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July 21, 2009

LEADER OF RING THAT USED CHILDREN’S SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS IN MORTGAGE FRAUD SCHEME SENTENCED TO 12 YEARS IN PRISON

(HOUSTON) – Craig Curtis, 37, has been sentenced to 144 months in prison for his role in organizing a mortgage fraud scheme in the Montrose area that used the stolen identities of minors to obtain fraudulent loans, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.

At a hearing this morning, United States District Judge Nancy Atlas sentenced Curtis, of Houston, to 120 months for his wire fraud convictions and to a consecutive two-year term for his aggravated identity theft convictions based on the mortgage fraud scheme’s use of the Social Security numbers of minors. In addition to the prison terms, Judge Atlas ordered that Curtis pay $2,085,396 in restitution to various lenders and serve three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison terms. The United States previously obtained a judgment forfeiting a Maserati and Breitling watch which Curtis had purchased with proceeds of his mortgage fraud scheme. Curtis has been in federal custody since the spring of 2008. 

At his December 2008 trial, a jury found Curtis guilty of conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The evidence at that trial demonstrated Curtis came to the attention of the Auto Theft Unit of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office during 2007 when it was discovered he had used someone else’s Social Security number in an application for a loan to purchase an Aston Martin. The Secret Service then reviewed bank records which revealed that during 2006 and the first half of 2007, Curtis was obtaining large third-party disbursements from the sales of numerous town homes located near the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose. At trial, the evidence proved that Curtis paid straw buyers to purchase town homes at prices that were hundreds of thousands of dollars above the market price of the properties. To obtain the loans for the purchase of these properties, false information was submitted to lenders concerning the income and assets of the buyers and their intent to occupy the residences and to pay the mortgage. In two of the loan applications, the straw buyers listed Social Security numbers belonging to minors. These numbers, as well as a fraudulent Social Security cards listing the numbers, were obtained from Carlin Joubert, a women who operated a supposed credit repair business and who has pleaded guilty in this case to conspiring to produce false identification documents and aggravated identity theft. The testimony at trial revealed that minors’ Social Security numbers were used because they were “clean,” meaning they did not have negative credit history, which allowed Joubert to add credit lines to the numbers to generate positive credit scores in the period of just a few months. 

At the closings of these properties, Curtis typically received disbursements in excess of $100,000 which accounted for much of the inflated purchase price. Out of those funds, Curtis paid his recruiters and straw buyers. The loan amounts exceeded $5 million and Curtis received more than $1 million from the sales discussed during the trial. Most of the town homes went into foreclosure within a year of the sales.

Eight of Curtis’ co-conspirators have pleaded guilty in this case, two of whom were also sentenced this morning. Kelton Lyons, a mortgage broker who processed one of the loans using a forged Bank of America verification of deposit, was sentenced to three months in prison to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. Trevor Cherry, who used a child’s Social Security number to purchase a property in a made-up name, was sentenced to one year in prison to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. The other six defendants – Joubert, mortgage broker Tiffany Narcisse, recruiter Dedrick Johnson, Viktor Thai Ly (who obtained false employment verifications), appraiser Michael Nunnerly and straw buyer Chi Van Nguyen - are scheduled to be sentenced on future dates in July and August.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service and the Auto Theft Unit of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregg Costa and Ryan McConnell.

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