News and Press Releases

President of Broward Title and Escrow Company Pleads Guilty in Two Separate Multi-Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 4, 2012

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, Paula Reid, Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service, Miami Field Office, and Linda Charity, Interim Commissioner, State of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation, announced that defendant Michelle Austin-Wilks, 38, of Parkland, Florida, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349, and four counts of wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343, for her participation in two separate mortgage fraud schemes. Austin-Wilks faces up to twenty years’ imprisonment on the conspiracy count and up to thirty years’ imprisonment on each wire fraud count. Sentencing has been scheduled for June 15, 2012 at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn.

In U.S. v. Ghaith Al Nahar et. al, Case No. 11-60183-CR-COHN, from February to November 2007, Ghaith Al Nahar, 40, formerly of Boynton Beach, identified residential properties in Palm Beach county and paid individuals to act as straw buyers for the properties. These straw buyers submitted loan applications and supporting documents containing false information to various mortgage lenders across the United States. After the lenders approved the loans based on the false information provided, defendant Austin-Wilks, who was the President and Director of Direct Title & Escrow Services, Inc., prepared HUD-1 Settlement Statements that contained false information. For example, the forms falsely represented to the lenders that the straw buyers were bringing their own money to closing. Austin-Wilks also falsely represented to the lenders that she had disbursed the loan proceeds in accordance with the lenders’ instructions. Instead, Austin-Wilks made unauthorized disbursements from the loan proceeds to one of her companies as “processing fees.” Based on these false statements and documents, the mortgage lenders issued more than $9 million in loans.

Ghaith Al Nahar pled guilty and was sentenced on January 27, 2012 to 63 months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $1,863,109.30 in restitution by U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn. An employee at Al Nahar’s office, Romy Defay, 28 of West Palm Beach, also pled guilty and was sentenced on January 27, 2012 to 33 months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $441,747 in restitution by Judge Cohn. The straw buyers, Jeffery Gilbert and Philip Jay Newman, pled guilty. Gilbert was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $441,747 in restitution. Newman was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $662,051.42 in restitution.

In the second case in Broward County, Case No. 12-60054-CR-COHN, from June to October 2007, defendant Austin-Wilks and others, through Direct Title & Escrow Services, Inc., 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 mortgage loan applications and closing statements that contained false information. After the lenders approved the loans based on the false information on the loan applications, Austin-Wilks prepared HUD-1 Settlement Statements that, among other things, falsely represented to the lenders that the straw buyers were bringing their own money to closing. Austin-Wilks also created and submitted duplicate HUD-1 Settlement Statements for the same real estate transaction to the mortgage lenders, 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 a bank account controlled by Austin-Wilks.

Thereafter, Austin-Wilks made numerous wire transfers, including a transfer of $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, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and was sentenced on March 7, 2012 to one year and one day of imprisonment, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1.17 million in restitution by U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks. The straw buyer, Guhier Florvilus, also pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 17, 2012 before U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley. In addition to these wire transactions, Austin-Wilks was also convicted of two additional wire fraud transactions for two wires sent by national mortgage lenders.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation. Mr. Ferrer noted the assistance of the U.S. Marshal’s Service for their substantial efforts in locating defendant Austin-Wilks in Jamaica and returning her to United States. These cases were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy Katz and Armando Rosquete.

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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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