CHICAGO — A former employee of the Cook County Land Bank Authority used “straw buyers” to fraudulently purchase and resell properties from the agency on his behalf, according to a federal fraud charge filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.
MUSTAFAA SALEH, 36, of Chicago, is charged with one count of wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Arraignment in U.S. District Court in Chicago has not yet been scheduled.
The charge was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Machelle L. Jindra, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General in Chicago; and John S. Morales, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. Valuable assistance was provided by the Office of Special Inspector General for Troubled Asset Relief Program, IRS Criminal Investigation Division, Cook County Office of Independent Inspector General, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of Inspector General. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sean J.B. Franzblau, Brian Netols, and Kirsten Moran.
Saleh worked as an asset manager for the CCLBA, a governmental entity that promoted the redevelopment and reuse of vacant, foreclosed, abandoned, and tax delinquent real estate by acquiring and transferring the property to private ownership. The CCLBA sold the real estate at below-market rates and prohibited the buyers from selling or renting a property until the CCLBA was satisfied that the buyer had adequately improved it. CCLBA employees were prohibited from purchasing a property from the agency unless it would be used for the employee’s primary residence.
According to the criminal information, Saleh from 2016 to 2021 used nominee or “straw” buyers to fraudulently purchase six properties from the CCLBA on Saleh’s behalf and thereafter redeveloped, resold, and otherwise used the properties for Saleh’s financial benefit. The properties were located in Chicago and the nearby suburbs of Oak Lawn and Midlothian, the information states.
In addition to the alleged property fraud, the information also accuses Saleh of fraudulently obtaining maintenance work from the CCLBA. Saleh in 2016 formed a property maintenance company called Evergreen Property Services and directed another individual to pose as its owner, the information states. Over the next three years, Saleh caused the CCLBA to contract with Evergreen and pay it more than $1 million for property maintenance services. CCLBA employees were prohibited from having a financial interest in property maintenance companies contracting with the agency.
The public is reminded that a charge is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.