Eleven individuals from five states have been charged in New Jersey for their alleged roles in a $15 million mortgage fraud scam that used phony documents and “straw buyers” to make illegal profits on overbuilt condos, including a defendant who attempted to murder a witness to the scheme, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced. Willie W. Richardson of Bloomfield, N.J.; Sean A. Souels of Philadelphia; Nancy E. Wolf-Fels of Toms River, N.J.; Deborah L. Hanson of Voorhees, N.J.; Seth A. Fuscellaro of Wildwood Crest, N.J.; Larry L. Fullenwider of Millburn, N.J.; and Angela L. Celli of Somerset, Mass., are in federal custody following their arrests by special agents of the FBI and IRS–Criminal Investigation. Dwayne K. Onque of Belleville, N.J., surrendered to authorities as well. Timothy D. Ricks of East Orange, N.J.; and Orlando Allen of Fayetteville, Ga. are expected to surrender to federal authorities. Kinard J. Henson of Ventress, Ala. was already in federal custody in Alabama.
All 11 defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Additionally, Ricks, Henson, Richardson, Allen, and Onque are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Henson also is charged with the attempted murder of a straw buyer who was a witness to the mortgage fraud scheme.
“According to the indictment, these defendants created false documents and used straw buyers to convince lenders to give them $15 million for properties that were worth far less,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “Members of the scheme were willing to launder money—and even to kill—in order to get their hands on the profits and cover their tracks. This case illustrates not only the seriousness of mortgage fraud, but also our focus on eliminating the criminal element from our markets to protect the health of our wider economy.”
According to the superseding indictment: Ricks and his co-conspirators located oceanfront condominiums overbuilt by financially distressed developers to purchase, negotiating a buyout price with the sellers of the properties. They then caused the sales prices for the properties—located in Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood, N.J.; other locations in New Jersey; and in Naples, Fla.—to be much higher than the buyout price to ensure large proceeds. Celli and Fuscellaro helped conceal the true sales prices of certain properties through inflated sales contracts and sale and finder fee agreements.
Ricks, Henson, Allen, and Souels then recruited straw buyers, such as Fullenwider and Onque, to purchase those properties at the inflated rates. The straw buyers had good credit scores but lacked the financial resources to qualify for mortgage loans. The conspirators created false documents such as fake W-2 forms, pay stubs, bank statements, and investment statements to make the straw buyers appear more creditworthy than they actually were in order to induce the lenders to make the loans.
To prepare the straw buyers’ false loan applications, Ricks and his conspirators caused fraudulent mortgage loan applications in the names of the straw buyers, including the supporting documents, to be submitted to mortgage brokers—including Wolf-Fels and Hanson—that the brokers knew were false, attributing to the straw buyers inflated income and assets. Once the loans were approved and the mortgage lenders sent the loan proceeds in connection with real estate closings on the properties, Ricks and his conspirators took a portion of the proceeds, having funds wired or checks deposited into various accounts they controlled. They also distributed a portion of the proceeds to other members of the conspiracy for their respective roles.
Henson learned of a subpoena seeking documents in connection with a straw buyer’s purchases of real estate properties shortly after it was served by federal law enforcement agents on a mortgage brokerage firm. Henson, who had recruited the straw buyer, contacted another individual to kill the straw buyer. They then lured the straw buyer to a wooded area in Mobile, Ala. At Henson’s direction and using Henson’s firearm, the other individual shot the straw buyer multiple times.
The wire fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The attempted murder of a witness charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.