Albuquerque Woman Pleads Guilty to Federal
Wire Fraud and Identity Theft Charges
ALBUQUERQUE – Lesa Howard, 52, of Albuquerque, N.M., pleaded guilty today to federal wire fraud and aggregated identity theft charges under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Howard was arrested on Aug. 7, 2013, on a seven-count indictment charging her with two counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of bank fraud. The indictment alleged that Howard committed these crimes in Bernalillo and Valencia Counties between July 2007 and July 2009.
According to the indictment, in July 2007, Howard unlawfully orchestrated the straw purchase of a house in Los Lunas, N.M., which she occupied for several years. When the mortgage holder began to foreclose on the straw purchaser in Aug. 2008, Howard unlawfully orchestrated the sale of the house to a second straw purchaser, who was living in the house with her, and unlawfully pocketed proceeds due to the original straw purchaser.
During today’s proceedings, Howard pled guilty to Counts 1 and 4 of the indictment charging her with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, respectively. In her plea agreement, Howard admitted executing a scheme in Aug. 2008, to fraudulently induce a mortgage company to extend a $417,000 home loan for the purchase of a house in Los Lunas. She further admitted using the personal identifiers of another person, without authorization, to obtain the loan. Howard falsely represented that the homeowner had agreed to the sale of the house even though the homeowner had not agreed to the transaction. Although Howard represented that she would deliver the proceeds of the transaction to the homeowner, Howard arranged for $96,471 in proceeds to be wired into a bank account she controlled.
At sentencing, Howard faces a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years in prison on the wire fraud charge. Howard also faces a mandatory two years in prison on the identity theft charge which must be served consecutive to any prison sentence imposed on the wire fraud charge. Howard remains on conditions of release pending her sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, the court will impose a money judgment against Howard in the amount of approximately $291,132, which represents part of the net profit Howard derived as a result of her criminal conduct. Howard also will be required to forfeit any interest she has in the Los Lunas house.
This case was investigated by Albuquerque office of Homeland Security Investigations and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Pena. The forfeiture proceedings are being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz.