Friday, May 28, 2010

File a complaint damn it!

Sure, why not file a complaint against Detective Baluja!  Why not go to the MDPD internal affairs department and tell them what a fantastic job he's done?  Why not?  Let's take a look at what happened when Harold Wolfe filed a complaint against cops that park their cruisers in handicap spots at donut shops, here he is being interviewed by an internal affairs detective Lt. Gary Bearfield after filing his complaint...

Bearfield: I have been doing these kind of investigations for thirty years
and I intend to do a very thorough investigation.

Bearfield: Do you have a driver’s license?
Harold: No!
Bearfield: How did you get here today?
Harold: A friend drove me here.
Bearfield: This incident occurred on March 16th?
Harold: Yes
Bearfield: Around 5:30 in the morning?
Harold: Yes
Bearfield: What do you do for work?
Harold: I’m retired.
Bearfield: What did you do when you did work?
Harold: Software.
Bearfield: When do you normally wake up in the morning?
Harold: About 3 in the morning.
Bearfield: What brought you to Dunkin Donuts at 5:30
Harold: I’m there most days.
Bearfield: Do you just sit there with a camera and recorder waiting
for someone to park in handicap?

Harold: No, I work on my computer.
Bearfield: Have you found other cars parked there?
Harold: Yes.
Bearfield: Other police cars?
Harold: Yes, including another state trooper.
Bearfield: Do you have issues with others who are not police?
Harold: Yes, but who would I complain to.
Bearfield: Are you diabetic?
Harold: No, why do you ask?
Bearfield: Well, you know this Dunkin Donuts sugar stuff.
Bearfield: Do you take any drugs?
Harold: No
Bearfield: Do you take any medications at all for heart disease?
Harold: I take no medications at all. Nada. Nyet! None. Zero. No.
Bearfield: Have you even been in prison?
Harold: No.
Bearfield: Have you ever been in county jail?
Harold: No
Bearfield: Have you ever been arrested?
Harold: Yes
Bearfield: How many times?
Harold: I can’t remember?
Bearfield: More than 10 times?
Harold: No!
Bearfield: More than five times?
Harold: Maybe. You can look it up.
Bearfield: We don’t do background checks on people who file complaints.
Bearfield: Have you ever been treated for mental illness?
Harold: No. Has trooper Jonathan Brown been treated for mental illness?
Bearfield: Not that I’m aware of.
Bearfield: Are you familiar with Photoshop?
Harold: Yes.
Bearfield: Did you use it?
Harold: No.
Harold: My complaint pointed to a web page. Did you examine the web page?
Bearfield: No.
Harold: You are the investigating officer and you are going to do a
VERY THOROUGH INVESTIGATION but you did not examine the
web page?

Bearfield: That’s correct.
Harold: How did you see any pictures or hear the audio?
Bearfield: That was sent to us in printed form by headquarters.
Harold: Why did the trooper park in handicap?
Bearfield: We do not know yet, but he has until this week to send us his report.
Harold: If you do not prosecute him for using the color of law to
threaten someone with arrest, I will file federal charges
against him and you.

Bearfield: Is that a threat?
Harold: No, that is a set of steps I will take against you for failing
to apply laws against the state police. I remind you that
you are a public servant.

Bearfield: I am a public employee. I am not a public servant.
Bearfield: Was there any contact with the officer?
Harold: No, we were always five feet away from each other.
Bearfield: Were there any witnesses to this event with the trooper besides you?
Harold: Yes, there were many regulars at Dunkin’s Donut. You can acquire
the video from their cameras.

Harold: I expect you to whitewash this investigation.
Bearfield: Why would you think so?
Harold: That’s where I’m placing my money. I await your final report.
Bearfield: Do you have any further questions?
Harold: Will I get a copy of the final report?
Bearfield: Yes. I expect the investigation to be finished in a week or two.
That's encouraging isn't it?  After reading that interview did you get the feeling that the man who made the complaint was the bad guy?  Perfect example of why you can't trust internal affairs to do anything about bad cops, if you want results with color of law violations, you got to go to these guys...  

Got to go!  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pure comedy courtesy of ASA Bill Kostrzewski.

We told our readers at the conclusion of yesterdays post that were were going to scour through Detective Jorge Baluja's deposition transcripts from the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case in order to find out how the good detective investigated the role the impostor (if one really existed) who appeared at the closing and executed all the docs relating to the purchase of the home located on Oak Avenue.  So off we went with the depo transcripts in hand, ready to pour all over them in the hopes of making some sense out of how Detective Baluja conducted his investigation.  How far did we get?  We couldn't even make it past the first page without nearly $hitting our pants from laughing. 
We have to thank none other than Assistant State Attorney Bill Kostrzewski for the laughs, take a look for yourselves, from the first page where one of the defense attorneys is asking Detective Baluja a simple question to which ASA Kostrzewski objects...

Jorge Baluja Deposition With Bill Kostrzewski Telling Him Not to Answer Questions Page 1  

Simple question, but the prosecutor objects then clearly tells Detective Baluja not to answer the question...

Wait a minute!  The prosecutor can't do that!  This isn't the first time we've seen ASA Kostrzewski instruct a witness not to answer a question now is it?  Does everyone remember when he pulled the same stunt during the deposition of defendant Michael Martinez?  Let's keep going, onto page two where the defense attorney clearly objects to Mr. Kostrzewski's instructions to Detective Baluja not to answer the question...

Jorge Baluja Deposition With Bill Kostrzewski Telling Him Not to Answer Questions Page 2

WTF was that?!  Here the prosecutor tells us that he's not Detective Baluja's attorney and that indeed he can not instruct him not to answer a question!  Look for yourselves...

Huh?  Just two seconds ago you told Jorge not to answer!

So which is it Bill?  We're confused!  

Best of all, when the defense attorneys put some pressure on veteran economic crimes prosecutor Bill Kostrzewski (Francisco Alvarado's words not ours) he fires back with this...

BRILLIANT!  See a pattern here folks?  As with the Martinez deposition, it seems after these outbursts by ASA Kostrzewski that he's taking these questions a little too personally, almost as if the defense attorneys were deposing him rather than the witnesses.  See how agitated he gets when the attorneys ask sensitive questions or when the witnesses deviate from what ever script Kostrzewski wanted them to follow?  The question that begs to be asked though is with Kostrzewski yanked from the Barrera mortgage fraud prosecution, what are the witnesses going to say without him coaching them?  The next few depos should be real interesting.

We're going to really buckle down and take a close look at those depos again tomorrow, hopefully without having to put them down in a fit of laughter...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The mystery man in the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case.

Everyone remember the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud that was expertly investigated by Detective Jorge Baluja then subsequently prosecuted by ASA Bill Kostrzewski?  In case the details have slipped your mind, let's recap, from the Miami Herald article:
...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
Get it?  Someone used Barrera's (or is it Barreira) identity to obtain a $484,286.06 mortgage to purchase a house owned by Romney who had purchased it six days earlier for $185,000.  Michael Martinez lent the buyer $123,286.06 for the down payment.  Easy right?

So here we are nearly two years after the arrests and there's a whole mess of people that were involved in this fraud that haven't been arrested.  If you subscribe to the theory that Barrera never appeared at the closing, then why hasn't the guy who impersonated him been arrested?  After all, isn't he the one actually guilty of identity theft?  If indeed there was in impostor, it's his hand that forged Barrera's signature, so why hasn't he been charged?  Nearly two years into this case we have Michael Martinez the man who lent the down payment to the buyer whose cut a deal with the state and is practically finished with his probation, why hasn't he given up the impostor?  On the other hand we have John Romney, the man who made off with nearly $500k as a result of this fraud whose sold out everyone but his mother (who knows, maybe her too) in order to save himself from doing any jail time, surely he must have implicated the impostor right?  

Where is this mystery man folks?  This missing member of the "organized scheme to defraud" could stitch together the entire case, yet why is this crucial member of the fraud missing?  If indeed he did exist, he could identify who paid him to show up to execute the docs (surely he didn't do it for free), who recruited him and who had knowledge of what was going on, yet here we sit quickly approaching the two year anniversary of the arrests and we have ZIP, NADA, ZILCH!  Wouldn't you think that this would be the first and most important member of this scheme that Detective Baluja would have gone after?  We'll scour through his deposition transcripts again and see what he's got to say...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reader questions, am I a Straw Buyer?

As we've mentioned in the past, the brilliant Google analytic software we use gives us the different terms that people search that lead them to our site.  Yesterday we picked up a new reader who arrived at our blog by searching for various terms relating to "Straw Buyer" frauds.  Let's see what was on their mind...
"i was unknowingly a straw buyer"
Really?  How could you have unknowingly been a Straw Buyer?  Unless your identity was stolen, there is virtually no way you could have been an "unknowing" Straw Buyer!  That's a good one though, I'm sure prosecutors like ASA Bill Kostrzewski would just gobble that one up.
"do straw buyers always get caught?"
NAH!  At least not the way things are handled down here in Miami-Dade county!  Down here police and prosecutors will end up letting you off the hook and helping you remove the fraudulent loan from your credit history.  While they're at it, they may even give you the key to the city and a big ole hug!
"how do straw buyers get caught?"
That's a good one.  We don't know about where you're from, but based on what we've seen by the police and state attorneys office handling of the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case, we think the only way you would get caught is if you went down to the PD and confessed to your role in the fraud, a tattoo across your forehead saying "I'm a Straw Buyer who's guilty of mortgage fraud" probably wouldn't hurt matters.
"straw buyer made mortgage payments for two years"
Now that's certainly interesting isn't it?  From what we've learned there seems to be a threshold of one years worth of payments before you clear the cloud of fraud with banks and the police.  Good going.
"how does govt decide when to prosecute straw buyers?"
That's the best bit right there.  From our research the only ways "Straw Buyers" get prosecuted are the following:
  • if you rip off someones identity (real or not) to commit the fraud, especially if the persons identity you stole is an elderly black lady, consider the sympathy factor for the media!
  • You defraud a client of someone who is on the local Mortgage Fraud Task Force, they make sure the PD goes after your ass, ain't that right R.C.?
  • Your "Straw Buyer" scheme involves a current or retired police officer, when they make a call to the PD, their complaints carry more weight.  Remember the attorney David Rodriguez case?
  • Last but not least, if arresting you would be politically advantageous for the people involved, either to bolster their image and/or to help curry favor with the feds in order to ensure funding for their endeavors.
If you fit into any of these categories, you're in deep $hit.  If not, then rest easy, you're not much a prize for those in law enforcement, especially since you've made payments for two years!  We almost feel bad for people who end up here looking for advice after being involved in some sort of nefarious activities, at least now we feel like we've tried to help.  Just to be safe though, if you're worried enough to be searching through this blog for answers, get off your ass and see an attorney!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Welcome to TWO YEARS AGO!

Last week we discussed Sgt Richard Davis of the Miami Dade Mortgage fraud task force and were perplexed by how he could juggle at least seven other jobs while working for the MDPD.  We learned that Sgt Davis was in charge of educating the new mortgage fraud detectives on the task force (nice work as evidenced by Detective Jorge Baluja) and that he was the Sgt in charge of a squad that consisted of nobody but himself.  Now, come to find out that Sgt. Davis was taken off the task force back in March of 2008!  WTF?  Wasn't he the most highly trained member of the task force in the areas of real estate and mortgages?  Let's go to the March 20, 2008 Daily Business Review article that discusses Sgt. Davis and his departure from the Task Force...
"Sgt Davis said he was preparing to retire and was going to concentrate on his financial services and real estate businesses."
Oh, ok.  So now after all these years he's going to concentrate on the other business.  This part is most interesting:
"A source speaking on condition of anonymity said Davis has been criticized by some task force members for not devoting enough time to task force work."
We can only imagine!  How could you, especially during tax season?
"Davis, a mortgage broker, at one time was the department's key fraud investigator in the economic crimes division..."
Considering the stellar performance of the people like Detective Baluja, perhaps the citizens of Miami Dade county were better off with only one investigator!  The article goes on to say...
""The citizens of Miami-Dade County deserve a 100 percent attention to a crime that is affecting our communities and tax base to a degree I've never seen in my 30 year career in real estate," said Nancy Hogan, who manages a Coldwell Banker office in Coral Gables.  She is a former chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission and chair of the task forces education committee."
Are we reading that correctly?  Is Nancy Hogan saying that perhaps Sgt. Davis wasn't giving 100% of his attention to his day job with the PD?  Nah, we must have misunderstood but we really are warming up to this Mrs. Hogan!  

Leave it to former MDPD Chief legal counsel and the Chairman of the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, Glenn Theobald, to give us the icing on the fail cake...
"Glenn Theobald, legal counsel to Miami-Dade Police Department and chairman of the fraud task force, said Davis' position on the task force had grown awkward because he often had to direct higher ranking officers."
BRILLIANT!  Davis as an expert in the field of Real Estate and Mortgage had to direct higher ranking officers that perhaps didn't know as much as he did about the subject and that's a problem?!  So he knows more than the higher ranking guys, how do we fix that in Miami Dade county?  WE GET RID OF HIM!

Who knows, maybe if Sgt. Davis was still there the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case may have never happened but then we wouldn't have anything to write about on our blog!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Straw Buyer SLACKING! Friday and some news from the blogosphere...

We have to admit folks, things have been so hectic at work that we haven't been able to spend enough time researching for the blog over the last couple of days.  It's Friday so cut us some slack!  There are a few disturbing points that we should cover though, from yesterdays Miami New Times...

Cuban writer sentenced to almost two years in prison for blogging
A 41-year-old writer in Cuba was arrested and sentenced to almost two years in prison for blogging. Dania GarcĂ­a contributes to opposition websites Primavera Digital and CubaNet, and keeps a blog linked to a radical anti-Castro group based in Miami. Reporters Without Borders reiterated its appeal to the Cuban authorities to put an end to this latest crackdown on independent journalists. Her sentence was reduced to a fine of 300 pesos ($12 US).
OH MY!  Thank god we've got freedom of speech here in the good old United States of America!  Shame on you Fidel and Raul!!!  It gets worse though, Cuba isn't the only oppressive regime that's going after bloggers...
Russia arrests an Islamic convert blogger
Russian Islamic convert Alexei Dudko was arrested for blogging. His blog mainly focused on the events in Ingushetia in the North Caucasus and general events in Russia. He kept his real name in strict secret throughout his blog. We now see why. His arrest came days after his name somehow surfaced in the Internet.

JEEZE!  It's these types of actions by backwards countries like these that illustrate just how lucky we are and how important our first amendment rights are here in the United States.  We think John F. Kennedy said it best...
And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment-- the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants"--but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.
Granted, JFK never imagined that the mainstream media would fall into the sorry state that it is today and that there would be such things as blogs and bloggers, but the meaning is the same.  It's the rights afforded to journalists, bloggers, etc by the Constitution that makes this the great country that it is and not some backward third world $hithole were they government goes after people who criticize it openly.  

Now, could you imagine the public relations nightmare if say someone like Assistant State Bill Kostrzewski misusing his prosecutorial powers made some sort of move against us here at the Straw Buyer?  God forbid Bill or one of his "ilk" was to have sent out say a subpoena or something of that nature to the company that hosts our web domain or say Google that provides our blog template.  As dirty as ASA Kostrzewski has been throughout our story, surely he would never stoop to that level now would he?  Could you imagine the black eye the State Attorneys office would suffer from that sort of incident?  No worries though, there's no way such an egregious violation of our civil rights could happen here in the U.S. where we have freedom of speech, ain't that right Bill!?

Rest easy folks it's all good, just another day in the Jungle...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Straw Buyer has been SLAMMED at work!

That's right folks, the Straw Buyer has been so busy at work that we couldn't get around to making an installment on the blog yesterday.  While we're always researching material for the blog 24/7, the actual writing of the blog is done late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, believe it or not our 9 to 5 job has been so hectic lately that we couldn't even find time to attend to our blog!  With that said, you have to wonder, how do those with more than one job manage?  How could you possibly devote your full attention to a 40 hour a week daytime (say 9 to 5) job while having a totally unrelated second career simultaneously?  We've talked about Sgt. Richard Davis from the Miami Dade County Mortgage Fraud Task force earlier this week and learned that not only does Sgt. Davis do brilliant work during the day (remember the attorney David Rodriguez mortgage fraud case?) at the MDPD but he also has successful Real Estate, mortgage, accounting and financial planning businesses as well.  

We're not sure how Sgt Davis can manage to wear all those hats at the same time, perhaps he's just really efficient and manages his time better than we can?  Good for him if that's the case.  In this instance we need a little clarity so we can understand what's going on here and to the surprise of all our readers, we're actually going to get some answers from Detective Jorge Baluja of all people.  As shocking as that may sound, let's go to his deposition from the Bernardo Barrera (remember him?) mortgage fraud case where he answers some questions about how the mortgage fraud task force is set up...

That's simple enough, two squads of five detectives each and a Sergeant that runs each squad, therefore two Sergeants.  Very good.

Ok, great place to start.  Look at that!  That's the Sgt Davis we've been talking about this week!  Wait a minute though, if there were only two squads then why are there three Sergeants?

Ok, for a minute there Detective Baluja lost us, but then he clears it up.  Apparently there's three squads, two of which we know have 5 detectives and two Sergeants each and now this third squad that handles special projects that Detective Baluja tells us is run by Sergeant Davis.  Got it.  So how many people is Sergeant Davis running in his "special project" squad?  Let's see what Jorge tells us...

Oh, ok?  A Sergeant that's running a squad where he's the only member, that is according to Detective Baluja.  We learned earlier that Sgt. Davis was a veteran of the real estate and mortgage industries, maybe he doesn't need to work with anyone, perhaps he's a one man mortgage fraud investigating machine!  Ain't that right Jorge?

Hmmm...  Are we reading that right?  One could infer from Detective Baluja's statements that Sgt. Davis, the leader of the "special project" mortgage fraud task force squad (that consists of only himself) isn't investigating any mortgage fraud cases or possibly doing any work, but before you'd make that inference you'd have to consider the source of the information, Detective Jorge Baluja who isn't exactly the most credible source of information now is he?  If you were to buy Jorge's statements word for word you'd almost conclude that the Sgt was kinda doing nothing on the job, wouldn't you?  Surely that couldn't be the case for someone with as long and distinguished a career with the PD as Sgt Davis now could it?  Nah.

Enough for now, we gotta get to work!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How many jobs do you have? Introducing the busiest man in the MDPD...

That's right, how many jobs do you have?  For most of us the answer is just one, after all with all the other responsibilities that we have in day to day life, who the hell could imagine having more than one full time job?  There are some out there though that can handle more than one job, years ago I met a guy that worked at two different Subway sandwich shops, one during the day, another at night and then when he was done, he worked as a toll collector on the Florida Turnpike!  Not for us, thanks!  Sort of reminds me of that skit from that old TV show...

So what's this got to do with our tales of mortgage fraud?  Yesterday we discussed Sergeant Richard Davis again, a distinguished member of the Miami Dade County Mortgage Fraud Task Force, according to at least one of our readers, he may have even been responsible for the formation of the task force...

Jennifer said...
"Creator and Head of the MDPD Mortgage Fraud Task Force"! Research a little further and you'd discover that Mr. Theobald didn't know anything about Mortgage Fraud until he "stole" the brain works of mortgage fraud from its true Creator, Sgt. Richard Davis formerly "creator and head" of the Mortgage Fraud Task Force; that was until Mr. Theobald stole that position from him as well. I concur with a prior commentor; "Karma is a bitch."

For what it's worth, we haven't been able to confirm Jennifer's statement, but it does warrant further investigation.  So what's all this got to do with our story?  Yesterday we met Sgt. Richard Davis and learned that he wore many hats in the MDPD, not only does he investigate mortgage frauds but he also trains new detectives on the mortgage fraud task force and he's a member of the Task Forces board as well.  That's a lot of hats for one man to wear but that's not all, see Sgt. Davis does much more than just train detectives and investigate bad guys, he's also a real estate broker, mortgage broker, financial planner, tax preparer and maybe even a closing agent!  That's one busy man!  Let's take a look at his bio...
Richard Davis (President) as a student at the University of Miami working towards a degree in Accounting & Business Administration.  
Uh, ok.
He began his first company after realizing that his friends and associates were in need of income assistance. Accounting, Taxes, Etc. was incorporated in 1975.  His business began to grow as the needs of his young clients progressed, and they were now in the market to purchase their first home. As a result, Richard began selling real estate to accommodate the needs of his clients. He accomplished this while maintaining full employment with Caterpillar Tractor Company.
Richard remained working for Caterpillar Tractor Company for 11 years, then moved on to become a police officer with the Miami-Dade Police department.  He quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant. Because of his passion for real estate and financial matter, Richard has spent seventeen of his twenty years on the police department in the Economic Crimes Bureau supervising investigations related to mortgage frauds, embezzlement, and financial schemes to defraud.
Sounds good, he's certainly got the experience necessary for the job.
Today, what began as a simple tax business has grown into a full service financial company offering financial planning, mortgages broker services, real estate service and federal income tax preparation.
A full service financial company and a Sgt with the MDPD simultaneously?  How do you juggle all that responsibility?  That's got to get you thinking.  Let's take a look at the responsibilities that Sgt Davis has:
  1. MDPD Sergeant on the mortgage fraud task force who investigates financial fraud.
  2. MDPD Sergeant who trains new mortgage fraud investigators.
  3. MDPD Sergeant who is a member of the mortgage fraud task forces board
  4. Mortgage Broker
  5. Financial planner
  6. Real Estate agent
  7. Accountant
That's seven jobs that we know of folks!  He's got the Subway/Turnpike toll collector guy beat by a landslide!  DAMN!  Like we said, Sgt. Davis must be the busiest man on the MDPD.  We're gonna have to take a closer look.  Till tomorrow...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Let's get some mortgage fraud training!

So how does a MDPD mortgage fraud detective get to learn all they need to know about mortgage fraud?  As we've learned over the course of our blog, mortgage fraud is a complicated and very paperwork intensive crime, a mortgage fraud investigator has to get into the minds of mortgage brokers, straw buyers, title agents and real estate attorneys.  Surely there's some sort of extensive training program for cops that are going to go after these smarter than average criminals, let's not lose site of the fact that most of these fraudsters have been in the real estate or mortgage game for years, in order to catch them at their game, you have to be at least as knowledgeable as they are.  Are the mortgage fraud investigators that smart or well trained?  We can't speak for all of them, but at least in the case of Detective Jorge Baluja, we know somehow the system failed him horribly, whether he wasn't trained properly or perhaps he was and just wasn't smart enough to grasp the concepts that he was being taught, we're sure we don't need to remind our readers of Detective Baluja's extensive knowledge of real estate or the mortgage business...

So just what kind of training did the mortgage fraud investigator that's the center of one of our mortgage fraud stories get?  Let's go back to his deposition from the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case and have Detective Baluja tell us...

Not exactly the answer to the question Detective Baluja was being asked, but does anyone recognize that name, Sgt Richard Davis?  That's the same guy that did the undercover work on one of the Mortgage Fraud Task Forces inaugural cases!   You remember, Sgt. Davis went undercover to the closing posing as the sellers accountant and caught attorney David Rodriguez red handed officiating the crooked real estate closing.  So know we know that not only did Sgt. Davis do under cover work but he also trained the mortgage fraud detectives.  Wow, this Davis guy must be one busy fellow!  Let's keep going...

There's two things about this excerpt that strike us as strange, firstly considering all of the experts that are on the MDPD Mortgage Fraud Task force, why was there only one person training the detectives?  The second thing that seems strange is the fact that these detectives only receive ONE WEEK OF MORTGAGE FRAUD TRAINING?  WTF is that?  The people they're going after are highly skilled sophisticated criminals that have years and years worth of real estate and mortgage know how and they're going to catch them after one week of training?  PUHLEEZE!  Moving along...

You've got people like real estate industry veteran Nancy Hogan or attorney Robert Cohen who represents the biggest title insurance companies and others from the banking sector, with this kind of brain power on hand, why only have one guy training the new mortgage fraud detectives?  Considering all the time and dedication these people have given to the task force, wouldn't they have gladly volunteered time to teach the guys on the front line how to catch the bad guys?  If you have these kinds of resources available to you, why the hell wouldn't you use them?  

Ok, maybe we're getting carried away.  Perhaps this week of training was so intense, so thorough that there was no need for more, maybe you could call it something like a "mortgage fraud cram course".  It's entirely possible that the training over that week was so good that even Detective Baluja was ready to hit the streets, let's see...

BRILLIANT!  After all that intensive training, after bringing in a headline mortgage fraud case, after all that coaching by Assistant State Attorney Kostrzewski, Detective Baluja can't recall how a mortgage fraud can occur.  Wonderful. 

Isn't it hard to imagine a scenario worse than this?  After everything we've learned, does anything surprise you any more?  Problem is that we haven't even scratched the surface yet, our story is much larger than a Detective that couldn't investigate his way out of a wet paper bag or a bumbling washed up prosecutor who couldn't even explain his own case to a judge, much, much larger.  We've stepped into a pile of $hit that was previously unimagined.

Today we learned that Sgt Davis has many roles within the mortgage fraud task force, investigator, educator, mortgage fraud task force member, etc.  Doesn't he seem like a busy man?  We're gonna have to take a closer look at Sgt Davis tomorrow...

Friday, May 14, 2010

You ever feel like you're being lied to again and again?

You know the feeling, like someone taking you for a chump and feeding you a line of $hit.  Whether it's Bernardo Barrera lying his ass off about his involvement in the mortgage fraud, Detective Baluja and ASA Bill Kostrzewski putting together a bull$hit backward case while letting the real criminals go,  the media doing a $hit ass job of reporting it or the Mortgage Fraud Task force with all its fantastic press releases and sound bites.  All bull$hit, a less than stellar dog and pony show who's sole purpose is to generate more federal funding for the MDPD.

It's Friday, so in an effort to keep things short and slightly entertaining, let's get Malcolm X (sort of) to give us his opinion on these matters...

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leading by example and the Mayors response to the new BMW lease story...

We briefly made mention of Mayor Carlos Alvarez and his new county funded BMW yesterday, granted the subject matter is a little off topic for our blog but it's an important one nonetheless.  With the economic crisis our county finds itself in right now, it seems rather brash for the mayor or any county executive to take advantage of the $800 per month auto lease stipend that's provided as part of their executive compensation package.  Consider the kinds of drastic cuts that county residents are experiencing because of the budget crisis, reduction in services, layoffs, etc.  Does it seem fair for these guys to keep getting the car allowance?  Even worse, the Mayor already has a chauffeur driven SUV at his disposal at all times is the additional $800 allowance even necessary?

Over at the City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has reduced his annual salary by $53,000, given back his $300 per month cell phone allowance and his $800 per month car allowance, that makes for a total $66,200.  In the interview Mayor Regalado goes on to say...
The Mayor has to lead by example.
Exactly.  How could you expect to dole out pay cuts and pink slips and not cut back yourself?  How does that look to your constituents?  What sums the story up best though is the explanation that Alvarez gave CBS4 in his follow up interview last night regarding the BMW lease...
The big question is not whether I drive a BMW, because I have been driving one for ten years. 
Right on, while the county is falling apart, you just keep driving that county funded BMW.
There will always be something for symbolism and I am not willing to live my life like that. I mean, because someone points out something I am supposed to react even though it is not wrong and (the program) has been around 20 years. 
Ok, Mr. Alvarez, did you see the reactions from your constituents when they were told about your county funded BMW?
What will be next? 
Uh, I don't know, maybe spending federal money set aside for investigating environmental crimes on $65,000 toilets, Flat screen TV's, Iphones, Bureau Cubaveras and SUV's?  Oops, I forgot, they already had that covered.

Last but not least, his priceless reaction to Mayor Regalado returning $66,200 of his own salary and perks to the city of Miami...

Well, that's good for him...

Very nice, spoken like a true leader.  In the big scheme of things, $800 may not be a lot of money, but giving that $800 per month car allowance back to the county would have been a tremendous symbolic gesture that would have been worth far more in good pr for the county and the Mayor.  With the economy being what it is, I'd keep a close eye on the beemer Mr. Mayor, you never know what some disgruntled citizen may do if they see it out on the street unattended...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mortgage fraud arrests!

Someone commented on our blog last Friday that there was a mortgage fraud sweep at 5 am where a handful of fraudsters were arrested, we didn't think much of it since there was no news in the media to confirm until yesterday.  Let's take a look at the article from the herald and make some observations...
Homestead mortgage broker charged with fraud
A mortgage broker who dodged prosecutors' attention previously is now facing federal charges.


A key figure in a statewide mortgage fraud ring, who avoided prosecution despite convictions of several associates more than a year ago, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of lying on mortgage applications and pocketing the ill-gotten gains.
Interesting.  A statewide mortgage fraud ring.  Hmmm...
Yvette Valdes, a Homestead mortgage broker, is charged with falsifying loan documents on two properties in Southwest Miami-Dade County, including making up borrowers' employment information, assets and annual income.
Oh really?  Falsifying loan documents including employment information, assets and income?  Ok, Mr. Kostrzewski, did you ever wonder even if Mr. Barrera wasn't involved in the Oak Avenue mortgage fraud (HAH), who put together his loan application?  Who provided his employment verification etc?  Makes you wonder huh? 
She faces three counts of wire fraud and up to 30 years in prison. Reached on her cell phone Monday, Valdes said, ``You need to speak to my attorney,'' and declined further comment.
Yeah, hopefully you put aside enough money for a damn good one!
A 2008 Miami Herald series, Borrowers Betrayed, detailed Valdes' role in a massive, multi-million dollar home loan scam led by New York banker Orson Benn, who approved more than $550 million in mortgages across Florida at the height of the housing boom.
Jeeze, the media outed her TWO YEARS AGO and nothing was done?!  Way to go Task Force!
Benn, former vice president at Argent Mortgage Co., was convicted of racketeering by statewide prosecutors in Polk County in 2008. He is serving an 18-year prison sentence.

The newspaper's investigation found that Valdes, owner of Best Choice Mortgage, brokered $22 million of the Benn-approved loans over a 16-month period out of a small, nondescript office along South Dixie Highway. Nearly all of the mortgages contained false or misleading information, ranging from inflating a borrower's income more than fivefold to listing a non-existent job for a borrower who took out enough money to buy four homes.

In some cases, borrowers said they weren't aware of the inaccuracies.
SWEET!  Sort of like Bernie telling the cops he had no idea what was going on!  See a pattern here?
When reporters asked Valdes more than a year ago about the bogus information on her customer's mortgage applications, she responded: ``That's their problem.''
Yeah, FCUK THEM!  They got the money not her right?
Yet in this case, the borrowers are her own relatives.

The federal grand jury also indicted Valdes' daughter Jeannine Valdes-Perez, her brother Joseph Gonzalez and her son-in-law Victor Perez. All three worked at Yvette Valdes' Best Choice Mortgage.
It's a family affair folks!
Catherine Maiz, a partner owner of Absolute Title, was also charged.
Absolutely!  But Mr. Kostrzewski, why wasn't an attorney charged?  
The indictment alleges that the group falsely represented Victor Perez's job and annual income, among other information, on mortgage applications to Argent and banking giant JP Morgan Chase Bank.

Imagine that!  Why hasn't anyone rounded up all those SOB's from Argent that were practically giving money away to anyone with a pulse during the boom?  Hello Task Force!
The allegedly fraudulent applications resulted in the banks funding loans for two properties that totaled more than $500,000.

But the loans went unpaid, it's alleged in the indictment, and the loan proceeds were diverted ``for their own personal use and benefit.''
Diverted for their own personal use?  Is there any other kind of use for a fraudster?!
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph B. Shumofsky is handling the case.
A fed!  You think these guys will get something harder than the probation ASA Kostrzewski doles out?
The indictment, which was issued April 29 but unsealed Monday, comes long after red flags were raised about Valdes.

The Office of Financial Regulation, the state's banking industry watchdog, was alerted to Valdes' role in Benn's network in 2005, The Miami Herald reported.

The state regulator never took action.
Did you really expect anyone on the state level to do anything?  Come on!
Tampa brokers David Tuggle and Eric Steinhauser, who both worked under Benn, pleaded guilty in 2008 to conspiracy to engage in racketeering charges and were sentenced to two years in prison.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Does the MDPD really want experienced investigators?

We all remember when Detective Jorge Baluja showed the world just how much he knew about Real Estate and the mortgage biz right?  In fact he was so well versed in these topics that the pride and joy of the Miami Dade Mortgage Fraud Task Force couldn't even execute his own mortgage correctly!  Surely this guy becoming a Detective in the task force must have been some sort of mistake, perhaps a favor for a relative that's well connected in the police force, maybe even friends with someone in the command staff.  No matter though, we're sure that the task force is always on the look out for good cops with lots of real estate and mortgage experience, Detective Baluja's incompetence must be the exception, not the rule, right?  We'd buy that if not for the following comment we received on one of our other posts, take a look for yourself...
"I'm glad some of these corrupt brass asses are getting in trouble. It's about time the pendulum swing back to those who are really at fault instead of the rank and file trying to just to a job.  I wanted to work in the Mortgage Fraud Unit. I hold a real estate and mortgage brokers license and at one point I ran my own mortgage business but when I spoke to Lt Cynthia Mechanic about working for her, she was very optimistic in our first and only conversation which was face to face. She then refused to return my calls. This was at a time when she was expanding the unit by three-fold and had a few immediate openings. I guess I was just too big and white for her and the other supervisors there. I don't know for certain but I could imagine that with 34 years in policing, OCB background, supervisory experience, halfway through law school, and still the productivity of the energy bunny, I'd say my qualifications out shined most if not all those working there."
Jeeze!  Wouldn't this guy be the ideal mortgage fraud investigator?  How the hell could you turn him down?!  WTF?!  They turned this guy down and instead we get Jorge?!  HUH?!  Slightly off topic, he goes on to say... 
"I hope all the corrupt brass get it right where the sun don't shine. As far as Mayor Alvarez goes.....he can suck my night stick. I can only imagine what kind of corrupt deal was made to prevent anyone from running against him for a second term. For those of you who don't know, Jimmy Morales opposed Alvarez the first time. He graduated Harvard Law School at the top of his class. He served this community many years "honestly". Alvarez won due to morons being bussed to the poles and there were probably a few other reasons or rather organizations that got him and continue to keep him in office. When you work with corruptible influences, you eventually show your own corruption. When will someone be able to expose this guy?"
OK!  We don't know enough about the second part to really comment, but the first part should have you all REALLY pissed.  Let's look at the commentors qualifications as he states them:
  • Real Estate brokers license
  • Mortgage brokers license
  • Owned his own mortgage broker business
  • 34 years on the police force
  • OCB experience (organized crime?)
  • Supervisory experience
  • Law student
Could you ask for a better mortgage fraud investigator?  Seems to us that this guy would be a tremendous asset to the task force, RE Broker, mortgage broker, experienced cop and almost a lawyer!  What the hell else do you need?!  What do we get instead?  Jorge "the brain" Baluja!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Social media sites, Glenn Theobald and the Straw Buyer.

We have to be honest here folks, we here at the Straw Buyer are not computer savvy, not one bit.  We've had several people suggest that we get involved in all the difference social media sites (myspace, facebook, twitter, etc...), to be honest with you all that stuff is way above our pay grade.  That's not to say that we haven't been looking through some of those sites to glean information on the people that we've been writing about, it's just not our cup of tea.

What's startling though about these social media sites (IE facebook) is just how much of their private lives people make available for the public to see, pictures of themselves inebriated, doing things that perhaps you'd like to forget or even worse, pictures of themselves with people that they may not want anyone to see, etc.  These social media sites make a great investigatory tool for law enforcement.  While the Barrera mortgage fraud case was in its earliest stages, through facebook we were able to link almost all the players involved in the fraud including several other people the PD didn't even know about.  Even worse though are all those horror stories that emerge from these social media sites, people getting raped, kids getting molested, really who needs it?  Does anyone remember this guy?  

Is meeting real people in person too much trouble?

Regardless though, there is one aspect of Facebook in particular that can lead to major embarrassment for prominent members of the community, IE judges, politicians, etc.  What happens when you're say a judge or a member of the local police forces command staff with a Facebook page and it turns out one of the people on your "friends" list is accused of some sort of embarrassing act or even worse a heinous crime?  Not good huh?  You all remember Glenn Theobald right?  He was the former Chief counsel of the Miami Dade County Police department and the former chairman of the Miami Dade County Mortgage Fraud Task Force.  Let's take a look at Mr. Theobalds friends from his Facebook page...

Uh, oh!  Let's take a closer look at that person outlined in red...

Wait a minute, doesn't that face look familiar?  Could this Maria Lopez be the Maria Teresa Lopez who was charged and arrested for mortgage fraud, grand theft, identity theft and money laundering that we discussed a few weeks ago?  Damn!  That doesn't look good now does it!  

Mr. Theobald, you may want reconsider that Facebook friend!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Detective Jorge Baluja's perspective on events that we deem important...

Here we are again at the end of another week, specifically the week before the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case is to go to trial, don't get worked up though as we sincerely doubt that the trial will start on May 10 as anticipated.  How do we come to that conclusion?  Simple, as we've seen at least seven other times, defendant and government witness John Arthur Romney still hasn't finalized his plea agreement, this stifles any attempt by the other defendants to depose Mr. Romney.  With that said and the complete lack of any evidence on the docket of his attorneys preparing for trail, it's safe to say that there's an insurmountable obstacle to going to trial.  Monday should be interesting day in court though as the judge hearing the case has been progressively getting more and more impatient with the nearly two years of continuances on this case, so no trial on Monday, but there's definitely going to be some interesting moments before the judge.

Moving on, over the last few weeks we've rehashed several aspects of the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud investigation and how the state had handled it, today let's specifically look at how Detective Baluja investigated Mr. Barrera's previous identity theft case.  From his deposition...

Detective Jorge Baluja being questioned on the first Bernardo Barrera identity theft case                                                            

In a nutshell, Detective Baluja in his infinite wisdom didn't even bother to look into his "victims" previous claim of identity theft.  FANTASTIC!  From the depo:
"Detective Baluja, he's coming to you, telling you someone is using his identity to purchase a home and he also tells you that someone is using his identity to purchase a boat and you thought nothing of it...You didn't think it was important?"
He then responds...
FCUKING BRILLIANT!  Let's try to follow Detective Baluja's line of reasoning here, let's look at the following examples:
  • Your home is broken into, you report it to the police and also let them know that your home was broken into just days before.  Wouldn't the cop consult with the cop who took care of the previous break in order to help find the burglar?
  • You were raped, you report it to the police and also let them know that you were raped just days before.  Wouldn't the cop consult with the cop that took the report on the previous rape to see if there was anyway they could link the two incidents together?
I'm sure those among our readers that aren't completely brain dead can see the point that were making here.  If indeed the Detective would have spoken to the Detective who worked on the other identity theft case, perhaps they would have seen some similarities and maybe proved the hypothesis we presented the other day about the guy claiming identity theft having sold his identity to a ring of fraudsters?  The ultimate irony about this inaction on the part of Detective Baluja is that the Detective that worked the original identity theft case not only works in the same office as he does but they're also FRIENDS! 

We've also recently discussed how important the timing of Mr. Barrera's claims of identity theft were and that if one were to set up a time line of the two separate identity theft cases a disturbing pattern would emerge that would cast serious doubt on Mr. Barrera's claims of not being involved with either fraud.  So how did Detective Baluja handle these dates during his investigation?  Once again, let's look at his performance during one of his depositions...

Detective Jorge Baluja being questioned regarding dates involving key events in the Bernardo Barrera mortga...                                                            

Once again, FCUKING BRILLIANT!  We've gone to great lengths to show how important dates are throughout the investigation of the Bernardo Barrera frauds and what does Detective Dipshit have to say?
Q: When did he become aware of it?

A: I don't have a specific date.  Prior to him making the report.

Q: As you sit here today, you don't know when Bernardo Barrera became aware of this transaction?

A: Not specific date, no.

Q: Is it documented anywhere in your Offense-Incident report?

A: Not to my knowledge.
If that wasn't enough, it get's better...
Q: Do you agree that the date Bernardo Barrera became aware of this transaction, which he denies any involvement it, is an important date?

A: The specific date, no.
Brilliant.  In what planet are dates regarding crimes like this not important?  The question that begs to be asked now is whether or not Detective Baluja ever received any training regarding these kinds of dates, once again from his depo...
Q: That's something that you were trained to include in your report,  correct, important dates, right?

A: Not specific to that, no.
MY GOD!  So not only are dates not important to the good Detective, but we now have learned that he wasn't even trained to include important dates in his police reports!  HOLY $HIT!  Detective Dipshit, I'm sorry, Baluja, have you lost sight of the fact that the entire steaming pile of shit you built called a case is built entirely on dates and the dates and times when monies went in and out of the defendants hands?  WHAT IN THE FCUK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

If you're as pissed as we are, it's time to take a step back and chill...

Now that we've taken a deep breath and calmed down a bit, consider the following, Detective Baluja was being supervised by people within his own office that have far more experience than he did.  There is no reason why his superiors shouldn't have realized how grossly incompetent he was.  Even if his incompetence and gross negligence wasn't recognized by his superiors, there was someone far more educated and experienced working the case with him, Assistant State Attorney Bill Kostrzewski.  There's no excuse for any of this to have happened considering the prosecutor was by the Detective's side every step of the way while the case was being put together, that's what makes this even more unbelievable.  What this proves isn't just the lack of knowledge and total incompetence by the cop, but of Veteran Economic Crimes Prosecutor, Bill Kostrzewski as well.

With that said, have a great weekend folks and let's see what Monday holds in store for the Barrera mortgage fraud case...