtain the loan modifications for the victims. A total of 136 HomeFront clients were defrauded with losses totaling $300,000.
In addition, Macakanja also obtained federal grant monies from the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) for HomeFront clients. On two occasions, she diverted $2,000 worth of BURA money to pay her own personal mortgage.
"Sadly, this plea again demonstrates how a person who is in a position of trust, a housing counselor, abused that trust by preying upon the most vulnerable victims of the housing crisis—homeowners who could not pay their mortgage,” said Acting Special Inspector General Romero. “SIGTARP and its law enforcement partners will tenaciously pursue criminal charges against those who steal from homeowners by taking advantage of TARP's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and other legitimate government programs."
SIGTARP investigates fraud, waste, and abuse related to HAMP and all other TARP-funded programs. HAMP encourages loan servicers and investors to modify mortgages to reduce the monthly payments of homeowners who are risk of default. There is no fee to homeowners to apply for a loan modification under HAMP.
"For many, owning a home is the American dream," said U.S. Attorney Hochul. "The victims in this case turned to the defendant for help in holding on to that dream. The defendant took advantage of her clients' trust, and gambled away her victims' hard earned money. This Office will vigorously
prosecute anyone who takes advantage of our most vulnerable citizens."