Friday, July 31, 2009

The weekend is here and Jorge Baluja is UPSET!

Lets all give a warm welcome to the newest reader of the Straw Buyer, DETECTIVE JORGE BALUJA! Looks like Mr. Baluja found the Miami Beach 411 article and was then redirected here. Glad you're on board Jorge! Too bad you're upset buddy! I mean really, did you think the voices of Blanton Harris, Jakeem Atwell, Frantz Raymond and Chris Marshall were going to remain silent forever? Come on, you know better than that!

Unlike you Jorge, I went and met with the people involved in your botched traffic accident investigation and LISTENED to what they had to say. If not for their description of how you handled the incident and your deplorable treatment of innocent citizens I would have never gone any further. Your behavior was TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE, not to mention an embarrassment to all the good, honest and hard working law enforcement officers out there. It didn't surprise me the least bit to learn that you went on to bigger and better things, after all it seems in Miami when law enforcement officers fail, they fail UP rather than down! I was sure when I read about your mortgage fraud case that there was no way you could have done it without making as much of a mess out of it as you did in the traffic accident.

Honestly Jorge, did you think you could play with fire and NOT GET BURNT?

Yes Jorge, it's time to "SET SAIL FOR FAIL!" On our cruise we'll have several ports of call including the lovely Isle of INTERNAL AFFAIRS, then we'll sail on down to the quaint port of FDLE and we'll conclude our cruise in the warm strangely comfortable waters of PUBLIC HUMILIATION.

Before we go on, I'd like to let those in law enforcement out there that are following this story that I have the utmost respect for the good, hardworking, honest police that are out there protecting the citizenry. If not for these public servants putting their lives on the line day in and day out, we would be living in a lawless society. Its cops like Jorge Baluja that give you guys a bad name.

I'm out for the weekend, check back Monday morning for more, next week we'll be meeting the BUSIEST MAN IN THE MDPD!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A demotion for Jorge Baluja? Another Mortgage Fraud case and prosecution by ASA Bill Kostrzewski.

I'm flabbergasted from yesterdays earth shattering news about Detective Jorge Baluja's past adventures. I have to distract myself, if I keep thinking about this dimwit cop, I'll lose my marbles. Like I said in a previous post, I'm starting to get little tidbits from here and there about Detective Baluja, today I'm told that shortly after he made the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case arrests he was moved from the Miami Dade County Mortgage Fraud Task Force and sent down to the Auto Theft department! That's a curious development now isn't it? How do you go from just making a headline case to being transferred to Auto Theft? Does that make sense? How often do you see a lead detective in a case that made news around the nation get transferred in the middle of the case? Strange, I wonder if this is true. I'll have to call the MDPD Economic Crimes Bureau and see if there is indeed a Jorge Baluja in Auto Theft.

Lets move on to the
mortgage fraud case that I discussed last week where the husband and wife team were charged with ripping off a family members identity. I was able to quickly find the information on Michele Walters (the wife), the clerk of courts website shows that ALL CHARGES WERE DROPPED 22 days after the initial arrests. As it was explained to me Ms. Walters told the state attorneys office that she had nothing to do with the crime and that it was her husband that was involved at some level or another, lets not forget that Michele Walters WAS THE MORTGAGE BROKER THAT CLOSED THE FRAUDULENT MORTGAGE IN QUESTION! As I mentioned before, the assistant state attorney assigned to this case, Bill Kostrzewski (the same one that is working the case that this blog is about) only 22 days after the arrests dropped all charges against Ms. Walters, surely he threw the book at Ms. Walters husband right?

It was a bitch to find the co defendant in this case, but I finally did. His name is Roberto Hernandez, DOB 03/21/1973. Mr. Hernandez was charged with the following (Court Case #: F-08-036990):
That's six heavy charges! I wonder what the bail amount must have been, after all from what we've seen in the Bernardo Barrera case, the bail amounts ranged from $75,000 for the attorney to $450,000 for the other two co defendants. This guy here has SIX charges versus the three charges the defendants in the other case had. What do you think, high six figures? Nope, total bail amount for all six charge was only $40,000! What's that all about? Based on what we've seen in the Bernardo Barrera case the bail amount here should have been through the damn roof! Oh well.

Mr. Hernandez is in trouble here, after all his wife had all the charges against her dropped after laying the blame for the crime at her husbands feet. Naturally we'd expect ASA Bill Kostrzewski to throw the book at this guy right? Again, 22 days after the initial arrests, ASA Bill dropped all but one charge against Mr. Hernandez and as its explained to me, the last remaining charge is about to be dropped as well! What a victory for the Mortgage Fraud task force huh? Amazing. I really hope justice was served here.

So far we've looked at two different cases both of which have the charges against the defendants dropped within 30 days. After comparing these two cases, you have to wonder if there seems to be a different standard for the defendants charged in the Barrera case. Logic would dictate that since the charges were similar (if not worse in the Walters/Hernandez case), wouldn't the bail amounts also be similar? We've seen in the Barrera arrests, the bail amounts were EXORBITANTLY HIGH and hardly in line with what we've seen in other mortgage fraud cases. Now we've seen two cases where the prosecution dropped the charges in less than 30 days, yet 10 months into the Barrera prosecutions all the original charges against the defendants remain. I wonder why.

I may have an answer to this mystery. I have to develop my theory a little more before I disclose it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Its been a long day, BIG NEWS in the world of Mortgage Fraud & a shipload of fail for Detective Jorge Baluja!

What a day. From the $40 million dollar Federal Mortgage Fraud bust to some serious and JUICY new information on the lead detective in our tale of mortgage fraud, Jorge Baluja. I must apologize to our readers here, I got caught up looking into the people who were charged and the states victim, I didn't take a close enough look at the Detective who was at the head of this investigation. Big news, I need a drink.

Oh well! So I'm running around today doing my normal daily routine and my phone rings with an email directing me to this story. HOLY CRAP! ARE YOU FCUKING KIDDING ME!? I had to pull my dumb ass over and reread this thing a couple of times. I was so shocked that I ran over to a computer and did a little looking myself. Lo and behold, a quick Google search leads me to this report from the Miami Dade County Independent Review Board and the minutes from the last hearing regarding the incident. That's some heavy crap for Detective Jorge Baluja. But again, after reading this report for some reason or another, my SPIDEY SENSES started tingling again.

Disbelief. The story about this, the simplest of ALL POSSIBLE TRAFFIC STOPS gone wrong is just too much to comprehend. How could this cop turn a traffic accident investigation and report into something so screwed up that it ended up being a shitstain on the personnel files of the top brass of the MDPD INCLUDING THE CHIEF OF POLICE! How the hell did Chief Leonard Burgess feel having to take the day off to attend this public slap in the face? My goodness. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Detective Jorge Baluja to be at the center of this mess and then on top of it have to attend this hearing where his superiors got BITCH SLAPPED? You would think that this incident would be burned into Baluja's mind, something that he must have run through his mind a million times both before and after the Internal Affairs investigation and the subsequent Independent Review Panel hearing. So what was Detective Baluja's recollection of the incident when asked during the investigation? Ready for it? He said:
"...he did not recall if he was working on that date."
EXCUSE ME? He was then shown a picture of Mr. John Oscar, one of the drivers involved in the traffic crash and also the red sports utility vehicle that Mr. Oscar was driving. Officer Baluja looked at the photographs and replied that:
"...he did not recall the incident."
Let me get this straight, this cop creates a mess so big that it turns into an internal affairs investigation which leads to a reprimand for himself, partner and the top brass of the MDPD? He can't remember a life changing event like this? Wow.

Moving along, regardless of the fact that the detective excluded important facts, eyewitness testimony and completely neglected undeniable physical evidence from a simple accident investigation, he then goes on to lie about whether or not he remembered the incident. Ok. Pardon my language here, IF YOU CAN FCUK UP THE SIMPLEST OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATIONS AND CANT REMEMBER THE MESS YOU CREATED LATER ON, THEN HOW IN THE FCUK ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO INVESTIGATE A COMPLEX CRIME LIKE MORTGAGE FRAUD!?

What the hell is actually required to become a detective in the MDPD?! I mean after hearing how he bungled up this accident investigation, ITS NO WONDER THAT HE MISSED ALL THE BASIC FACTS AND ALL THE WARNING SIGNS IN THE MORTGAGE FRAUD INVESTIGATION! This simple fact scares the living crap out of me. This cop who doesn't have a modicum of common sense is out there destroying peoples lives? First Blanton Harris (the owner of the truck that got rear ended) and now the defendants in this case. At the very least we know that two of the co defendants in the mortgage fraud case were guilty of something, BUT WHAT THE HELL DID THIS MENTAL GIANT THAT IS JORGE BALUJA HAVE ON THE ATTORNEY?

Moving right along! I made a little post at the end of the story on Miami Beach 411 to get a little traffic over here and BOOM! My email starts going nuts throughout the course of the afternoon and evening. I got the following:
  • Detective Jorge Baluja's education was limited to a High School Diploma.
  • Before he came to work at the MDPD, he had a job helping passengers with baggage at Royal Caribbean Cruise lines.
  • Detective Jorge Baluja spends a great deal of time online while at the office.
OK! No education past high school and he worked at a cruise line. But what about this spending time online at the job? Whats that all about? Turns out our good ole detective spends a great deal of his time playing around on social networking sites, cruising ebay and craigslist! Seems like he's got some colleagues that don't hold him in such high regard either. See the problem here? To date I've only spent less than half an hour total online researching this case and look at the MAJOR facts that we've found that turn this detectives case on its ear. Maybe if Baluja spent less time playing around online while on COUNTY TIME, he could have properly investigated this case the way it should have been done.

My conclusion after all these new developments today is that Jorge Baluja HAS NO PLACE INVESTIGATING ANYTHING. He's shown us that his investigatory skills are laughable and his powers of deductive reasoning are NON EXISTENT. I was thinking that perhaps Baluja is more suited to reading parking meters, but it seems like when it comes to Jorge, even the parking meters know what time it is...

I want to thank those who've sent me information on the Detective and PLEASE KEEP IT COMING (! Rest assured your anonymity is guaranteed. Something tells me that this story is going to get A LOT MORE INTERESTING REAL QUICK!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another look into the states victim, Bernardo Barrera.

Thank god for Florida's sunshine law. Because of this wonderful law we have access to all kinds of records that we may not otherwise be entitled to. Combine the Sunshine Law with the county's excellent online services and you have most of the tools you need to investigate without ever leaving your desk. In looking a little closer at the states victim (Bernardo Barrera), I was able to check the Miami Dade County clerk of the courts office website, the Miami Dade County Property appraiser website and now I'll take a look at and see what I can find there. Perhaps Mr. Barrera after losing his job got the entrepreneurial spirit and incorporated his own company? BINGO! I searched for registered agents named Barrera, Bernardo and find this.

All good. I noticed that the address listed the principal address didn't match Bernardo Barrera's home address, so perhaps it was an office address for the corp. A couple of things struck me as strange though, as a former Coconut Grove resident, I recognized the zip code as a Grove zip code, but 527 SW 22 ave is certainly not in the Grove. The second thing is who uses "MGMT" in their company name? After all the state doesn't charge you by the character when you incorporate! Stuff like Inc. & Corp. I understand, but "MGMT"?! That got me thinking. I ran to google earth and look up the location. First problem is that neither Google earth, Mapquest or the Miami Dade County property appraisers office recognize that address as being valid. Now I'm really interested.

Mapquest suggests using zip code 33135 instead and here is what it gives us:

Again, I get as close as I can with the Property Appraisers office and get no 527 SW 22 ave in this vicinity, I only get this where it should be:

Now we're getting hot. I'm not up for another field trip, so my lazy ass is going to try to use Google Earth to find the address. Surely Mr. Barrera's place of business is hiding there SOMEWHERE! Here's what I found...

Are you seeing what I'm seeing?! I SEE AN EMPTY LOT! I know what you must be thinking!


Is this possible?! Did Bernardo Barrera set up a phony corporation with a phony address? NO WAY! I can't say with certainty that the business was phony, but the address CERTAINLY WAS!

Accident? Mistake? I don't know, but why the hell would you make up an address like that which leads to an empty lot, not to mention one that's been empty for MANY YEARS? Technically the address doesn't even exist, the photos that I'm showing here are of where the address should be if indeed it was a real address. That's also assuming that the zip code was a mistake (33133) as the zip code that would correspond to that address is 33135. Add in that "MGMT" in the company name and it all sounds a little too bizarre.

Forget what I think, if you were sitting in Detective Jorge Baluja's shoes and you had Bernardo Barrera telling you about his identity being stolen in a mortgage fraud case, after a little bit of investigating, wouldn't you begin to wonder about the validity of your victims claims? I mean after exerting the tiniest effort, we've already found that the states victim (Bernardo Barrera) has already committed mortgage fraud in the past, his claim of how he came to find out about the fraud is suspect and now we've found that Mr. Barrera is involved in some kind of monkey business with this funny corporation with a fake address.
What we've discovered after a cursory examination of the facts really makes you wonder, doesn't it? I mean, here I am a chump with no investigatory background, no formal police training and look at what we've uncovered. After seeing what we've found, can you find anything that Mr. Barrera says credible? At the very least any statements from Mr. Barrera would require a closer look wouldn't they? That's what you would think right?

The problem is that Detective Jorge Baluja didn't think to look into Mr. Barrera's claims. Based on what I've been able to obtain from the file, Detective Baluja (is it really fair to call him that?) DID NOT LOOK INTO THE MAN WHO CLAIMED TO BE THE VICTIM! If Detective Baluja would have checked the background of his "victim" he would have uncovered enough to raise doubt about his victims claims. Unfortunately Detective Baluja didn't think it was necessary to investigate.

For Detective Baluja, IT'S OFF TO THE RACES! From what we've seen so far, how bad could this investigation get? I've already requested the whole police file from the MDPD, I suspect its going to be a while before they give me anything. For the time being I'm left to what I can find on my own. Here we had the good detective, with all the resources available to him through the MDPD and he managed to miss these facts. Considering what we've found undermined his victims credibility, you have to wonder what else he could he have missed? How could he have built a case when he started off like this? Remember, we're talking about investigating a complex crime, Mortgage Fraud, not some entry level street crime or investigating a traffic accident!

It's time to take a better look at Detective Baluja's background. Tomorrow, I'll put in a request for his personnel file. Based on what I've seen so far I think we'll find a boatload of entertainment in there...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Regret. An interesting insight, STRAW BUYER STYLE!

So I'm chilling with a few friends the other night talking up a storm about people and their escapades over the last few years, status quo until my buddy drops a BOMB! He tells me about a guy that was using straw buyers to buy and flip homes, they'd pay the straw buyer $5,000 to $15,000 for the use of their credit then either buy and flip a home (quasi legit) or just cash out a ton of money and walk away. In this instance the guy who sold his credit had a falling out with the people who were running the scam and even though this guy actually went to the closing and signed all the documents, guess what he turned around and did?


DAMN! WTF IS THAT ABOUT! The cops didn't buy it, did they? Come on, no one would buy that line of crap! Guess what? They bought it HOOK LINE AND SINKER! The bank that made the loan removed the loan from the Straw Buyers credit and went after the people who put the deal together! Here we are a couple of years later and the Straw Buyer in casual conversation is actually bragging how he ratted the group out, got the money for selling his credit and in the end got the loan taken off his credit history!

Sound familiar? Perhaps the straw buyer had remorse after realizing that he had whored himself out for a few grand? Not likely. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest the following two scenarios:

  • The straw buyer realized that what they had done was wrong and in a fit of guilt decided to call the cops. Yeah right.
  • The straw buyer realized that the other people involved in the scam made A $HITLOAD OF MONEY and wanted more $$$$$!
The latter sounds more like MIAMI doesn't it? I can almost imagine the conversation, "hey you MF's made off with $________ and all I got was this lousy $__! Pay up or I'm going to the cops!

Now that's remorse, STRAW BUYER STYLE!

What kind of idiot would run to the cops and sell themselves out like that? After all, the Straw Buyer would implicate himself if he ratted out the whole scheme! Not when there's a new Mortgage Fraud Task Force that helped create new legislation requiring a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence for ID Theft! I'm guessing the cops eat this stuff up and look the other way to make these kinds of cases and the headlines that come with them!

What boggles the mind is that EVERYONE down here knew about these schemes, so why didn't the cops look into this guy who screamed ID THEFT? I don't know the details of this case other than what's posted above, but I'm sure Detective Jorge Baluja turned Bernardo Barrera's (the victim from the story in the herald that this blog is about) life upside down examining his claims of ID theft, right? RIGHT? From what I've seen over the last year, it seems to me that cops have trouble seeing whats in plain sight. I'm really beginning to wonder...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Looking a little deeper into the States victim, Bernardo Barrera. How the hell did the Detective miss this?

I guess if I was a detective investigating this case (for that matter any case), the first thing I would do is take a close look at my victim. Perhaps I'm paranoid, I have a hard time believing anything that comes out of peoples mouths these days or maybe I'm suspicious because of that old saying from my childhood "the one that smelt it, dealt it", needless to say I'm always a little weary of people that make noise about these kinds of crimes. Granted, the access we have to records in Dade County via the internet is amazing, in some instances you don't even have to leave the computer to learn everything you need to know about someone.

My first step was checking the Miami Dade County Property Appraisers office website, a quick search here under Mr. Barrera's name brings up the Oak ave property that was involved in the fraud and the second address that comes up is what we now know to be Mr. Barrera's primary residence which according to the property records was purchased by Mr. Barrera in November 2005 for $289,000. A quick look at the mortgage recorded with the recorders office shows that Mr. Barrera purchased the property as a single man and closed on November 22, 2005. Fairly common stuff, run of the mill mortgage, all good.

My next step was to move on to Miami Dade County Clerk of Courts website. I find that Mr. Barrera got divorced back in July 2004 and that he was sued by someone else back in August 2007 and got a final judgement against him November 2007. OK all good so far. I look up the case for the divorce, when I pull up the documents all I get is pages of partially blacked out documents that look like this:

What the hell is that all about? Is his divorce some secret CIA mess? Whats the deal here? Damn that's frustrating! But then I come upon this partially blacked out page:

"...change in circumstances as to the financial ability of the Former Husband, which was involuntary and permanent in nature, Former Husband would be entitled to the Court decreasing the award of regular child support. Said being retroactive to the date of filing."
So Mr. Barrera lost his job and asked for his child support to be reduced, no biggie. I was a little irritated by the documents being blacked out, so on Friday while I was taking care of some other business downtown, I went over to the court house and requested the file for case # 04-17724FC17PJ just for shits and grins. What I got was a pile of paperwork, the office where you get the case files isn't exactly conducive to spending time and reading so I figured I'd make some copies and review it later. The lines at the two ancient copiers were horrendous, then a seat opened up so I decided to take some time and at least try to find the document that said he lost his job that I was able to find online.

So here is some of what was covered up:

14- That on or about October 29, 2005, the Former Husband was terminated from employment.

15- That as a direct result of the Former's Husband's termination from employment as aforestated, Former Husband's financial ability has substantially and materially adversely changed.

16- That forthwith upon receiving notice of termination from employment, the Former Husband did file an appropriate application for unemployment benefit compensation.

17- That the Former Husband does not possess the present financial ability to provide for dependent medical, dental and/or vision coverage at this point in time.

18- That the Former Husband does not possess the present financial ability to provide for payment in accordance with the Marital Settlement Agreement as incorporated within the Final Judgement Granting Dissolution of Marriage with reference to the child support obligation.

OK, the poor guy lost his job, is broke, collecting unemployment benefits and can't pay his child support. Alrighty then, tough luck. Lets go on...

32- That the Former Wife does possess notice that the Former Husband is presently without income of any nature of any kind.

33- That the Former Wife has notice that the Former Husband has filed application for application (sic) for unemployment benefits but has not received those benefits to date.

I'm sorry, I thought he was already collecting unemployment benefits, I guess based on line 33 we are now told that he isn't receiving the benefits yet therefore has NO INCOME. Lets keep moving...

LOOK AT THE DATE! HOLY CRAP! The guy asked for this modification of child support on NOVEMBER 4, 2005! SEE THE PROBLEM? Lets pull up a part of his mortgage that he signed on November 22, 2005 and see if you can figure it out, pay close attention to ITEM NUMBER 8...

8- Borrower's Loan Application. Borrower shall be in default if, during the Loan application process, Borrower or any persons or entities acting at the direction of Borrower or with Borrower's knowledge or consent gave materially false, misleading, or inaccurate information or statements to Lender (or failed to provide Lender with Material information) in connection with the Loan.
WOW! Do you think Mr. Barrera told County Trust Mortgage Bankers Corp that he lost his job less than ONE MONTH BEFORE THIS CLOSING TOOK PLACE? I wonder? Do you think that he listed "NO INCOME AND WAITING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS" on his loan application? I DOUBT IT! I'll go out on a limb (since I don't have the loan application for his November 2005 primary home mortgage) and say that Bernardo Barrera "gave materially false, misleading or inaccurate information or statements to lender (or failed to provide Lender with Material information) in connection with the Loan", in other words boys and girls, BERNARDO BARRERA LIED IN ORDER TO OBTAIN THE MORTGAGE FOR HIS PRIMARY RESIDENCE ON NOVEMBER 22, 2005. In case you don't understand what I am alluding to, Mr. Barrera committed whats called...


That is THE TEXTBOOK DEFINITION OF MORTGAGE FRAUD! This cop built an entire case on the statements given to him by someone that has committed the VERY SAME CRIME THAT HE IS NOW INVESTIGATING! HOLY CRAP BATMAN!

I'm going to call County Trust Mortgage Bankers Corp and ask them on Monday about this scenario, specifically I'm going to ask them "if I lose my job and and have applied for unemployment benefits a couple of weeks before closing, can I still go through with the purchase?" Somehow I think I know what they're going to tell me, then I'll ask them "what if I lost my job before closing and I don't tell you?" Again, somehow I think I know what they'll answer as well...

Getting back to Detective Jorge Baluja at the inception of this case, do you think he looked into his alleged "victim" AT ALL? I doubt it, if he would have after about 10 minutes of research online (WITHOUT LEAVING HIS DESK!), he would have found that his victim was GUILTY OF MORTGAGE FRAUD in another transaction. Remember, this is just after a few minutes of research, after finding this bomb, he could have gone further into Mr. Barrera's past with tools that aren't available to the general public but are available to law enforcement, god only knows what would have come up if he did.

So here we are again with another BOMB that could have completely changed the direction of this investigation, another neon sign alerting you that somethings fishy, yet once again Detective Baluja ignores it and moves on...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Taking another look. Did Detective Jorge Baluja really listen to what the victim Bernardo Barrera said in his police report?

There are times when there's something staring you right in the face yet you don't see it. After a few moments of thought (for those of us that are not mentally challenged) and maybe a second look, these things JUMP RIGHT OUT AND SLAP YOU IN THE FACE! In the few posts that I've made to date there are already several bombs that Detective Jorge Baluja should have picked up. Lets start with the quote that I provided from the arrest affidavit earlier where Detective Baluja tells us how the victim Bernardo Barrera found out about the fraudulent mortgage and the ID theft:
"He testified that he become (sic) aware of this situation through his credit monitoring service He then contacted the Miami-Dade Police Department, which resulted in this investigation."
GOD DAMN I HATE THOSE CREDIT MONITORING SERVICES! A few years ago a hospital that I had visited informed me that there was a breach of security at their records department and that there was a possibility that the hospital records containing thousands of patients personal information may have been compromised. In an effort to mitigate any damage that could be caused by this breach, the hospital offered to pay for several years of credit monitoring through one of the many credit monitoring services available to the public. In my case I chose TruCredit and let me tell you it became NOTHING BUT A G--DAMN PAIN IN MY FCUKING ASS! I was constantly getting notifications about the slightest little thing on my credit history including but not limited to inquiries, change of address, change of employment, payment status, new accounts, change in credit limits, collections etc... It was so bothersome (constant emails, letters, etc) that I cancelled the service after a few months even though it didn't cost me anything (THAT'S HOW I ROLL YO!)

Enough with my rant, lets get back to the quote from the arrest affidavit. Detective Baluja says that in his statement to the police, the states victim Bernardo Barrera claimed that he was notified of the new mortgage through his credit monitoring service. That's fantastic, remember that Baluja also says (gratuitously) in his arrest affidavit that Bernardo Barrera "has good credit", even better. Now that we know that Mr. Barrera "has good credit" and that "...he become (sic) aware of this situation through his credit monitoring service", according to the affidavit upon being alerted to the new account or mortgage on his credit, Mr. Barrera immediately alerted the police. Great.

Lets take a closer look now and also look at the relevant dates. According the police report, Mr. Barrera claims that he was alerted to the new loan by the credit monitoring services on March 17, 2008 then for some reason or another HE TAKES TWO FULL DAYS TO FILE A POLICE REPORT (March 19, 2008)! So he was notified on a Monday that there was nearly $500,000 new mortgage in his name yet he waited until Wednesday to call the cops? Does that seem right? OK, lets be fair and extend the same benefit of the doubt to Mr. Barrera that Mr. Baluja did and move on. The closing involving the fraudulent mortgage where Mr. Barreras identity was stolen occurred on February 19, 2008, sort of bizarre that the police report was filed EXACTLY 30 DAYS LATER? This may be just a coincidence, whether it is or not we'll soon see that there are some VERY STRANGE coincidences involving dates in this story.

Now that we have some pertinent dates down, lets move forward. I've purchased a home before and gone through the process involved in obtaining a mortgage. The first step is filling out an application after which the broker or loan officer checks your credit history and sees whether you're credit worthy or not, usually a credit report is generated that's a summary of information from the three major credit reporting services. The instant the report is generated an inquiry is noted on your credit history on all the credit reporting agencies. If you meet the standards for credit worthiness with the bank, you're good to go. If you went through a mortgage broker (rather than going directly to a bank), if you're credit worthy, the broker will shop the loan around to different banks, if one bites they then turn around and pull your credit report again (once again instantly generating an inquiry which is noted on your credit history on all the credit reporting agencies). Best case scenario, you'll get one inquiry on your credit history, worst case you'll get two, then depending on the situation you would close 20 to 60 days later. HOLY CRAP!!

Did anyone else get it? Follow me here, PAY ATTENTION! The states victim gets notice from a credit monitoring service that there is a new loan in his name reported on his credit report THIRTY DAYS (30 YO!) AFTER THE LOAN CLOSED?! Not to mention that Mr. Barrera (who according to Detective Baluja has "good credit") has had at least one or as many as two inquiries on his credit history (remember that he diligently monitors through credit monitoring services) yet somehow only makes mention of being alerted of the "new loan" and nothing else? Remember my rant about the credit monitoring services from a few paragraphs ago? Remember how I told you they would constantly alert me of ANY ACTIVITY WHATSOEVER on my credit history? So how in this case did the states victim Mr. Bernardo Barrera only get notified of the NEW LOAN AND NOT THE INQUIRIES THAT LEAD UP TO IT? Lets go out on a limb here, what if indeed he was notified of the inquiries but just forget to tell the police about it? OH SNAP!

Let me remind the readers here that I have no training in the art of investigation, any knowledge of the legal system and I DIDN'T STAY IN A HOLIDAY INN LAST NIGHT! Yet my meager investigatory skills gleaned from watching Scooby Doo reruns as a child leads me to believe that there is something fishy going on here, I wonder did the Detective come to the same conclusion? Did the Detective smell something wrong and investigate further or did he just take Bernardo Barreras statement for fact and move on? Unfortunately from what I see in the arrest affidavit, the detective took Mr. Barrera for his word and moved on without further investigation into the claims that the states "VICTIM" made.

Once again we come upon a point in our journey were if Detective Jorge Baluja had exerted the slightest bit of effort, the case would have gone in a completely different direction. I KNOW YOU'RE THERE DETECTIVE, if I'm wrong, there's a little highlighted section below that says "post a comment", please feel free to correct me. Unfortunately, the facts outlined in your affidavit regarding the course of your investigation are pretty damning...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Its time for a FIELD TRIP!

Lets hit the road and find the root of this mortgage fraud who done it! My curiosity was peaked regarding this $600,000 home that was purchased just days before the sale for $185,000. The address points towards Coconut Grove (3390 Oak Avenue), what are we going to look at? A cool new townhouse? A hip old Florida bohemian Coconut Grove dwelling? Come on, for $600k we're looking for a bad ass abode right? Especially since this transaction occurred back in February 2008 well after the housing market was in decline and property values were already in the tank.

So off we go, perhaps after words I'll stop by one of those cool Grove eateries and get waited on by ex mortgage brokers! I use the trusty nav in my car to get me there, cruise down 32 ave and make a right onto Oak Ave. The further west I go, the worse its getting, almost to the point where I have to rethink WHY THE HELL AM I HERE! I come to the stop sign at the corner of Oak Ave and Elizabeth St and one of the neighborhood characters on a broken down old bike (is there a more PC way to say it?) graciously offers to sell me some drugs. I politely decline his offer and look around for a $600,000 home, unfortunately I see nothing that even resembles a home worth that much. I get ready to leave the stop sign and look over to my left for oncoming traffic and spot a crack house, at this point I almost had an accident (not vehicular either!). Low and behold the crack house on my left had the numbers 3390 on the front! GOOD LORD! I was looking directly at one thousand three hundred and four square feet of SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLAR HOUSE! Here's some photos for your viewing pleasure!

OK, before we get carried away here, let me play realtor and see if I can jazz this house up a little, lets imagine the listing...

Quaint two bedroom home in the heart of the grove, fireplace, guesthouse, corner lot. Great views and interesting architectural elements rarely found in the area, home is full of that old Florida charm! Ideally situated in a great neighborhood, great for small children. Conveniently located near major amenities.
Well? Does the description at least make it seem like a $600,000 house? FCUK THAT! Its a little run down house with a sagging roof that's in the worse area of the grove. Not even on the edge of the grove where the boundary between the good area and the bad is blurry, its just BAD! At best this is was a $250,000 to $275,000 home at the peak of the market. I'm assuming that at the time of the sale there were windows and there were actually people living in it. Seeing as how the area is rampant with drug users and dealers, I can see how once the house was vacated, the criminal elements in the area moved into it and destroyed it. I will bet money that at foreclosure sale, this house would be hard pressed to break $20,000.

After looking at the home that is the center of this mess, I've become even more infuriated. You wonder, did Detective Jorge Baluja ever go out and see the house himself? I would have to conclude that if he had done so, his investigation would have gone in a completely different direction. I wonder, what kind of training do the cops on the Mortgage Fraud Task Force get? I'm sure the training is intensive, thorough and covers all aspects of real estate transactions. At this point, I think we need to take a closer look at the good detective and see what he's about.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

THE TRAIN HAS LEFT THE STATION! Detective Jorge Baluja and his arrest affidavit.

As I mentioned before, the arrest affidavit that I obtained for the Estefano, Romney and Martinez case is lengthy. Its going to take a few days for me to digest the whole thing and check with a couple lawyers to get their opinions on different things that I see in there that don't seem kosher. Overall, I can see there was definitely some sort of complicity between John Romney and Michael Martinez, there is no denying that.

I don't know much about law, specifically criminal law, if anything you can say my law background is limited to what I learned from watching TV, the common thread in all the investigations from the TV shows was "follow the money" when investigating. By chance, I found this story in the Huffington Post where Glenn Theobald (the head of the Miami Dade County Mortgage Fraud Task Force) talks about his Mortgage Fraud Task Force. I found this quote funny:
We're talking cases that rival, in complexity, the painstaking drug-organization takedowns of "The Wire."
I loved that show! One of the things that Detective Lester Freamon made a point of saying again and again during the infancy of their unit in the first season was "Follow the money", specifically:
...start to follow the money, and you don't know where the fuck it's gonna take you.
Cool. I miss that show. So taking Detective Freamon's advice, why don't we follow the money in the case at hand. Based on the arrest affidavit there are three players:
  1. John Romney - this is the seller of the home located at Oak avenue that purchased said home only days before the closing that occurred involving the "straw buyer" and the Identity Theft. Based on the arrest affidavit he netted $234,896.88. Not bad for a days work!
  2. Michael Martinez -this is the guy who lent the "straw buyer" $125,000 as the earnest money for the closing and was then repaid the $125,000 and $10,000 more after the closing, therefore his net was $10,000
  3. Delaila Estefano -this is the attorney that closed this deal. Based on the arrest affidavit I see NO NET GAIN! That is besides whatever fees are charged for the closing (closing costs, title insurance etc), I sincerely doubt whatever that amount was comes even close to what the other two guys made.
Alrighty then! Lets go back to Detective Lester Freamons (a TV detective, not a real one) quote:
...start to follow the money, and you don't know where the fuck it's gonna take you.
Logic would dictate that you go after Romney and Martinez, these two cats are the ones that made off with a sack load of cash so wouldn't the focus of your investigation be on these guys? Strangely enough though after reading the affidavit thoroughly it seems as if the target of the investigation was the attorney. Bizarre huh? From what I read it looks like Detective Jorge Baluja didn't even look into the guy who claimed to be the victim of the Identity Theft! The only mention he makes of this guy is that "he has good credit" and that:
The true Bernardo Barreira (sic) provided an affidavit that he never bought the above monetioned (sic) property, never applied for any loan to buy it, nor did he give anyone authorization to do so on his behalf. He testified that he become (sic) aware of this situation through his credit monitoring service. He then contacted the Miami-Dade Police Department, which resulted in this investigation.
Anyone see anything strange in that statement? For the astute among you I'm sure you already see the problem with the statement, we'll read between the lines a little later on. I also get a kick out of the detectives statement where he says "he has good credit." How does the detective know? Did he pull his credit report? Did the "victim" provide him with a copy of his credit report? This is where the good detective steps on his first land mine. The nature of this investigation could HAVE COMPLETELY CHANGED if the detective would have simply investigated the "victims" claims.

He didn't. This is where things begin to go horribly wrong.

The train has left the station...

Monday, July 20, 2009

THE MIAMI HERALD DELIVERS! FAIL, that is! More crappy reporting from David Ovalle...

So I'm doing a little research on David Ovalle (the guy who wrote the article in the Miami Herald on October 7, 2008 regarding this case) and come across this, I notice from what I read that Mr. Ovalle has some trouble with interpreting basic facts. In the Ranck story he made a mistake regarding the speedy trial deadline and was corrected by several people in the comments section of the blog. I have now obtained the Arrest Affidavit for the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud/ID theft arrests so I decided to compare it to what Mr. Ovalle wrote in his article. Here is a quote from Mr. Ovalle's article:
"From Estefano's escrow account, $369,896.88 was paid to Romney, and $135,000 was kicked back to Martinez's bank account."
Help me out here, the way I read it was that the attorney paid Romney (the seller) $369,896.88 and then "kicked back" (again from the attorneys escrow account) $135,000 to Martinez (the guy who lent the straw buyer the cash to close). Is that the way you read that quote from the Herald article that Mr. Ovalle wrote? If so, isn't that juicy? Doesn't that make for scandalous news? SHAME ON THE ATTORNEY for KICKING MONEY BACK to someone! Is there any good way to interpret the term "kicked back"? The term reeks of wrong doing, under handed business and overall shadiness. The accusations are bad enough as it is but this little bit of extra spice is what Mr. Ovalle needed to blow the story up. Lets look at reality now. Here is an excerpt from the arrest affidavit for this case:

Estefano caused $369,896.88 of the loan proceeds to be wired from Estefano’s escrow account to Romney’s bank account. Subsequently, $135,000.00 was wire transferred from Romney’s account to the bank account of the third party Michael Martinez. No payments whatsoever have been made on the loan.”
Huh? Where's the monies that were "KICKED BACK" from the trust account? As I read the text of the arrest affidavit I see that there was a $396,896.88 disbursement that was made to the seller from the proceeds of the sale of the home. WHERE DID MR. OVALLE FIND THAT THE ATTORNEY KICKED BACK ANY MONEY TO A THIRD PARTY? WTF IS THAT ALL ABOUT!? How did we get from whats in the affidavit to "KICKED BACK to Martinez's account"! This is what did it for me, it just didn't seem probable that an attorney thats been practicing since 1999 (from the article) would do something like this. Not to mention that the affidavit outlines how John Romney and Michael Martinez made off with nearly $400k but I see nothing in the arrest affidavit that says anything about the attorney making anything off the ill gotten gains from this transaction. WTF x 100! This is just another example of sloppy reporting at the herald, but in this instance its made a bad situation MUCH WORSE. Whats the public perception when they read that the attorney "kicked back" money from their escrow account? Can there be a more injurious statement in this instance? This is just the beginning.


I DID IT! I finally got the arrest affidavit! OK! Now what? Its a fairly lengthy document, it reads OK at first glance, but after going over it a few times I see some major issues, perhaps issues that I won't be able to resolve without having access to records that aren't in the public domain, so lets see what happens. I see that Judge Julio Jimenez signed off on it, I wonder did he read the affidavit or did he just rubber stamp it? Do you think he would have used an abundance of caution before signing what amounted to a death sentence for an attorneys career? I would hope so. I would hate to think that the Honorable Judge Jimenez just added his initials and signature to this document that Detective Jorge Baluja prepared and gave to him without considering the consequences, unfortunately only he knows the answer to that question. I don't know but somehow that look on the judges face has me worried...

There is one problem that SCREAMS AT ME, the same problem that peaked my interest in this story in the first place.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Slow going...

I feel like Sisyphus trying to push the boulder up the hill! It's not easy for someone that's not in the legal profession or law enforcement to find out much about these cases. Although the arrest affidavit for this case is public record, its not exactly easy for me to get my hands on it, I am working on it though. What I have been able to come up with is whats readily available on the Miami Dade Clerk of Courts website, here I have access to the criminal histories of anyone that's ever been arrested in the county. Lets start with three defendants and see what they've done in the past besides the charges stemming from this case:

John Romney (DOB 4/7/81)
  • GRD THFT/3D/300+/-5K
Micheal Martinez (DOB 12/1/77)

Delaila Estefano (DOB 4/12/73)
  • no crimnal history

Interesting. The two co defendants have a moderate criminal history ranging from playing around with pot to committing grand theft, the attorney has nothing. On October 3, 2008 all three were charged with the same charges, they are:

  1. Organized Scheme to Defraud
  2. Grand Theft
  3. Identity Theft
Pretty interesting from a lay persons point of view, three heavy charges on all three defendants one of which (the identity theft) has a minimum mandatory sentencing guideline. The bail amounts for the three are as follows:

  1. John Romney $450,000
  2. Micheal Martinez $450,000
  3. Delaila Estefano $75,000
That's some serious money boys and girls! But again, something didn't seem right. Those bail amounts seemed awful high to me, I've researched other mortgage fraud arrests and have yet to see another one with bail amounts this high. Lets take a look at a specific case with similar charges (a case BTW whose arrests were made only 4 days after this one), the case involving Michele Walters (case #F-08-036971). As it was explained to me this is a case where Michele Walters (who is a mortgage broker) and her husband purchased a home under their Aunts name, the Aunt supposedly had no knowledge of the purchase and when alerted to it, immediately called the police and filed a police report. On the surface, it seems to be the exact same case that we read about in the Miami Herald where Romney, Martinez and Estefano were arrested so logic would dictate that the bail amounts should be exactly the same correct (or almost the same)? Lets see what the charges are:
YIKES! That sounds as bad or worse than what the others were charged with! So whats the bail amount here? At least six figures right? Fortunately for them the bail amount was far short of six figures, it was only $27,500. What the hell is that about? Maybe a different Assistant State Attorney was assigned to the case and perhaps he saw things differently than ASA Bill Kostrzewski did on the other case? Guess who the ASA is on the Michele Walters case? SHAZAM!!!!!! Its ASA Bill Kostrzewski! What are the chances?

But why the radically reduced bail amounts? Why isn't this case ANYWHERE in the media? After all, the arrests in this case were made only four days after the case in the Herald, why no fanfare? Remember the date October 3, 2008, there's something about that date that's important and I believe much of what happened in the Barrera mortgage fraud case has to do with that date. We'll revisit that date a little later...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where it started

For me, it all started with the Miami Herald article printed on the obituary page back in October 7, 2008 which reported on the arrests that were made on October 3 on a ID theft/Mortgage fraud case. Remember this date, we'll come back to it later. Here is the article written by David Ovalle (not the sharpest pencil in the box over at the Herald):

Delaila Estefano, 35, and two men were charged last week with first-degree grand theft, organized fraud and using a fake ID.

She was released after posting a $75,000 bond. Estefano, a University of Miami grad with an office in Kendall, has been a lawyer in Florida since 1999.

''We are continuing to do our own investigation into this matter, and are very confident that Ms. Estefano will be exonerated,'' said her attorney, Jason M. Wandner.

Co-defendants John Romney, 27, and Michael Martinez, 30, were still in jail Monday.

The arrests were made by the Miami-Dade Police Department's Mortgage Fraud Task Force, which was created in response to the massive mortgage fraud that plagued South Florida during the housing boom, and put the country's economic future at risk.

The Miami-Dade prosecutor in the case is Bill Kostrzewski.

According to an arrest warrant released Monday, someone in February used the identity of Bernardo Humbero Barreira to obtain a $484,286.06 mortgage from lender Citi Mortgage for a house owned by Romney.

The price tag: $600,000. But Romney had paid just $185,000 for the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house just six days earlier.

Martinez paid a $123,286.06 down payment, according to the warrant by Miami-Dade Detective Jorge Baluja. From Estefano's escrow account, $369,896.88 was paid to Romney, and $135,000 was kicked back to Martinez's bank account.

HOLY CRAP! There's some serious stuff going on there! Identity theft (no the one pictured above is not from this case), mortgage fraud, flipping a property netting $415,000, monies getting "kicked back", DAMN! This deal sounds like its got a little of everything in it! What a piece of reporting! What an investigation! This Detective Jorge Baluja sounds like he did a bang up job, didn't he! Didn't he? Does this make sense? What's up with inflammatory phrases like "kicked back"? Somehow this sounds less like reporting and more like something that was fed to the paper by the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, almost like a press release. This is what set me off.

Something didn't seem right here. Based on the reporting I've seen regarding mortgage fraud arrests, very rarely if ever is there an attorney arrested, in this instance the statement "$135,000 was kicked back" implies that there was complicity on the attorneys part. Have things gotten so bad that an attorney would need to resort to this kind of behavior? Based on the article a UM educated attorney whose been practicing for nearly 10 years, does that fit the profile of a crook? SURELY Detective Baluja must have had some serious dirt on this lawyer to go ahead and make this kind of career ending arrest. Surely the state attorney in charge of this case would have used an abundance of caution before "bringing down" a fellow lawyer correct?

Its here that I decided to look a little closer at this story, my next step is to obtain a copy of the arrest warrant. Lets see whats in there. While were at it, we'll go ahead and take a closer look at the players involved.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

WTF is this about?

It's been an interesting ride over the last few years in the RE market here in South Florida, from legit transactions, flips, scams to the infamous straw buyers who sold their credit for some pocket money all with a dash of mortgage fraud to keep things spicy. Now that the party's over and Wall Street has had it's way with its mortgage backed securities, the public is in an uproar and it's time for law enforcement to start making some headlines by bringing the bad guys to justice. Down here in sunny Miami, our brave mayor Carlos Alvarez and his right hand man, Glenn Theobald put together a Mortgage Fraud Task Force that through their investigations and subsequent arrests with strategically planned press releases went on with much fanfare to become a model for a nationwide federal task force!

YES! A victory for the residents of Miami Dade county!! Finally, we can hold our heads up and be proud of the MDPD's Economic Crimes Bureau and its Mortgage Fraud Task Force! Right? A bad ass group of cops with experience and hellacious investigatory skills that can bring down the elusive fraudsters that helped create our housing bubble and the havoc that has befallen our economy. Right? RIGHT?

It all sounds great on the surface, cops doing real police work, bringing the bad guys to justice and saving the day. Super, that is until the day I read an article in the Herald that just didn't seem right, great headline about a mortgage fraud case, but somehow the story didn't make sense, so I decided to take a closer look. What I found turned my stomach. Over the next few months, I'll tell a story of a Mortgage Fraud investigation and a prosecution that is so screwed up that it will confound anyone with even a modicum of common sense.

Stay tuned...