Feds charge in 11 in Houston with mortgage fraud

June 17, 2010 5:37:16 PM PDT
The U.S. Department of Justice has announced the results of the largest mortgage fraud crackdown in history. More than 1,000 people were charged across the country for mortgage-related crimes and several of those arrests happened right here in Houston during Operation Stolen Dreams.

Three Houston-area people who were arrested are accused of carrying out a scam at the Kirby Lofts downtown. It allegedly occurred back in 2006. The people are accused of defrauding Ohio Savings Bank, but we're told this crime could eventually affect you too.

If there was a simple way to describe what the feds say happened at the Kirby Lofts, mortgage banker Steven Kaufman may have nailed it on the head.

"I would characterize this as a master scheme," Kaufman said.

According to the indictment, the three people indicted are accused of defrauding mortgage banks, allegedly providing false information to obtain loans to buy lofts and intended to pocket some of the cash.

They're just three of nearly 500 arrests made nationwide as part of Operation Stolen Dreams.

"These schemes are despicable," US Attorney General Eric Holder said. "They are dangerous to our economy and they will simply not be tolerated."

The operation began in March and dealt with more than 1,200 defendants. Locally, indictments have been handed down against 11 people.

Fraud cases totally about $55 million with a variety of victims.

"There doesn't seem to be any particular type that they go after," Southern District of Texas US Attorney Jose Angel Moreno said. "I think they're looking basically for the opportunity to do so, whether it's a building management company or an individual."

While the cases appear to hit the banks hardest, since they're the ones to recoup the losses, Kaufman says it's more complex.

If, for example, a property is overvalued because of fraud, neighboring properties will suffer when the real value is discovered.

And guess who pays?

"The victim is the city of Houston because we all end up, as a community, paying for the shortfall," Kaufman said.

Officials said they've got judgments to recoup more than $4.1 million. As for the local defendants, many of them are in court right now.

Meanwhile, homeowners are advised to:
- Get referrals from mortgage professionals
- Check license against government records
- Be wary of high pressure sales
- Checks comps in the area
-Make sure documents are complete.

But the best advice is to use common sense.

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