Thursday, March 31, 2011

What the hell is wrong with the reporters over at the Miami Herald?


You all know we've had our issues with the Miami Herald in the past (check here, here, here, here and here, not to mention the Herald's censoring of comments on high profile articles) so it comes to no surprise to me that the defense attorneys representing the Plantation cops in the federal mortgage fraud trial have had issues with the way the Herald has been reporting on the case and the subsequent trial.  Throughout the last two years since the inception of this blog, I've discovered that the Herald seems to have a pro state and pro prosecution bias to all their reporting, time and time again I've seen the Herald prosecute people in the paper before they even have a chance to go to trial, presumption of innocence be damned. 

We left off yesterday quoting the Herald's James H. Burnett article on the Plantation Cops federal mortgage fraud trial, apparently there were some gross errors made in Mr. Burnett's story.  From one of the courtroom observers...
Miami herald is retracting there inaccurate post after a call to editor and copy if transcript not even close about Velez or Joe.  Very poor reporting, they took Renes testimony of what he did and assigned it to Joe and Velez.
No kidding?  I'm told that the reporter got the story so screwed up that some of the defense attorneys actually called the editor and asked them to retract the story.  I'm not sure how much good that will do at this point.  The observer goes on to say...
Rene stated he told Joe that VOE (verification of employment) with BoA (Bank of America) were the easiest they (Burnett) wrote that opposite.  He (Rene) also admitted to forging over 960 documents they said Velez did that!  This idiot reporter James (Burnett) walks out as soon as the defense starts to cross, not interested in both sides...
I could understand the reporter making some mistakes and mixing up names but why is he only listening to the prosecutors side of the case and walking out when the defenses turn comes to cross examine the witnesses?  Could you possibly get more biased than that?  Is it just me or does it seem like the Herald has a vested interest in making these guys look as guilty as possible?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Plantation cops federal mortgage fraud trial in the news!


The article in yesterday's Miami Herald regarding the Plantation Cops mortgage fraud trial basically reaffirms everything our readers and commentors have been telling us over the last few weeks.  In a nutshell, things aren't going that well for the feds...
The key witness in a federal mortgage fraud trial involving several law enforcement officers took the stand Tuesday and implicated himself in a scheme that brought the group millions.
After weeks of testimony in a Fort Lauderdale federal court, Rene Rodriguez admitted he was a prolific forgerer, signing other people’s signatures to mortgage, refinancing applications, falsifying job titles and incomes to make alleged clients eligible for better loan terms, and even inventing non-existent tenants in their rental properties, so as to suggest they had more income than they did.
But, Rodriguez insisted, he did it all on behalf of five cops, an FBI agent, and their alleged ringleader , former Plantation cop Joseph Guaracino who will go on trial in this case, later this year for his role in the case.
The defendants are: Lauderhill officer Joseph LeGrasta, FBI special agent Robert DePriest and four Plantation current or former police officers - John Velez, Daryl Radziwon, Casey Mittauer, and Joseph DeRosa.
All were indicted last summer on conspiracy charges that allege they were willing participants in Rodriguez’s and former business partner Matt Gulla’s fraudulent business deals that secured the duo $16.5 million in loans on 68 investment properties that the officers bought to flip.
Gulla, who has also accepted a plea agreement with hopes of a lesser prison sentence, testified for the prosecution several weeks ago.
The law enforcement officers’ defense so far has been that they were snookered by real estate pros and had no idea that Velez was signing their names to false documents.
Velez, who admits forging pieces of as many as 1,000 documents, already has plead guilty to two criminal counts - wire fraud and conspiracy - in the hope that he will draw a lighter sentence.
Rodriguez’s Tuesday testimony produced two surprises.
He acknowledged he never got direct orders from the defendants to commit fraud. Those orders came from Guaracino, the alleged ringleader. Guaracino told him the defendants were all “on board,” he said.
Rodriguez also insisted that he never signed the “final” signatures on any of the questionable mortgage applications. That signature, he said, was always signed by one of the defendants – implying that they saw the fraudulent information.
Rodriguez testified that he and Velez wrote on loan applications that Velez was a “detective,” and later giving him an apparently non-existent title of “Lieutenant Detective,” to make loan officers think Velez had a high-ranking job to justify the $12,000-plus-per-month income that was listed.
Rodriguez claimed Guaracino taught him that it was easier to fool Bank of America on loan applications, because information could be cut and pasted into loan documents, and the bank would not challenge them. Rodriguez also testified that his account executive at now defunct Tuscon-based First Magnus told him not to worry about lenders checking to verify income or other personal information on loan applications Rodriguez submitted.
The government gave John Velez’ ex-wife, Tara Velez, immunity for her testimony. However, she appeared reluctant to provide information.
Frequently near tears, she repeatedly said “I don’t recall” for hours as lead prosecutor Michael Sullivan asked if she remembered signing mortgage applications and related documents.
Frequently near tears, she did insisted “I don’t recall,” when asked But while Velez didn’t budge on her lack of memory on signing the documents,
In many instances, she answered “It appears to be” when Sullivan asked her if certain signatures on the documents were hers or John Velez’s.
Velez also acknowledged that income levels listed for her and John Velez on a number of documents were not accurate.

By now I think we all get it.  The cops involved trusted the attorneys and mortgage brokers that they were dealing with and had no idea that they were doctoring the loan applications, tenant leases and had no knowledge that their incomes were being overstated in order for them to qualify for the loans.  Got it.  I also understand that the cops themselves weren't making the bulk of the money from these transactions, instead from what I'm told it was the brokers that were making the bulk of the profits from these deals, as I understand it, the cops end of the profits were to be paid when the homes were eventually resold. I get that as well.  

I'm left with one question that I can't get around, let's assume that everything that we've been told is true, brokers forging loan applications, brokers forging leases, brokers faking proof of income, etc.  Anyone that's ever purchased a home knows that at closing the final loan documents include an unsigned copy of the 1003 loan application.  One of the many things that you're required to do at closing is sign those loan docs and reaffirm that everything that's included is correct and that nothing has changed regarding your finances and your ability to repay the loan since you submitted the original loan application.  Now, I understand that all the documents preceding the loan documents at closing were of dubious origin but when the borrowers sat down at closing and signed the docs and the final 1003 loan application, they essentially adopted all the information contained in the forged documents and reaffirmed that everything was correct when they signed.  I can't figure out how the defense attorneys are going to get around this problem at trial and considering what we saw in yesterday's post, this could be a major stumbling block for the defense.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Man gets sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for lying on a mortgage application!


WTF!  Take a deep breath and read Joe Nocera's excellent article from last Friday's New York Times regarding the federal mortgage fraud conviction of Charlie Engle.  From the article...
Was Mr. Engle convicted of running a crooked subprime company? Was he a mortgage broker who trafficked in predatory loans? A Wall Street huckster who sold toxic assets?
No. Charlie Engle wasn’t a seller of bad mortgages. He was a borrower. And the “mortgage fraud” for which he was prosecuted was something that literally millions of Americans did during the subprime bubble. Supposedly, he lied on two liar loans. 

“I had a couple of good liar loans out there, you know, which my mortgage broker didn’t mind writing down, you know, that I was making four hundred thousand grand a year when he knew I wasn’t.”  
So this guy gets prosecuted for lying on his loan applications?  Even worse...
The monthly income listed on the second loan was $32,500, an obviously absurd amount...

Mr. Engle claims that he never saw that $32,500 claim and never signed the papers. Indeed, a handwriting analysis conducted by the government raised the distinct possibility that Mr. Engle’s signature and his initials in several places in the mortgage documents had been forged.
No shit?  Didn't the mortgage brokers in the Plantation cops federal mortgage fraud case do the same thing?
As it happens, Mr. Engle’s broker for that loan, John J. Hellman, recently pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud for playing fast and loose with a number of mortgage applications. Mr. Hellman testified in court that Mr. Engle had signed the mortgage application. Early this week, Mr. Hellman received a reduced sentence of 10 months, less than half of Mr. Engle’s sentence, in no small part because of his willingness to testify against Mr. Engle. 
SHAZAM!  The mortgage broker gets off for selling his client out even though he's the one who forged the documents that got his client into this mess!!  What's even more disturbing is how the case came to be, an IRS agent saw a documentary about Mr. Engle running across the Sahara desert...
“Being the special agent that I am, I was wondering, how does a guy train for this because most people have to work from nine to five and it’s very difficult to train for this part-time.”
Is this the way a government agent thinks?  I'd be more interested in watching the movie and figuring out how someone could run across a desert rather than trying to figure out the finances of the guy who's running!  Special Agent Robert W. Nordlander also says...
"...that sometimes, when he sees somebody driving a Ferrari, he’ll check to see if they make enough money to afford it."
WOW!  Then worse, when Agent Nordlander isn't busy trying to find his next suspect while watching a documentary, he's busy digging through peoples trash!
Still convinced that Mr. Engle must be hiding income, Mr. Nordlander did undercover surveillance and took “Dumpster dives” into Mr. Engle’s garbage. He mainly discovered that Mr. Engle lived modestly.

This story has left me completely floored.  Things must be real slow for Special Agent Nordlander up in the eastern district of Virginia for him to resort to this kind of bogus prosecution.  I have to wonder though, what would happen if Special Agent Nordlander came down to Miami for a visit?  What would he think of our city's chief financial officer, Larry Spring, who lied about his primary residence on his loan apps when he mortgaged his mother's house and defrauded the lender out of hundreds of thousands of dollars?  Or even better, what would Special Agent Nordlander think of our esteemed City of Miami Commissioner, Marc Sarnoff, who also managed to lie about where he was living to his lenders in order to enjoy lower interest rates?  Do you think Special Agent Nordlander would buy Mr. Sarnoff's explanation?
"I don't know anyone who's ever read their mortgage!"
Somehow I doubt he'd buy that.  I'm more inclined to believe that the special agent would first ask why these people haven't been prosecuted for committing crimes as bad if not worse than Charlie Engle and then I'd bet he'd ask the same question we've all been asking lately...
Despite everything Mr. Engle has gone through and the fact that he's serving time in a federal prison, he still manages somehow to write a blog about his experience.  Good luck to Mr. Engle, I hope his 21 months go by quickly and painlessly.


Friday, March 25, 2011

A message from City of Miami Assistant Fire Chief Veldora Arthur and another update from the Plantation Cops federal mortgage fraud trial.

Here we are at the end of another week, a week where we've tried unsuccessfully to contact City of Miami assistant fire chief Veldora Arthur who's accused of participating in an eleven million dollar mortgage fraud scheme. I've tried to contact the assistant chief both by phone and email, no answer by phone and each time I've emailed her I've gotten this back...

Of course she's out of the office! She's making $300k+ per year, who the hell has time to be sitting in the office? From the looks of these "out of office" responses and the fact that we're told that she's still got her job despite being federally indicted in an eleven million dollar fraud, I think it's time someone takes a look at what's going on with the City of Miami fire department. At the very least in my opinion she should have been suspended immediately pending the outcome of her criminal case considering the nature and the severity of the crimes she's being accused of committing.

Moving on, we've been posting updates from the Plantation Cops federal mortgage fraud trial as they're sent to us by one of our readers who's attending the trial, one of our commenters from yesterday expressed their displeasure about what we were posting. To those of you who don't like our reader's synopsis of what's going on at the trial, please stop reading this post right now and move on to something else. As I stated yesterday, I'm simply reprinting what the courtroom observer has sent me in toto, if you have an issue with how they've interpreted what went on that day in court then I can't help you. I for one am grateful for the insight they've provided, take it for what it's worth. Please forgive the spelling and grammar issues as the updates seem to be coming live via smart phone. With that said, here's another report from the last couple of days at the Plantation cop's federal mortgage fraud trial...
Today Loraine Hart a closer for Turnkey Title admits to signing documents for others out of convenience. She stated that she would knock out a closing in 15 minutes, point and sign. When asked if Joe ever forged or initial for the buyers she said disgusted, never! She stated they were professional investors and this was just the industry's fast pace closings, sign quickly. She testified that many others at the title company would forge and even trace signatures of others on documents like the lenders instructions but attorney kassner for Joe Derosa state the lender wanted this important document signed by the borrower that was the marching orders and you would ignore that an sign on behalf of the buyer? Yes

It appears the defense is job is very simple just ask the Governments witnesses and they tell the truth. Will the government be foolish enough to continue to try the remaining defendants? Or will they put their egos aside? the facts of the case will continue to come out daily in support of the defense. How they can continue in good faith at this point borders on an ethical/bar violation.
I don't necessarily endorse these views but it does seem like the case isn't going well for the government. I would really hate to think that the prosecutors indicted these police officers with anything other than a rock solid case. If the cops and FBI agent that were charged end up being found not guilty, who's going to restore their reputations in the community? Who's going to restore their careers and give them back the last year and half of their lives? We'll have to wait and see how the trial turns out.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

An update on the Plantation Cops federal mortgage fraud trail...


We've been fortunate enough to get some updates on the Plantation Cops mortgage fraud trial, here's a summary of what had gone on as of March 8 from one of our readers who's attending the trial...
Matt Gulla the governments lead witness is on the stand, defense council have a number of issues to impeach him on. The broker admitted to forging all the fraudulent documents, The Governments whole case Relies on the testimony of this broker Explaining that the shrunk down application presented at closing wasn't purposely shrunk to hide anyting.

The attorney crossing Matt Gulla has him admitting to doing hundreds of loans the same way. Also, he has admitted to forging thousands of loan documents in this case alone. Turns out cops were telling the truth. Matt apparently became friends with Joe the leader and learned he had an aggressive personalty, and took advantage of his trust, knowing with encouragement he would invest in more property. Turns out most of the fraud was committed using Gulla high school friends names and companies were used without their knowledge. In fact there is apparently staff at the high school that was screwed by the ex student. Today he admitted to doing this to many members of his own family and friends. He would make money on the back end called ysp average loan he would make 15k. He would do this by up selling the loan if they qualified for 4%. He would sell them a loan at 7%. What a pig, and to his family. He admitted his partner Rene and him would forge all the documents the lender relied on, then at closing the old bait and switch with shrunk down loan apps. He is very slick even after pleading guilty he acts slick on the stand. But some of the defense lawyers have caught him up. I really didn't think these cops and FBI agent would do this especially considering they still live in the property's and pay the mortgages. The only thing the Govt. has in this case is Matt Gulla their lead witness being impeached daily, and Rene who destroyed documents. In an evidentiary hearing The Judge has stated the Govt. acted with gross negligence and careless in handling this case and the witness when ordered to produce the hundreds of loans this was done on. Rene in 2010 Destroyed documents and the lending groups server! To avoid prosecution of other loans. These cops and all involved are victims of the lenders predatory practices and the brokers were agents of the banks.

And another summary as of March 21...
The bankers the government put on trying to elicit testimony that would support there theory has failed. One of the key theories was the cops agreed to buy these homes owner occupied to get a better interest rate. However what came out from a rep from homecomings/ GMAC was the only people who benefit from this was the broker by getting a higher YSP. And the bank by being able to sell owner occupied property's at a much higher rate to the secondary market.

The gov. calls tenants and they all say, the landlords were great guys always willing to help and did all repairs without incident.

The governments initial theory was the cops did owner occupied for better rate turns out they all qualified for prime loans at low rates 4-5% but the brokers put them in 7-9% rates to make high YSP. There case continues to fall apart daily
Rene (Rodriguez) goes on Wednesday that should be very interesting. He's there last main witness. The case has blown up on the gov. And the truth has come out over and over. The gov. Witnesses are proving the defenses case!
I'm especially disturbed by this part...
The Judge has stated the Govt. acted with gross negligence and careless in handling this case...
What the hell happened here? From everything that I heard this was an iron clad open and shut case. We're working on more updates and will post more as soon as we can.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Larry Spring is giving away city property and we get a mention in the Miami New Times...

We're in a bit of a rush today, till we get our $hit together check out our friends over at Investigation Miami who've uncovered a scheme where the City of Miami Chief Financial Office Larry Spring is giving away city property for FREE!

On another note, yesterday our friend Francisco Alvarado gave us a mention over at the Miami New Times in his "Miami CFO Larry Spring's House of Disorder" story...

In case you're not familiar with our coverage of the City of Miami CFO Larry Spring's foreclosure and possible mortgage fraud misadventures, here's a quick run down...
So there you have it, from what we've been able to glean from the public records regarding Mr. Spring's dealings involving the home located at 14421 Polk Street it looks like we've put together more than enough evidence to warrant a closer look by the state attorneys office, especially when you take into account his position within the City of Miami.  Don't hold your breath... 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Concluding city of Miami CFO Larry Spring's mortgage misadventures...


It's been a busy couple of weeks, let's take a moment to revisit city of Miami CFO Larry Spring's purchase and subsequent mortgaging of his mother's home that was located at 14421 Polk Street.  We previously outlined Mr. Spring's purchase of the home in question for $150,000 back in December of 2004 financed by a mortgage from Peninsula bank for $147,682.  We then discovered that just two years later Mr. Spring refinanced the house for $191,250 through a mortgage from WMC mortgage presumably netting upwards of $43,000.  It's this mortgage that went into default and caused the subsequent foreclosure that was filed just two years later.

Moving on, we then found that Mr. Spring may not have lived in the house when he purchased it and when it was later refinanced.  According to court records, Mr. Spring lived in a Brickell condo throughout the period of time he purchased the Polk street home.  

This could create a problem for Mr. Spring if he indicated that the Polk Street home was his primary residence when he financed it.  Let's take a look at the occupancy requirements for the first mortgage...

That's pretty clear, the "borrower shall occupy, establish and use the property as borrowers principal residence within sixty days after the execution of this security instrument".  Let's move on to the second loan where there's actually a spot where Mr. Spring could have indicated that the home was not his primary residence...

As an abundance of caution, let's see if there's an occupancy requirement on this loan as well...

There you have it.  In both instances Mr. Spring clearly represented that the home he was mortgaging was his primary residence in order to enjoy a lower interest rate that he would not have been able to obtain if he had identified the home as a second home or investment property. 

So what's the point?  What did Mr. Spring do that was any different than anyone one else during the real estate boom?  What's the big deal about lying on your mortgage application and the subsequent mortgage docs?  If Mr. Spring was indeed living elsewhere and misrepresented to the lender that this home was his primary residence then this is a clear cut case of mortgage fraud.  The same type of mortgage fraud that the feds used to go after the Plantation Cops and countless others over the last few post real estate boom years.  Although the residency issue may seem trivial, it's this minute detail that's allowed law enforcement to charge otherwise innocent people with mortgage fraud.  In this instance it's even worse as the person who didn't make the proper disclosures to the bank is none other than the Chief Financial Officer of the City of Miami, if he can't be honest with his own bank, then how the hell can we expect him to be honest when it comes to the financial affairs of our city?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who's really pulling the strings?

What was the real motivation behind the prosecution of suspended City of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones over the last few years?  Were the last two years of events a series of unrelated coincidences or a shrewdly engineered plan to keep her out of office?  To truly understand the disturbing chain of events that lead us to where we are today we have to take a look at the time line of the events as they happened...
May 2007 The infamous "memo to self" written by commissioner Marc Sarnoff where he alleges that Spence-Jones asked for a bribe in exchange for her vote on a project that was going before the commission.  This memo ultimately was referred to the State Attorneys Office and it's safe to conclude that the public corruption unit's investigation into Spence-Jones began here.
May 2009 Spence-Jones cleared by the State Attorneys Office of allegations of accepting bribes stemming from two constructions projects and accepting kickbacks during her tenure as an arts coordinator with the city.  Afterwords one of the developers who commissioner Sarnoff accused of paying Spence-Jones for her vote sued Sarnoff for defamation (case # 2007-27975-CA-01).

November 13, 2009 Michelle Spence-Jones arrested for Grand theft charges just one day after being sworn in for her second term as commissioner.  Then governor Charlie Crist immediately suspends Spence-Jones and a special election is called in order to find her replacement on the commission.  Spence-Jones claims she will sue the governor challenging his authority to suspend her because she wasn't indicted by a grand jury.

January 4, 2010 Spence-Jones files a lawsuit against governor Crist alleging that he did not have the authority to suspend her from her seat on the commission because she was not indicted by a grand jury and asserts that he was undermining the will of the voters who had elected her into office.

January 12, 2010 Spence-Jones wins a special election that was held in order to find a replacement for her vacated seat.

January 14, 2010 Governor Charlie Crist suspends Spence-Jones again from her seat immediately after she's reelected by a landslide.

Late February 2010 The judge hears the case challenging Crist's authority to suspend Spence-Jones since she was charged by the prosecutors rather than through an indictment by grand jury.  It's commonly accepted that the judge was going to overturn Crist's suspension of Spence-Jones and reinstate her.

March 2, 2010 Prosecutors interview developer Armando Codina regarding payments allegedly made to Spence-Jones through donations to charities in exchange for her vote on items he had pending before the commission.

March 3, 2010 The very next day a Grand Jury is convened which indicts Spence-Jones for Grand Theft in the second degree.

March 4, 2010 Spence-Jones surrenders herself to face the grand theft charge brought forth by the Grand Jury the day before.  Just hours after her surrender governor Crist reaffirms her suspension by indictment making the civil suit against him questioning his authority to suspend her moot.
I'm sure I've left some critical dates and event out, considering what we've listed though, is there any doubt that someone was trying to keep Spence-Jones out of office no matter what?  This brings us to an insightful comment one of our readers left over the weekend...
The question is: Who was behind this political prosecution of Michelle Spence-Jones and got KFR and Scruggs to file the "emergency" indictment right when it was apparent that a judge was going to reinstate her to the city of Miami commission.
That's scary as there is incontrovertible proof that someone was hell bent on keeping Spence-Jones out of her commission seat.  The question I'm left with is who was that person?  Who could be powerful enough to persuade the state attorneys office to bring forth a bogus case in order to have her suspended from her job as a City of Miami commissioner?  Who could have the political wherewithal to then have another bogus case thrown together and have an emergency grand jury convene in order to indict her to make sure she was kept from getting her seat back despite the fact that her district just voted her back in?  Who could have been behind this nefarious scheme and why was it so important to keep her off the commission?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The jury instructions for the Michelle Spence-Jones bribery trial and a chilling comment from one of our readers.


We left off yesterday learning that the jury in the suspended City of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones bribery trial had come back with a not guilty verdict after only 90 minutes of deliberations. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle issued this statement regarding the verdict through her spokesman Ed Griffith...
In this case, the jury had no choice but to acquit the defendant because the judge instructed the jury that, in effect, soliciting or accepting a bribe through a charity is legal, even if done with corrupt intent. We disagree with the judge’s interpretation of the bribery law. Bribery has become very sophisticated in our community. We believe that bribery done to influence a public official, even if done through a charity, is illegal. We will continue to investigate, prosecute, and enforce our bribery law.
So according to the state attorney it was the judges jury instructions that tainted their case against Spence-Jones?  Thanks to one of our readers, we were able to obtain the jury instructions, take a look...

Michelle Spence-Jones Bribery Trial Jury Instructions

Let's break it down, in order to prove her guilt, the state was required to prove the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt...
Ok, that's obvious.  Next...
2. MICHELLE SPENCE JONES requested, solicited, accepted, or agreed to accept from CODINA GROUP INCORPORATED the thing described in the charge in this case as $25,000.00.
No argument there.  Next...
3. The $25,000.00 was something of value, benefit, or advantage to MICHELLE SPENCE JONES not authorized by law.
This is where the state loses me.  According to everything we've seen, the money went to the Dade County Foundation which then administered the money as they saw fit, in this case the foundation gave the money to the Friends of the MLK Trust.  As far as I can tell, the state was not able to prove the Spence-Jones used this Friends of the MLK Trust as a "personal piggy bank" therefore I can't imagine that anyone on the jury could have thought that the state proved this element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  Last but not least...

4. The request, solicitation, acceptance, agreement to accept was made with intent of corruptly being influenced in the performance of some act or omission that MICHELLE SPENCE JONES represented as being within her official discretion.
I'll leave it the attorrney that represented Spence-Jones, Peter Raben, to take care of this part...
"This case is all about a vote.  It's the first bribery case I can ever imagine where there is no money going to the elected official and there's no vote.  Think about that."
Brilliant.  Now let's move on to the specific jury instruction that the state seems to have issue with...
The Court now further instructs you that under applicable law, a benefit, advantage or thing of value solicited by a public official on behalf of a non-profit organization, for use solely by that organization, where neither the official nor her family or staff receive any compensation as a result of that solicitation, is authorized by law. Compensation is defined as any money, gift, favor, political contribution, or any thing of value or other financial benefit.
Does this part really matter?  The state hasn't been able to prove that Spence-Jones used the trust fund as her "personal piggy bank" and there was no vote in exchange for the donation so who really cares about this specific instruction that Judge Rosa Rodriguez included?  On the other hand, if these kind of donations were illegal, then all of the sitting City of Miami commissioners would be guilty!  Our friends over at Investigation Miami did a great job laying out one such case.  

I don't see the problem with the jury instructions, I think based on the facts that the state laid out, the defense won fair and square.  Although this is a tough loss for the state attorneys office, I hope that they'll look past this and see the real problem which in my opinion is the way the prosecutor elicited the false testimony from their star witness against Spence-Jones, Armando Codina.  I'm really troubled by the tactics that are being used by prosecutors to coerce witnesses into saying what they need them to say in order to achieve the most injurious testimony possible against their targets.  As our readers know, this isn't the first time we've seen prosecutors deceive and trick witnesses into getting them to say what they need them to say in order to achieve an arrest.

What really makes me wonder about this whole case is the timing, one of our readers laid it all out in our comments section from yesterdays post...

The story behind the story is bigger than the story. The state put forth a case that never satisfied the prima facie elements of a violation of any law. Everyone had to know that going in. But they did it anyway. The reason? Spence Jones sued the governor one year ago and was on the verge of winning that case and being placed back in office. Two days before an expected ruling in her favor, the SAO indicts her for bribery thus making the civil case moot. It did not matter that the bribery case was fabricated. The mere fact of the indictment ruined her. The SAO had to know this. They used the grand jury to manipulate the electoral process and prevent a duly elected official form taking office because they have a vendetta against her. Shame on them.
If there's a modicum of truth to this theory then it scares the shit out of me as it shatters my confidence in the leadership of the state attorneys office.  Once again I'm reminded of that great quote from Supreme Court Justice Brennan...
"Between the private life of the citizen and the public glare of criminal accusation stands the prosecutor. That state official has the power to employ the full machinery of the state in scrutinizing any given individual. Even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted, forced immersion in criminal investigation and adjudication is a wrenching disruption of everyday life. For this reason, we must have assurance that those who would wield this power will be guided solely by their sense of public responsibility for the attainment of justice."
I would really hate to think that the prosecution of Spence-Jones was nothing more than a vendetta, I simply have too much faith in Ms. Rundle and her office to believe that.  The facts don't look good, I guess only time will tell...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Michelle Spence-Jones NOT GUILTY!!


Jury just came in with a not guilty verdict in the bribery trial of suspended city of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones!

Congratulations are in order for Mrs Spence-Jones and her defense attorney Peter Raben. Mr. Raben's greatest line from the trial...
"...the state gave them three weeks of smoke instead of a smoking gun."

Things didn't go Carlito's way last night...


By now I'm sure that the whole nation has heard about the successful recall of both Miami Dade County Mayor, Carlos Alvarez and veteran county commissioner Natacha Sejas.  There are several news outlets that have done a great job covering the problems that led up to the recall of the Mayor over the last few weeks, I'd like to remind our readers of some of the mayor's misdeeds that weren't covered.  We've all heard about the record pay increases for county employees as well as the 12% property tax increase despite the worst economic downturn in recent history but does anyone remember how Alvarez and his cronies looted the federal trust fund set aside for investigating and prosecuting environmental crimes?  In case you forgot...

  • Hybrid SUV's for the MDPD top brass  $900,000
  • Camper $8,000
  • Travel expenses $180,000
  • DirecTV subscriptions $10,000
  • 30 Smith and Wesson assault rifles $20,000
  • High powered rifle scopes $15,000
  • 440 shirts purchased in two batches in February and May 2009. The ``Bureau Cubaveras,'' which came in colors from black to khaki, cost $13,150
  • Six flat screen TVs -- three Sharp 52-inch HDTV costing $1,986 apiece and three 32-inch units at $734 each.
  • More than 125 computers costing $173,296, including 107 Dell desktops and pricey laptops like Panasonic Toughbooks costing nearly $3,000 each.  BTW, Miami-Dade police could not say where the computers are or who they were issued to. An internal county police investigation is under way to locate the items.
  • More than $30,000 for 30 banquet tables and 152 chairs, two high pressure 24-inch misting fans ($2,169.93 each), two portable air conditioning units ($2,606 each) and tents. 
  • A Gmax II 5900 Airless Paint Sprayer for $3,802 and a RTX900 Texture Sprayer for $790.50. Both were requested to help with ``cleaning and restoring preserves, monuments and historical sites in Miami-Dade County.'
  • etc...  
Or how about that $65,000 mobile toilet?!  Remember this was all going on while the county was experiencing nearly 20% unemployment rates! 

How about the members of the mayors inner circle?  Remember MDPD police commander Frank Vecin that not only busted out the federal environmental trust fund but was then caught working at a second job while on county time making an extra $2,500 to $50,000 per month!  Let's not forget former MDPD chief legal council and mortgage fraud task force chairman Glenn Theobald who was forced to retire because of his involvement with the misappropriation of funds from the environmental trust fund.

If all that wasn't bad enough, add in the billion dollar port tunnel that nobody wants, the multi billion dollar Marlin's stadium that wasn't necessary considering our current economic climate and the horrific and poorly timed BMW purchase by the mayor.  

Don't even get me started on the Mayor's heralded Mortgage Fraud task force that couldn't investigate it's way out of a wet paper bag.

What's sickening is that despite the recall allegations of wrongdoing and public humiliation, Alvarez and all his ex command staff cronies get to sail off into the sunset with their massive pensions and lifetime benefits intact.  Oh well.  Congratulations to the voters of Miami Dade county that had enough of these corrupt career politicians.

On another note, closing arguments are expected today in the bribery trial of suspended City of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.  Anyone wanna bet on the outcome of that trial?


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The states bribery trial against Michelle Spence-Jones STINKS! The Prosecution rests and a few words about our soon to be recalled Mayor, Carlos Alvarez.


We learned through our commenters and our colleagues over at Investigation Miami that the prosecution rests today in the suspended City of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones bribery trial. The state through prosecutor Richard Scruggs did it's best to convince Judge Rosa Rodriguez and the jury that Mrs. Spence-Jones was indeed guilty of taking a bribe from two prominent developers in exchange for her vote on an item that was to come before the commission. Unfortunately for the state, the case they presented against Spence-Jones is so weak that the Judge went so far as to remark...
"I’m finding it difficult to understand the state’s theory in all this. What was the corrupt intent? I want to know that...Ultimately, the money, whether her fingerprints are there or not, the money did not go to her personally,"
You're trying a bribery case and you can't prove the alleged bribe went to the person you've charged?! Is there any doubt considering the weak case the states put up that the jury is going to find Spence-Jones not guilty?

Regardless of her guilt or innocence, the prosecutor in this case has done such a piss poor job in putting this case together that there is no way a jury is going to come back with a guilty verdict. As we discussed in the past, the state obtained the most damaging testimony against the commissioner through misrepresenting crucial facts to a key witness in order to elicit the testimony they needed to indict Spence-Jones, what's worse is that the same prosecutor did the exact same thing with a key witness against Spence-Jones on her other criminal case. Is this an isolated case of a rogue prosecutor who engages in all sorts of prosecutorial misconduct in order to win a convictions by any means necessary or is this a disturbing pattern of behavior that is rampant at the State Attorneys Office? Let's not forget that what ASA Scruggs has done throughout both Spence-Jones prosecutions is no different than what his colleague ASA Bill Kostrzewski has done throughout one of the mortgage fraud prosecutions that we've discussed at length. After hearing of the prosecutors misdeeds, why hasn't the state attorneys office taken some sort of action against them? Why are these morally and ethically bankrupt prosecutors allowed to continue practicing and destroying peoples lives with these cases based on total bullshit? You would think that once the prosecutor discovered that the testimony that his case was based on was fundementally flawed that he would have immediately dropped the charges, but no, instead he redoubled his efforts to bring in a guilty verdict. Whenever I see this kind of behavior from a prosecutor, I'm always reminded of this quote from the author of the Justice Building blog...
"Trying a defendant that a prosecutor knows is innocent, or even bringing to trial a person that the prosecutor knows there is not sufficient evidence to justify a conviction is an offense so odious to the American system of justice that prosecutors who engage in such abuse should be referred to the bar for disbarment. The supervisors who approve of such conduct should be disbarred as well."
I couldn't have said it better myself. We can only hope that both the state attorneys office and the Florida Bar take action against the prosecutor once this case is over as well as address the arrest warrant from Costa Rica for Mr. Scruggs once and for all.

Now, moving on to the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Alvarez. I listened to Mr. Alvarez try to defend himself against the recall campaign on a radio talk show today, the most interesting defense he brought up was that this was the only time a politician was being recalled that wasn't indicted or being accused of corruption or any other illegal acts. He went so far as to say that the bankers who were responsible for the real estate bubble and subsequent economic meltdown have gone unpunished while he's being recalled for doing nothing wrong! I have a huge problem with this proposition, forget about the fact that Alvarez and his cronies blew tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers money, forget about the fact that despite the worst economic conditions since the great depression Mr. Alvarez still gave record pay increases to his cronies and completely disregard the fact that he increased property taxes. Take this "bankers got away while I'm being recalled" proposition for a moment, since Mr. Alvarez seems to think the bankers got away with causing the real estate and economic meltdown, why the hell didn't he do something about it? Does anyone remember the Mayor's heralded "Mortgage Fraud Task Force"? If Mr. Alvarez was so concerned with "bankers getting away", why didn't he focus his task force on investigating and prosecuting the bankers that were creating the financial instruments that spawned the rampant real estate and mortgage fraud throughout our county? What did we get instead? Low level prosecutions of straw buyers and mortgage brokers through a series of bullshit cases put together by cops who couldn't even execute their own mortgages properly let alone correctly investigate a complicated mortgage fraud case. Mr. Alvarez, bankers got a way with destroying our economy and real estate markets because of people like you who were either asleep at the switch or just didn't give a shit, people who were two busy basking in the glory of self aggrandizing press releases and media appearances that boosted their own image yet did nothing to fight the epidemic that was destroying or economy.

See ya later Carlos, don't let the door hit you in the ass...

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Miami Herald's less than stellar job of reporting on the Michelle Spence-Jones case, interesting Google searches and mortgage fraud in the news again...


We'll get back to discussing the City of Miami CFO Larry M. Spring Jr's mortgage maladies on Monday, today I'd like to say a few words about my displeasure with the Miami Herald and it's coverage of the Michelle Spence-Jones bribery trial.  Several of our readers have pointed out the inadequacies of the Herald's coverage of the trial and worse yet reporter David Ovalle's obvious bias against suspended City of Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.  I'm not exactly sure what Mr. Ovalle's motives are in writing pro state articles against a defendant that is presumed innocent until proven guilty, regardless though, I've been following what little coverage the Herald has provided and posted a comment here and there in the articles comment sections.  Yesterday, Mr. Ovalle wrote about the trails postponement till Monday because of a medical condition the prosecutor came down with during trial, once I read the article, I went ahead and tried to post a comment, this is what appeared on the screen...

In case you missed it, here it is blown up...

You have to wonder, why the hell is the Miami Herald censoring comments made in the Spence-Jones story?  I posted comments elsewhere and it seems to me the only article with "comment moderation" was the one regarding the Spence-Jones trial.  What gives?

On another note, I noticed yesterday that someone found our blog through a search for "Matt Gulla rat".  At first I found this slightly offensive, then I remembered all of the comments we've been getting regarding ex mortgage broker turned governments witness Matt Gulla, one of the mortgage brokers at the heart of the Plantation Cops mortgage fraud case.  Among other things, Mr. Gulla is accused of fabricating and forging an extensive number of documents that are an integral part of the governments case against the plantation cops, to get some idea of just how many documents Mr. Gulla forged, take a look at the governments exhibit list and take note of how many documents are labeled as "false" or "forged".  

plantation cops mortgage fraud case government exhibit list                                                                                                   

Interesting to say the least.

On another note, while flipping through the channels last night I accidentally came upon a CBS4 I-Team investigation regarding mortgage fraud, take a look...

Great story.  I love the part about attorney Jonathan A. Heller who's helping defend the destitute family in their foreclosure case free of charge.  Although the story and it's contention of "ongoing mortgage fraud" seems a little late in the game, I have to commend CBS4 for covering a subject that has all but disappeared from the media.  

The question that I'd love to ask the reporter and U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer who appears in the story is despite all the great mortgage fraud arrests and subsequent prosecutions that his team of federal prosecutors have brought down, why hasn't anything been done about all the mortgage fraud cases that we've discussed on this blog?  How about the millions of dollars worth of fraud that we found and outlined nearly two years ago in Coconut Grove?  What about the massive fraud by John Romney and company involving the house at 911 Columbus Blvd?  Or how about the Larry M. Spring mess?   Take a look at these cases, it's all laid out in our blog posts.

We'll conclude our analysis of the Larry Spring foreclosure on Monday, till then...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prosecutor in Michelle Spence-Jones case is a WANTED MAN!

According to our friends at Investigation Miami, assistant state attorney Richard Scruggs has a warrant for his arrest!

Read about it here...


From the Justice Building blog regarding the Spence-Jones trial...

"Rump, you are missing the big story of the week. ASA Richard Scruggs is being humiliated in courtroom 4-1. Armando Codina repeatedly accused him of lying. This trial is about a lot more than Michelle Spence Jones. The real story is Scruggs. I doubt he survives this debacle if she is acquitted. I see a JOA on the horizon followed by demands for an investigation, etc"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where did City of Miami CFO Larry Spring live since November 2004?


Before we can really figure out the motives behind City of Miami CFO Larry Spring's purchase of the home located at 14421 Polk Street back in November of 2004 we need to try to identify where Mr. Spring lived when he purchased the home.  If we had some sort of resources here at The Straw Buyer, we would immediately get copies of his employment records from the city as well as information from his drivers license in order to ascertain where Mr. Spring claimed he lived over the last seven years.  Since we don't have those resources available to us, we're left to what we can find online via the county and state websites.  

Here's what we were able to find, first from the final judgment from the foreclosure case for the 14421 Polk Street property we're shown the address that Mr. Spring was served at...

It's clear from this final judgment that Mr. Spring was served at the Brickell Bay drive address  from the inception of the case in early 2009 all the way through to the final judgment in December of 2009.

Now, let's move on to the other online resource we have available,, The Florida Division of State's department of corporations.  A quick search in Mr. Spring's name produces records for a corporation called ACHIEVEMENT MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING, INC., we'll start by looking at the articles of incorporation which were filed on July 23, 2004...

This document clearly states Mr. Spring's address as being 1111 Brickell Bay drive, albeit at a different unit number.  Now, let's look at the records for the following year...

Once again, the document filed with the state shows Mr. Spring's residence to be at 1111 Brickell Bay drive, but again with a different unit number, this time apartment number 2810.  Let's see what the next year has in store...

Although there are no records for 2006, the 2007 filing shows more of the same, Mr. Spring apparently lived in the Yacht Club at Brickell located at 1111 Brickell Bay drive since at least July 23, 2004 according to the records on file with the state.  What's the big deal you ask?  Remember, Mr Spring purchased his mothers home in December of 2004 and refinanced it in February 2006.  The question is, did Mr. Spring claim the home at 14421 Polk Street as his primary residence on his mortgage applications and on the subsequent two mortgages for the home?  If so, Mr. Spring is in for a heap of trouble.  We'll find out tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Larry Spring "Pump and Dump", taking another look at the City of Miami Chief Financial Officer's foray into real estate...


Yesterday we discussed City of Miami Chief Financial Officers unfortunate foreclosure on his home located at 13321 Polk street.  Before we continue, let's take a look at the definition of "arm's length transaction", a term commonly used in real estate, from the website...
An arm’s length transaction is one in which the buyers and sellers act independently and have no relationship to each other. The concept of an arm’s length transaction is to ensure that both parties in the deal are acting in their own self interest and are not subject to any pressure or duress from the other party.
Simple to understand right?  Now, let's take a look at the deed for the home Mr. Spring purchased back in 2004...

larry spring deed for 13321 Polk Street                                                                                                   

Anyone notice who the sellers were?  According to the deed, Mr Spring purchased the home from Mamie L. Spring and her husband John Flemming.  Could there be some sort of relationship between Mamie L. Spring and Larry M. Spring Jr?  To answer that question, we'll look at a quit claim deed from 1979 for the very same property...

14421 Polk Street Deed From Larry M. Spring to Mamie I. Spring                                                                                                   

From this document dated July 11, 1979 we see that Mamie I. Spring took ownership of the property solely in her name from someone named Larry M. Spring, presumably Larry M. Spring Sr.  Coincidentally this quit claim deed coincides with date for Larry M. Spring Sr.'s divorce from Mamie I. Spring (case 1979-904571-FC-04) back in mid 1979. 
Conclusion in case you haven't figured it out yet?  From the documents we've been able to unearth, it appears to me like Larry M. Spring Jr. purchased his childhood home from his mother, hardly an arms length transaction, stripped the home of all it's equity then let it fall into foreclosure.  If that is indeed the case then we have to ask another important question, did Larry M. Spring Jr. ever live in the home located at 13321 Polk street after he purchased it in 2004?  

We'll continue our discussion into this seemingly nefarious transaction tomorrow, before we do though, make sure you go back and read our comments from yesterday's post as well as the comments on Investigation Miami and Take Back Miami to get all the necessary background information.

Monday, March 7, 2011

City of Miami CFO Larry Spring's home foreclosed on...


Could this be true? The City of Miami's Chief Financial Officers home was foreclosed on? Is it actually possible that the man that's in charge of the city's purse strings is so financially irresponsible that he let his own home slip into foreclosure? Let's take a look.

The property in question is located at 14421 Polk Street in lovely Miami-Dade county...

Mr. Spring purchased the home back in December of 2004, according to the county records the home was purchased for $150,000 with a mortgage from Peninsula Bank for $147,682. Here's the mortgage as it appears on the Miami Dade county recorders website...

14421 Polk Street first Mortgage

Now, a little over two years later, Mr. Spring goes ahead and refinances the same property for $191,250, once again here's the mortgage as it appears in the he county recorders website...

Larry Spring 14421 Polk Street Mortgage

So far so good, right? Problem is just two years later the bank that Mr. Spring has his mortgage with decides to file a foreclosure suit against him as evidenced by this lis pendens filed against the property on March 11, 2008...

Larry Spring Lis Pendens for 13321 Polk Street

In case there's any doubt that the Larry Spring who's home was foreclosed on is the same Larry Spring who's the CFO of the City of Miami, take a look at this signature that we obtained from the mortgage in question...

Now, compare that signature to the City of Miami CFO's signature as it appears on the city's 2009 annual report...

Any doubts now?

Disregard the fact that Mr. Spring refinanced the property two years after he purchased it for $41,250 more than what he had purchased it for, also disregard the fact that a man making as much money as Mr. Spring couldn't keep up the payments on a $190,000 loan while making a small fortune as the CFO of a major city. What should scare the living crap out of all of us is that a man as fiscally irresponsible as Mr. Spring has control of the City of Miami's finances! WTF! Come on Larry, if things were so rough, you should have just asked Veldora for a loan!

I'm getting the feeling that there's much more to this story than meets the eye, more coming tomorrow.