LONG-TERM FBI UNDERCOVER OPERATION NABS A TOTAL OF 24 DEFENDANTS
Charges include Conspiracy, Bank Fraud, Money Laundering and Identity Theft
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce the filing of charges against fifteen defendants on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, bribery, money laundering, and identity theft. The defendants, including a loan broker, seven bank officers, and seven customers, are charged in separate Informations for their participation in a four-year scheme to defraud ten area banks out of more than $10 million through the submission of fraudulent small business loans and lines of credit applications. Previously, another nine defendants were charged in connection with this undercover operation – seven were charged for their participation in a separate identity theft ring and two were charged with bank fraud and money laundering.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, “South Florida ranks first in the nation in home mortgage loan origination fraud, through which false documents are created and submitted to banks to obtain home mortgage loans. Today, we see a new twist on that scheme. Instead of home mortgages, this ring of defendants, with the help of corrupt bankers, used the same tactics to fraudulently obtain small business loans and lines of credit. To date, this undercover operation has resulted in charges against a total of 24 defendants, putting them out of the fraud business and potentially into jail cells.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies stated, “Today's case highlights a growing and disturbing trend of the illegal use of small business lines of credit to further criminal activity. As a result of individual corruption, today's defendants cost taxpayers, banks and the federal government millions of dollars. While today's case marks a significant first step toward combating these crimes, the FBI remains vigilant in its pursuit of this new breed of financial and corporate greed.”
The Information filed today charges loan broker Frank Santa, 51, of Boca Raton, the owner and operator of Palm Beach Business Consultants (PBBC), a loan brokerage business specializing in obtaining fraudulent business loans for clients with poor credit histories. Also charged were the following seven bankers: Daniel Agudelo, 34, of Royal Palm Beach, a Small Business Banker at Fifth Third Bank; Christopher Brooks, 34, of Tamarac, an Assistant Vice President at Bank of America; Macario Deguzman, 30, of Miramar, a Vice President at Regions Bank and Am Trust Bank; William Hebert, 36, of Lake Worth, a Vice President at HSBC Bank; David Mcguire, 39, of Boca Raton, a Regional Private Banker at Wachovia Bank; David Ramoy, 33, of Lighthouse Point, a bank officer at Floridian Community Bank; and Alexander Reyes, 25, of Boynton Beach, a Small Business Banker at Fifth Third Bank.
Additionally, six clients of PBBC and a straw purchaser were charged for their participation in the fraud: Jeanne Ward, 48, of Sunrise, a former Investigative Analyst for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office; Terrance Ward, 48, of Loxahatchee; Anthony Depierro, 46, of Boca Raton; Gary Gross, 59, of Boca Raton; Antonio Mannarino, 42, of Boca Raton; Derek Nadler, 45, of Boca Raton; and Thomas Correa, 46, of Plantation, a reserve deputy for Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
Today’s charges are the culmination of a two-year FBI undercover investigation into the activities of PBBC, a Boca Raton loan brokerage firm operated by defendant Frank Santa. Santa provided loans and lines of credit to small businesses that could not legitimately qualify for financing. According to the Information, Santa claimed he could get these clients up to $300,000 in financing because of his contacts with local bankers. In exchange for this purported service, Santa charged his clients up-front fees ranging from between $12,500 to $25,000. In reality, Santa had arrangements with corrupt bank officers, including defendants David McGuire of Wachovia Bank, William Hebert of HSBC Bank, David Ramoy of Floridian Community Bank, Alexander Reyes and Daniel Agudelo of Fifth Third Bank, Christopher Brooks of Bank of America, and Macario Deguzman of Regions Bank and AmTrust Bank. These bankers accepted bribes, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, from Santa or an undercover agent in return for pushing through PBBC’s fraudulent loans or providing false verification of deposits.
According to the Information, the fraudulent loan packages were created by two PBBC employees, Rodney Kahane and Daniel Paine, who were convicted and sentenced earlier for their role in the scheme. Kahane was sentenced to 66 months in prison; Paine was sentenced to 57 months in prison. At Santa’s direction, Kahane and Paine created false loan applications and bogus financial documents, including false tax returns, false pay stubs, false balance sheets and false income statements. PBBC then submitted the fraudulent loan and credit packages to the complicit bankers, who would push them through the system.
As a result of the scheme, more than $10 million in bogus loans and/or lines of credit applications were submitted to local banks on behalf of PBBC clients, including defendants Antonio Mannarino, Anthony Depierro, Thomas Correa, Gary Gross, Terrance Ward and Jeanne Ward. In some instances, PBBC used straw borrowers, including defendant Derek Nadler, on the fraudulent loans and/or lines of credit.
In addition, the Information alleges that during the undercover investigation, bankers David McGuire (of Wachovia Bank), Daniel Agudelo and Alexander Reyes (of Fifth Third Bank), William Hebert (of HSBC Bank), and David Ramoy (of Floridian Community Bank) agreed to launder money represented by an undercover agent to be drug proceeds. Specifically, the bankers set up corporate and personal accounts to facilitate the laundering of hundreds of thousands of dollars of purported drug proceeds. The bankers instructed the undercover agent on how to structure the deposits so as to circumvent federal anti-money laundering regulations and bank policies.
The undercover investigation also led to the discovery of a separate identity theft ring. Defendants Verne E. Bell, Michael A. Mercado, Ileana M. Martinez, Gregory C. Lenox, Ryan P. Sullivan, Erlon A. Monteiro, and Vernon A. Taylor are alleged to be were part of this ring. These defendants allegedly stole unsuspecting victims’ identities, created fictitious out-of-state drivers’ licenses, and used their falsely created identification documents to access and deplete the victims’ accounts and obtain personal and business lines of credit in the victims’ names. These seven defendants were among those previously charged. One has pled and the others are awaiting trial.
Upon conviction, the conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and bribery charges each carry a maximum statutory sentence of up to 30 years in prison. The money laundering charges each carry a maximum of up to 20 years in prison. Lastly, identity theft charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and the aggravated identity theft charges carry a 2 year sentence consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
Mr. Ferrer commended the FBI for their outstanding work in this long-term undercover operation. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Boca Raton Police Department, and Fort Lauderdale Police Department for their cooperation and assistance in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ellen Cohen, Adrienne Rabinowitz and Rolando Garcia.
An Information is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bell, Verne Edward et al Indictment (PDF)
Brooks, Christopher Information (PDF)
Correa, Thomas Carl Criminal Complaint (PDF)
Deguzman, Macario Information (PDF)
Gross, Gary Information (PDF)
Kahane, Rodney et al Information (PDF)
Santa, Francis et al Information (PDF)
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.