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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

Monday, November 24, 2014

Real Estate Agent Pleads Guilty To Fraudulent Short Sale Scheme Costing Mortgage Lenders More Than $316,000

FRESNO, Calif. — Minerva Sanchez, 48, of Fremont, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, Sanchez was a licensed real estate agent who represented the seller of a home in Patterson, California in March 2010. Sanchez recommended that the seller undertake a short-sale of his home using her son as the straw buyer. Following the sale, the plan was for the seller to regain ownership of the property but with a smaller outstanding loan balance. The seller, acting on Sanchez’s advice, submitted false and fraudulent short-sale applications to Tri Counties Bank and Freddie Mac, and caused these financial institutions to approve the charge-off of funds for the short-sale of the seller’s home.

With Sanchez’s knowledge, the seller provided the straw buyer with the full purchase price of the home ($355,000). Sanchez provided the seller with a “hardship letter” for him to use in connection with the short-sale application that he was unable to make his monthly mortgage payments. In fact, Sanchez knew that the seller could make his monthly mortgage payments with proceeds from a pending sale of other property he owned.

Sanchez, along with the seller and straw buyer, made other misrepresentations to the financial institutions in connection with the short-sale, including false statements that the transaction was “arm’s length,” and false statements concerning the parties’ hidden agreement that the seller would provide the straw buyer with the purchase money for the short-sale and ultimately regain ownership of his home following the short-sale. In her plea agreement, Sanchez admitted that her criminal conduct caused the financial institutions to lose more than $316,000.

“Minerva Sanchez was a trusted real estate agent who had a responsibility to uphold the law and advise clients in good faith,” said Laura S. Wertheimer, Inspector General for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). “Our law enforcement agents and our partners, working together, assembled a case that showed Ms. Sanchez failed to honor her responsibilities and her breaches caused significant harm. We will continue to work with law enforcement agents across the federal government to root out individuals engaging in fraud in an attempt to alleviate the damage that is being done to both the institutions and taxpayers footing the bill for this fraud.”

Thomas McMahon, Acting Special Agent in Charge IRS Criminal Investigation, Oakland Field Office, added: “Bank fraud threatens the financial health of our communities. IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to following the money trail to ensure that those who engage in these illegal activities are vigorously investigated and brought to justice.”

This case is the product of an investigation by the FHFA - Office of Inspector General and IRS Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Baker is prosecuting the case.

Sanchez is scheduled to be sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on February 17, 2015. Sanchez faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

On June 10, 2013, the seller of the Patterson property, Agustin Simon, 52, of Gustine, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bank fraud in connection with this scheme. He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2014, before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill.

Press Release Number: 
Docket #: 1:13-cr-203 LJO, 1:13-cr-438 AWI
Updated April 8, 2015