News and Press Releases

President of Broward Title and Escrow Company Charged in Multi-Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 9, 2012

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Vance Luce, Acting Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, Miami Field Office, and Tom Grady, Commissioner, State of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation, announced today that defendant Michelle Austin-Wilks, 38, of Parkland, Florida, was charged in a federal criminal complaint with wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343, for her participation in a mortgage fraud scheme. If convicted, Austin-Wilks faces up to thirty years’ imprisonment on the wire fraud charge.

According to the criminal complaint, Michelle Austin-Wilks was President and Director of Direct Title & Escrow Services, Inc., in Oakland Park, Florida. Austin-Wilks and others allegedly engaged in a scheme to enrich themselves by fraudulently buying and selling residential real estate property in Broward County through straw buyers. These straw buyers obtained high value mortgages based on fraudulent mortgage loan applications and closing statements.

According to the complaint, after the lenders approved the loans based on the false loan applications, Austin-Wilks prepared false HUD-1 Settlement Statements that, among other things, falsely represented to the lenders that the straw buyers were bringing their own money to closing. She also created and submitted duplicate HUD-1 Settlement Statements for the same real estate transaction, reflecting different sales prices to the seller and to the lender. The lender’s version reflected a significantly higher purchase price than the seller’s version of the HUD-1 Settlement Statement.

After closing, the lenders wired a total of approximately $3 million in mortgage loan proceeds into Direct Title & Escrow’s bank account, which was controlled by Austin-Wilks. Thereafter, defendant Austin-Wilks wire transferred $68,562 and $382,000, respectively, to a mortgage broker and a straw buyer for their assistance in the mortgage fraud scheme. The mortgage broker, Jinnie Mathurin, has pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 28, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks. The straw buyer, Guhier Florvilus, has also pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Secret Service and Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation. Mr. Ferrer also commended the U.S. Marshal’s Service for their substantial efforts in locating defendant Austin-Wilks in Jamaica and returning her to the United States to face charges. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Katz.

A complaint is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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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.

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