NEW YORK—Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced Thursday that 17 individuals—including two attorneys—have been charged in multimillion dollar real estate fraud.
The defendants swindled from legitimate homeowners and various lending institutions, collecting more than $3 million in equity from 26 refinanced residential properties valued at $13 million. Many of the loans then went into default, leaving homeowners homeless in some cases and lending institutions with insufficient collateral and substantial loses.
Twelve of the defendants are in custody, while five are still being sought. They are variously charged with first-and second-degree grand larceny, first-degree criminal possession of stolen property, first-degree money laundering, first-degree identity theft, and the list goes on. If convicted, the defendants will face as long as 25 years in prison.
“Money loss aside, the defendants are accused of creating a human tragedy of immense proportions for the homeowners who had turned to them in a desperate hope of saving their homes from foreclosure,” said Brown in a press release.
Brown said that the investigation has revealed the two ringleaders of the mortgage fraud scheme, Roger Huggins and Inderpaul Sookraj. The duo owned and operated a company in Richmond Hill, Queens, that went by various names including Home Solutions Management, Home Solutions Enterprises, and Home Solutions Limited. The company held itself out to be a home foreclosure rescue corporation.
Huggins and Sookraj offered to help the homeowners by telling them to make the title to the house in the name of a third-party purchaser—also known as a straw buyer—for a year, during which time the two defendants promised to improve the homeowners’ credit rating, help them obtain more favorable mortgages on their homes, and ultimately, return the title of their homes to them.
However, in order to keep as much of the mortgage proceeds as possible, the duo fabricated reasons to hold the homeowners’ funds in escrow, such as saying the equity withdrawn from the properties would be used to pay the mortgages and expenses of the homes and to repair the homeowners’ credit.
Allegedly, the duo was also inducing distressed homeowners to sell or transfer their properties directly to them for reduced prices, as well as drafting and filing fraudulent documents that claimed that they had purchased a home from a homeowner who, in fact, had died a year prior to the closing.
“These defendants were licensed professionals—attorneys, mortgage brokers and real estate advisers,” said State Banking Superintendent Richard Neiman. “Instead of acting as the gatekeepers whose function it is to protect the interests of vulnerable homeowners, they abused their positions in order to steal millions of dollars.”