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.