News and Press Releases

Five Defendants Enter Guilty Pleas in Las Vegas Mortgage Fraud Scheme

July 11, 2008

Las Vegas, Nev. – Five more defendants have been charged and entered guilty pleas in a Las Vegas mortgage fraud scheme that caused over $17 million in losses to federally-insured banks, announced Gregory A. Brower, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada. Eve Mazzarella, a mortgage broker in Las Vegas, her husband, Steven Grimm, and four other loan officers and mortgage brokers are currently awaiting trial on federal conspiracy and fraud charges for their alleged role in the scheme that involved straw buyers, fraudulent mortgage loan applications, and shell companies.

Today, Daicy Vargas, 23, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony, admitting that from about November 2005 to 2007, she assisted Steven Grimm in the diversion of the illicit proceeds of the fraud and failing to report the fraud as soon as possible to appropriate authorities. Benjamin Labee, 27, a mortgage loan processor, and his wife, Shauna Labee, aka Shauna Dyphibane, a licensed mortgage agent in Nevada, both of Salt Lake City, Utah, pleaded guilty earlier this week to one count of conspiracy. The Labees admitted that from about April 1 to December 31, 2006, they conspired with Steven Grimm to recruit straw buyers to pose as property purchasers and that they placed false information in loan applications which allowed straw buyers to qualify for loans for which they would not have otherwise qualified. Craig E. Christians, 39, a licensed Nevada real estate broker in Las Vegas, pleaded guilty on June 27, 2008, to one count of misprision of a felony. Christians admitted that from about January 1, 2006, to March 12, 2008, he allowed his company, Western Pacific Funding, to be used as a conduit for the fraud. Robert Samora, 41, of Las Vegas and a licensed Nevada mortgage agent, pleaded guilty on June 13, 2008, to one count of money laundering. Samora admitted that from about 2006 to 2007, he assisted Grimm by diverting illicit proceeds of the mortgage fraud scheme, namely loan officer commissions, to Grimm.

"These guilty pleas mark a significant step toward unraveling a large and complex mortgage fraud scheme centered in southern Nevada," said United States Attorney Brower. "The investigation is ongoing."

Led by defendants Grimm and Mazarrella, the scheme allegedly included approximately 432 straw buyer transactions involving approximately 227 properties with a total purchase price of over $107 million. Grimm and Mazzarella defaulted on mortgage payments on many of the loans which caused the properties to go into foreclosure. At least 143 of the approximately 227 properties purchased by the defendants are in default causing losses to the banks estimated at more than $17 million.

This ongoing investigation is being led by the FBI and IRS Office of Criminal Investigations, with the assistance of the members of the Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Task Force, including the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Nevada Attorney General's Office, Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Secret Service. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian Pugh.

Persons who have information concerning potential mortgage fraud may contact the Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Hotline at (702) 584-5555.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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