Owner of California Company That Offered Mortgage Assistance Pleads Guilty to False Advertising Charges
Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that JOHN VESCERA, 60, of Dana Point, Calif., waived his right to indictment and pleaded guilty today before Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in New Haven to false advertising and misusing a government seal in connection with the provision of mortgage modification services.
According to court documents and statements made in court, VESCERA was the President of First One Lending Corporation (“First One”) in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. During the peak of the national mortgage crisis, VESCERA and First One offered home mortgage loan modification assistance to homeowners across the United States, including in Connecticut, who were having difficulty repaying their mortgage loans.
From approximately February 2010 until approximately February 2012, VESCERA and First One solicited clients through television advertisements and infomercials produced by National Media Connection of New London, Conn. These advertisements touted the mortgage modification services of an entity known as the National Mortgage Help Center (“NMHC”).
Matthew Goldreich, of East Lyme, Conn., had incorporated NMHC approximately two months after the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would partner with financial institutions to reduce struggling homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments through a program called the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”). HAMP consisted of a number of incentives to encourage homeowners and financial institutions to modify existing loans on owner-occupied primary residences in order to help keep these properties out of foreclosure.
NMHC advertisements misrepresented NMHC as being affiliated with or regulated by the U.S. government and falsely stated that NMHC “help[ed] thousands of homeowners every day.” When viewers called the advertised telephone number, they were connected not to NMHC, which operated only as a front and did not provide mortgage modification services for any homeowners, but to clients of National Media Connection, including First One.
VESCERA and First One used NMHC’s name and logo in First One’s promotional materials, application package and other documents. VESCERA also instructed First One employees to introduce themselves to prospective clients as “with the National Mortgage Help Center.”
First One also misrepresented its status with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). First One employees were instructed to inform homeowners that “[w]e’re a HUD approved lender and we represent the government loan modification programs.” In addition, certain of First One’s forms claimed that the company provided “HUD . . . Housing Counseling assistance” and bore HUD’s seal. In truth, First One had no affiliation with the government mortgage loan assistance programs and was not licensed or approved by HUD for housing counseling or home mortgage loan modification services.
VESCERA pleaded guilty to one count of misuse of a government seal and one count of false advertising. Chief Judge Hall scheduled sentencing for July 26, 2016, at which time VESCERA faces a maximum term of imprisonment of six years.
Goldreich previously pleaded guilty to one count of false advertising. On November 5, 2015, he was sentenced to two years of probation, in including three months of home confinement. He also was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and $75,794 in restitution.
This investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Avi Perry and Liam Brennan.